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.

As for Dan, Pat says he was never comfortable discussing his feelings. "I think he felt the rest of our life made up for the lack of passion and romance. He loved the family life and takes his commitments very seriously."

Pat silently accepted the emotional void as she and Dan built a solid marriage on respect, friendship, and the things they shared: liberal political leanings, a love of movies, close friends, and their family. They had two children around whom their entire lives revolved, first Tamara Jo--who began calling herself T.J. in the sixth grade--then, three years later, Brad. Dan started his own computer software company, while Pat chose to be a stay-at-home mom. When Pat was growing up, her mother had worked for the Social Security Administration, and Pat remembers missing having enough time with her.

Even though she cleaved to a traditional role, Pat wanted to make sure her choices did not stifle her daughter's growth. She became a charter subscriber to Ms. magazine and stayed abreast of the growing women's movement. She stressed to her daughter the importance of independence. "Perhaps it was the independence I was longing for," Pat says. "Who knows?"

For a fleeting instant, when she was wrestling with learning that T.J. was a lesbian, Pat wondered whether anything she did, particularly exposing T.J. to the women's movement, had somehow influenced her daughter's sexual orientation. The Stones had never suspected that T.J. was gay, though they often wondered why boys never flocked around their lithe, curly-haired, blue-eyed daughter. "She just never fit the stereotype we had of lesbians," says Pat. "She was very feminine. She took dance for 14 years and was a Girl Scout. We just thought she was just more mature than the other girls, more interested in her studies than in attracting boys."

When T.J. went to Southern Methodist University in the fall of 1982, and later graduate school at Texas Woman's University, she befriended a series of women with children. Pat just thought T.J. was searching for a sister. From time to time, T.J. would date a man, but the relationship never seemed to move beyond friendship.

In late 1989, when T.J. was in her mid-20s, Pat noticed a change in her daughter. There was a deepening contentment about her, a peacefulness that had not been there before. It had seemed to coincide with T.J.'s blossoming friendship with a woman named Katherine, a professor at TWU 10 years her senior. When Pat heard T.J. talk to Katherine over the phone, she heard an "excitement and exuberance" in her voice that was never there when she talked with boys.

Then one day, T.J. excitedly shared with her mother Katherine's great news: She had been offered a full professorship with tenure at a college in Virginia. Pat told T.J. to pass on her congratulations to Katherine, whom she had briefly met at a party. Stone didn't think much about it again, until T.J. came home for spring break several weeks later.

One afternoon, as mother and daughter sat in the cozy den of the Stones' home, Pat nonchalantly asked T.J. what she was going to do when Katherine left for Virginia.

The question was like a key unlocking a secret door. "Well, Mom, that's what I want to talk to you about," T.J. said. "Katherine and I are in love. We're a couple." T.J. told her mother that Katherine was her first lover and that she had only realized she was a lesbian a few months earlier.

Rather than being dismayed, Pat remembers almost being more surprised with her own calm at the announcement. "I had the perfect reaction," Pat says. "I told her I knew she was happy and that was what mattered. Then I told her she should invite Katherine and her son to Easter."

The Stones, however, didn't cope well with T.J.'s other revelation. Although Katherine was T.J.'s first lover, both women realized that they had found their life partners, and they were moving together to Virginia come summer.

"They were pretty pissed off I was leaving," T.J. says. "It was a much worse family rule that I was breaking. That's when they came back with questions. 'Are you sure you are gay? Maybe Katherine is just a mentor figure.' My mother asked if she had done anything to cause it, did she have Ms. magazine out on the table too early."

But soon, they began instead to worry whether T.J.'s sexual orientation could hurt her lifelong dream of running a daycare center, and about the well-being of her new family. Virginia, they learned, was a state where just being gay could be grounds for losing custody of a child.

Before long, Pat and Dan Stone began to worry about the bigotry and intolerance that confronted not just their daughter, but all homosexuals. Two activists were born.

On a recent Thursday night, more than 70 people gathered in the Midway Hills Christian Church in Northwest Dallas for the monthly P-FLAG meeting. Twenty were first-timers who had just learned that someone they knew and loved was a homosexual, or who had known for a while but were just now able to face it.

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