Gay Love, Death, and Acceptance: A Mother's Day Story
By Andrew Freeman
Photo of Andrew Freeman and his mother at his bar mitvah | Photo courtesy of Andrew Freeman
“Why doesn’t anyone put me on a pedestal and worship me?” That was a common question my mother, Geraldine Greenberg Freeman, would ask when she felt undervalued—which she often did. She was right; we usually took her for granted. It’s funny that, not until the day she died at the very young age of 50, I finally put her way up on a golden pedestal, where she has taken permanent residence. You see; I have never loved anyone quite like I loved Gerry. In truth, I think a piece of her was literally passed on to me when I was born.
Friends and family members would exclaim, “You’re just like your mother!” and I would beam with pride. She was funny and pretty, loved to dance, and was always popular. She was known for her crazy antics like dressing up the dog or giving him Pepto Bismol when she thought he didn’t feel well. She had an eye for fashion and design, was crazy clean, and didn’t really care to cook (since restaurants did that for us). Who wouldn’t want to me my mom? The only problem I had as a kid (chubby and a bit on the girly side) was that I really did fantasize that I was my mom.
I had a passion for her purple pantsuit, which I tried on once. I would stare at her when she applied make-up, marveling at how she was making her lashes and lips colorful and thick. At family gatherings, I was always in the kitchen with the girls, while the boys watched sports. I would sit next to her at the beauty parlor (under a dome hair dryer) while Mr. Frank teased out her hair, and I took in the wonderful aroma of Final Net. Yes, I was queer at a very early age, and she (and just about everyone around her) knew it. But I was cute and full of personality, and pretty much everyone reassured her and my dad that I would grow out of it.
And I did. I slimmed down, got popular with the girls at school, and did everything I could do to make her proud. I was the best student. I always had the lead in the high school musicals. (I know what you’re thinking, but I swear. I butched up!) I got into the best college, and I spent my days thinking of new ways to please her.
“Honey, you don’t have to be perfect,” she would tell me often. And my constant devotion and need to be with her drove her nuts at times. I could never be too far away from her. So when I left for college, I think she was secretly relieved. It would be my time to grow up and become a man. In college, I was so homesick; I couldn’t take it. She wrote to me everyday, and I saved each letter. I still have them. This wasn’t new behavior for me. When I remember back to my early days, the family still laughs about what a challenge I was for her. I wouldn’t go to camp, and on the first day of each school year from kindergarten through third grade, I ran away. I ran away because I wanted to be near her and because the pressure of having to be perfect was too tough to take.
By college, we all knew I was different, but I had landed a girlfriend, so I really thought I was fooling everyone. At times, I believe young gay men really think we have magical qualities that allow us to put “they think I’m straight” spells on the people that we love, but mothers know. They do! And though we never talked about it, Gerry would give me pep talks about “being my own person and not worrying about what other people thought.”
During my first semester at college, I called her every day. Mid-way through the year, she started to not feel well. She would assure me, “Honey, it’s just a cough. Don’t worry.” But I did. She was a smoker, and you can call it gay son intuition, but I knew something was happening. As it turned out, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and the next year was the worst time in her life (and mine too). I came back from college to be with her and watched her die the slowest and most painful death possible. Despite getting down at times, she became my hero.
She laughed through the pain. When we went wig shopping, we all had to try on wigs. When she smoked pot for the nausea, we all had to smoke pot, so she wouldn’t have to do it alone. One of the most famous nights during this period in our lives was when we all got really stoned and mom announced she had a serious case of the munchies. Her boys, my brother and I, were her life. Even when she was miserable and in pain, she worked hard not to show us what it was doing to her
About two months before she died, my brother got married. (We moved the wedding up to ensure she would be there.) After the wedding, I found her crying in her room. She held my hand and said, “You know I am not going to see you get married, and you may not, but I just want you to be happy. Promise me you will do what you want to do with your life.” I assured her she wasn’t going anywhere.
I was in a film class the day she died. They stopped the movie, Ball of Fire, with Barbara Stanwyck and asked me to come to the door. I was told to rush home. When I got there, I found that she had died minutes before, but she was still lying in her bed. I locked myself in the room with her until they had to break it down to get me out and take her away. Even then, just like always, I needed to be with her.
Without my protector, my life spiraled out of control, leading me to make some crazy decisions and dabble with drugs, women, and men. I hid who I was until I was 30. Through it all, the memory of her smile, the fun we had, her kooky personality, and her love for me is what I held on to.
I don't think I will ever feel again what I felt the day she died. In one moment, my mother, best friend, protector, and mentor were gone. I do believe that if she would have lived, I would have come out a lot sooner and my relationships—both gay and straight—would have been more solid. The fear of losing someone I love again has immensely played a role in my life and has lead to some intimacy avoidance issues, but I’m better now.
The point of my story is that mothers like mine should be put on pedestals every day. They understand and love their gay sons better than anyone else and would kill to protect us. So, drive them nuts, shower them with love, and spend as much time as you can with them while they are still around.
Everyday should be Mother’s Day for them.
Andrew founded his boutique San Francisco-based hospitality consulting firm seven years ago and has since worked with nationally acclaimed names such as Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, Palm Restaurant Group, and The Ritz-Carlton Restaurants.