Late Bloomer

When Pat Stone learned her daughter was a lesbian, she helped start a support group for parents of gay and lesbian children. Then, after 35 years of marriage, Stone realized she had her own journey to make.

Last summer, Pat Stone phoned her daughter, T.J., and told her she had something very important to talk about. Pat and her husband, Dan, were planning to visit T.J. in Virginia, and Pat wanted to make sure her daughter could carve out some time for them to be alone--no easy feat.

T.J. and her lesbian lover, Katherine, lived busy lives. A committed couple for seven years, T.J., a Ph.D. candidate in child development, and Katherine, a professor of women's studies at a local university, were raising Katherine's nine-year-old son from a previous marriage and a two-year-old son T.J. had conceived through artificial insemination. The sperm donor was the longtime lover of Katherine's gay brother.

From the outset, the Stones had greeted the news of their daughter's sexual orientation and her rather unconventional family arrangement with uncommon acceptance and support. Pat liked to joke that T.J. and Katherine were her "Geraldo family."

When the Stones learned their daughter was a lesbian, they were more upset that her lover's new job would be taking them to another state. Still, they threw T.J. and Katherine a "pre-commitment party"--an engagement party of sorts--on the deck of their Lake Highlands home. Guests brought the equivalent of wedding shower gifts, including "hers and hers" towels.

Ultimately, the Stones would not only accept their daughter's homosexuality, they would go on to help other parents cope by co-founding the Dallas chapter of Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays (P-FLAG). Over time, the Stones became gay rights advocates, marching in Oak Lawn Gay Pride parades, giving talks at churches, and speaking out for equal rights for homosexuals at rallies around the state.

T.J. and her mother had always been close, but even more so after T.J. came out. So when Pat called her last summer, T.J. promised to make time for them to be alone. The bombshell Pat would drop on her "Geraldo family" could make the mother a colorful talk show guest in her own right.

"I've recently developed strong romantic feelings for another person," Pat told T.J. over a long lunch at a restaurant in town. "And the other person is a woman."

If T.J.'s awakening into homosexuality was relatively benign, with minimal impact on her family, her mother's revelation would send shock waves through the Stone family and P-FLAG, for which Pat had served as president for the last four years.

In the six months since that lunch with her daughter, Pat Stone has had to come to terms with a variety of unsettling issues. First and foremost, she had to determine if she was, in fact, a lesbian or, as some of her friends believed, simply suffering from a passing infatuation with a woman. In a sad, ironic twist, she faced censure from a few members of P-FLAG, who thought it best for the chapter if she stepped down as president. And hardest of all, Pat had to tell her husband and leave him.

A woman who had never lived on her own, who had never worked outside the home, Stone suddenly found herself, at age 54, in free fall.

"My own story--my coming out, my family arrangement--seems so uneventful compared to my mother's," T.J. Stone says.

A "for sale" sign sits in front of the Stones' cozy, antique-filled, five-bedroom house in Northeast Dallas--one of the lesser manifestations of the change that has convulsed the lives of Pat Stone and her family in the last half-year.

An attractive woman with an open face framed by russet curls, Pat Stone says there was nothing in her past life that warned her of the coming upheaval. Until last spring, she says, she never once considered she might be gay.

Coming of age in the '50s, Pat, the daughter of a police officer in conservative Wichita Falls, hadn't even heard of lesbianism until she was a young adult, much less identified with it. She grew up expecting to marry, and her only concern was finding a man who was kind and gentle, unlike the abusive men her mother and grandmother had married.

Pat found what she thought she was looking for in Dan Stone, a shy, compassionate boy with a love of the outdoors who was four years older than she.

They met at their Methodist church and were engaged when Pat was 16. They married two years later. (Dan Stone declined to be interviewed for this story.)

"Dan was a nice person, a friend, and a companion," Pat says. "He knew I wasn't affectionate, but we both assumed it was because I grew up in a family where we learned to repress our feelings. My one regret in life was always going to be that I never had special romantic feelings for anyone. It wasn't like the romance and passion died in our relationship. It just was never there to begin with--at least on my part."

As the years passed, Pat says, she began to increasingly lament the lack of sexual passion she felt toward Dan. Even on vacations to romantic destinations like Hawaii, she always felt there was something important missing between her and Dan. But her sadness over the lack of passion was never enough to spur her to leave the marriage. "I wasn't attracted to other men," says Pat. "And women weren't an option. It never crossed my mind."

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