By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"Once again, I hear hateful messages from some of the current religious leaders. And it offends me. That's my wonderful daughter they're talking about. That's the many fine gay people I have accepted as part of my family that they are condemning. And the descriptions they use of gay people are so terribly inaccurate. Like dead fish, messages of hate still stink even when wrapped in pages from the bible.
"I love my daughter, and I admire her and have been enriched by her life experiences. I accept her without any reservation, and I want you to accept her and her family with the warmth that you have always extended to me. That's my Christmas wish."
T.J. worried about her mother. In recent years, Pat had confided in her daughter that she was unhappy in her marriage, though not enough to leave it. T.J. feared that as her mother got older she might succumb to depression. "I didn't see her as a tragic figure, but I got the feeling there was something in her that wasn't complete."
Pat had always battled with a severe weight problem--at times she ballooned up to more than 250 pounds. She never kept the weight off for long, and once, after she had lost a substantial amount of weight, she told T.J. that she still felt an emotional void. T.J. wondered if her mother was hiding from something, something too painful for her mother to explore.
Last winter, Pat was determined to lose the weight for good. She started taking a new kind of appetite suppressant prescribed by a doctor, and by spring she had shed 50 pounds. Looking back, Pat thinks the weight loss was the catalyst for all that was to come next.
"All those candy bars were a substitute for something," she says.
In the spring, Dan and Pat went to hear a local lesbian activist speak. The woman was close to Pat in age, and Pat found her beautiful, flamboyant, sensual, and vulnerable. The woman owned her own company and was active in local and national gay rights organizations.
Though the Stones both enjoyed the talk, Pat didn't think much about it until about two weeks later, when she found herself flooded with romantic feelings for the woman, feelings that were completely new and alien to her.
She confided these feelings to John Selig, a gay friend who himself had been married for 13 years. He cautioned her not to act rashly, to make sure it was not just an infatuation with a particular person. "I love both her and her husband, and I hate to see families thrown into turmoil," Selig says. "She was so confused, and I wanted to be careful not to convince her or lead her in a certain direction. I suggested she get into counseling."
Pat felt that in recognizing she was a lesbian, she had finally found "the missing piece of the puzzle to my life."
In an interview over the phone in Virginia, T.J. recalls her mother's coming out to her: "She told me she had this set of romantic feelings she had never experienced before. My first thought was that it was for another man. Then she told me, and I said, 'Wow, O.K.' By the end of the conversation, it seemed to make sense."
Over the following weeks and months, as Pat wrestled with a torrent of conflicting emotions, she shared her confusion with her daughter via E-mail.
"It's quite an amazing narrative of a woman coming out to her daughter," T.J. says.
"This school-girl crush she had was very youthful--" she stops herself, "That sounds ageist--very new. I asked her if she really wanted to explore this, was there an option to explore it within the relationship she already had. Was separating from my father an option? I wanted to be fair and sensitive."
By the end of the summer, Pat had gotten up the nerve to tell the woman, who was familiar with Pat through her work with P-FLAG, how she felt. The woman was caught completely off guard. She told Pat that she was flattered, but that she was in a relationship with a woman and they were planning to move in together.
"She was a real class act," Pat says. "She said she would be there for me, and we've talked on the phone almost every week since then."
Still, Pat felt more adrift than ever. "It's like finding that special someone and losing them at the same time," she wrote in some notes to herself at the time. And she worried that being a lesbian would threaten her position among the straight parents in P-FLAG and that she would be a disappointment to the gay community, who valued strong support in the straight community. Finally, she hated the thought of having to tell her husband, knowing it would devastate him.
T.J. could hear what she describes as a growing depression in her mother's voice and encouraged her to seek counseling, which she finally did. "The therapist really challenged me," says Pat. "I had to figure out if I really was a lesbian. She helped me see that denial could take different forms. I began to see that this orientation had always been there; I just had not noticed. I think I buried it under all the weight."