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Colleen Coover

The Queer Statute of Limitations: If Your Parents Don't Come Around in Seven Years, You are Free to Reverse Disown Them

I never came out to my mother. She guessed.

I called her one afternoon in college, crying, to report breaking up with my boyfriend. I'd be moving out of his apartment that weekend. Finals were next week. My life was a mess. "Is there somebody else?" she asked.

I hesitated to spill the details of the semi-drunken night with a girl I'd had a crush on for six months—the night that had caused the breakup. "Um, yeah. But nothing's going to happen with that person," I said, playing the pronoun game. "They're just a friend."

"Is this somebody... a girl?" mom asked. Yes, I admitted.

Breaking up with my boyfriend, she advised me, had been the right thing to do. I clearly had a lot to think about, she said, and should call her if I needed anything.

I was shocked. My mom was something of a born-again Catholic—she was the last person I expected to be supportive.

My shock was short lived. Something did happen with "that person"—we started dating, and we're still together six years later—and mom suddenly stopped being so understanding. When she figured out that I was officially dating a girl—not having a one-night fling—she gave a condescending sermon about my unholy lifestyle. Then she didn't call me for months. That summer, she loudly declared—to everyone but me, as we still weren't speaking—that my girlfriend and I were not allowed under her roof when we visited.

I thought she'd get over having a gay daughter eventually—"Give her a year or two," my aunts counseled. She was the one going through a phase, they said, mourning the loss of her dreams for me (big Catholic wedding, husband, kids).

But a few years later—by now, my girlfriend and I had bought a place together, and my dad had given his implicit support by doing both of our tax returns—mom was still freaked out.

So, one Thanksgiving, I threw down the only card I had: If mom didn't accept my life, soon—or at least shut up about it—she wasn't going to meet the children my girlfriend and I planned to have.

Mom locked herself in her bedroom and didn't come out until after I'd left for the airport the next morning. We didn't speak for months.

My situation isn't unique. I have scores of queer friends who are still quietly battling their parents years after coming out. Sure, their parents haven't disowned them—but they haven't accepted their kids for who they are, long after the rest of the family has. One friend's mom rents a hotel instead of staying at her daughter and her daughter's girlfriend's house. Another has parents who still refer to a partner of 10 years as a "roommate."

For those parents—the ones who aren't a lost cause, but need a little prodding—we need a statute of limitations: Let's call it the Seven Year Ditch. If parents can't come around and accept their gay kids—no strings attached—after seven years, their homo offspring no longer owe them a thing. By year seven, the raised eyebrows, unspoken judgment, subtle disapproval, and snubbing of significant others must cease.

Parents who violate the Seven Year Ditch law have no right to see their own child or their grandchildren. Homo kids have no obligation to care—or fund care—for elderly parents who never accepted them. Violator parents' calls will be blocked, birthday gifts returned, and names crossed off holiday-card lists.

I have friends whose parents couldn't join the local PFLAG chapter fast enough. Other friends were immediately disowned, by parents who never looked back. Both kinds of parents are unaffected by this law. It's the parents who fall somewhere in the middle—the ones who freak out, like my mom did, but still clearly love their homo kid and have the potential to come around—who are subject to the Seven Year Ditch law.

Thankfully, it looks like I won't have to disown my mother—she's on track to just meet the seven-year deadline (thanks in part to my grandkids threat). My girlfriend was welcome to stay at my parents' house this past Memorial Day weekend, and they might come visit us in the fall.