This story was written and performed by Mike Thompson for the live, personal storytelling series Oral Fixation (An Obsession With True Life Tales) at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in Dallas, Texas, on March 13, 2012. The theme of the show was "One Night Stand."
"Watching Mike read his story on the night of the show was electrifying- like watching him come out of the closet right there onstage," says Oral Fixation creator Nicole Stewart. "I admire his strength to share this once painful but ultimately uplifting story of looking shame in the eye and choosing love."
I had a one-night stand with my mother. Now, before you go crazy on me, let's rewind for a bit to get some history behind this little love affair.
Growing up, I was the only child of an American-born U.S. soldier and a bombshell of a lady from Vietnam. His name was Gary, and hers, Lieú. It's the classic story of soldier meets beautiful Asian lady. Asian lady says, "Five dolla, love you long time." Little did my dad know that the five dollars he spent was well worth the return. They fell madly in love and after his tour in Vietnam, my dad flew back to ask for her hand in marriage. Four years later, I came along.
From early childhood there was so much expected of me. I was going to "grow up and do great things," my dad would say. I was immersed in sports, all kinds of academia, church and developed a huge group of friends. I was one of the cool kids back in my day. Even though I had everything going for me, deep down I was struggling as most kids do at some point. I felt there was another part of me that wanted to be free and I couldn't figure out what it was.
I was 8 years old when it became clear. Picture this: a banana in hand for a microphone, prancing around the living room in my mother's long, flowy nightgown, Donna Summer's 45 of "Last Dance" spinning on the record player and yours truly lip-syncing my little heart out. If you haven't figured it out yet, all signs pointed toward me being gay, but to my mom and relatives I was just a kid having fun. I was fabulous that night and I knew it; that is, until my father walked in and saw me. The look on his face was enough to make me feel like I had done something wrong. His eyes were full of shame and disgust as he turned and stormed out of the room.
For several years after, I hid in the little closet I created to protect myself. Outwardly, I was perky, playful and content but inside I continued to feel unhappy, confused and at times suicidal. When my friends started dating, my father hassled me about not having a girlfriend. One evening it came to this: "So, why is it that all of your friends have girlfriends and you don't, Michael?" he would say. "Why do you think I need a girlfriend? Don't you always want me to focus on school, sports and church? You know, 'to grow up and do great things?'" I replied. "Michael, don't you think that would include a wife and kids eventually?" he pressed. "Dad, I am in high school! I don't want or need a girlfriend right now." Without hesitation he said, "Well, you better not be a faggot!"
With my heart beating, emotions flaring and hands trembling, I muttered the words "I'm not" as I turned and slammed the door on my proverbial closet. It was conversations like this that started a broken record of messages that I played over and over in my head: "I am not normal. He won't approve. He won't love me."
Aside from my own internal conflicts, there was a constant tension in my house and happiness was a rarity. Mom and Dad always seemed annoyed, angry or sad. I guess we were all just good at keeping silent when it came to things that mattered. That silence was broken when my father chose to kill himself.
I was 16 when my neighbor and I found him in the garage with the car running. We pulled him out and tried to breathe life into him, but he was pale and solid as a rock. He gave nothing back -- he was gone. This was the first time I experienced death. I was filled with every emotion imaginable and I was surprised that these emotions included happiness. I was happy because I was free from my father, and the hold he had on my life.
With my father gone, I assumed the role of being the man of the house and took on all the things my father did. I took care of the house and cars, bought groceries, did taxes, helped pay the bills and made sure my mother was taken care of and healthy. She was all I had when it came to family, and we got really close. I gave her almost everything I could at the time. What I couldn't give her was the honesty of who I was and what I was truly thinking and feeling. I continued my "normal" life but the next seven years in the closet were the darkest years of my life. I internalized the same pressures of success and family from my mom and I couldn't help but play that same broken record: "I am not normal. She won't approve. She won't love me."
Jan. 4, 2002: I was 23 and had just moved home from college. I was in my childhood room unpacking my belongings, looking at old pictures of my family all together and "happy," listening to the same oldies that my father enjoyed all while reminiscing about my life in that house. For years I had not shed a tear over my father's death, or over the exhausting task of caring for my mother and especially not over the darkness I lived in. But in that moment, with years of images and words flooding my memory, I cried my heart out.
Hearing me, my mother came to my room to see what was going on because this was not normal for me. She sat beside me and asked in her broken English, "What wrong, Michael, what happened to you?" With my heart beating, emotions flaring and hands trembling I played it off saying I was sad school was over. As with most mothers, her instinct set in and she knew it was much deeper than that. She then grabbed my hand and looked deep into my eyes and said, "It okay Michael, you can tell Mommy truth."
She let me feel what I was feeling while holding my hand and waiting for me to answer. Looking at her, I could no longer stand it. I couldn't cry any more and no amount of prayer could help me out of the depth of sorrow I was in. So in climactic fashion, I kicked down my closet door and said it: "I'M GAY!"
Without hesitation she replied, "Michael, are you sure?" With my palm to my forehead I answered, "Oh my God, Mom, I'm crying my ass off, I have tissue everywhere, snot hanging out my nose and you ask if I am sure?! Yes mom, I'm gay." We both sat there for a minute in silence and waited for our hearts to calm. The weight fell off my shoulders and now I could see she was bearing some weight from the revelation that I was gay. We then started the game of 20 questions beginning with, "When did you know?"
"Umm do you remember when I was singing in your dress?" I started. "Ooooooh, Mommy remember," she interrupted with a small chuckle. "Daddy get so mad when he see you act like girl. He don't talk to Mommy for two days. Mommy think maybe you gay but Mommy not sure. You look so happy sing a song with banana."
As the night went on we continued to have conversations about my father, how I was going to tell other relatives, my worries, fears and eventually my hopes and dreams. This impromptu tryst of sorts was a huge relief because I was able to speak freely and honestly after not being able to for so long.
It was rounding 2 a.m. when my mom finally asked me what motivated me to come out. I shared this quote by Oscar Wilde: "To love one's self is the beginning of a life-long romance." After explaining to her what that meant, three beautiful words came from her mouth, "I love you."
It was the first time in a long time she said that, and it felt incredible to know I had her love and support. Since then, my life has been what I always dreamed it to be and much more. I feel happy and free to be myself, I have made many wonderful friends and I now have a beautiful man in my life that loves and supports me. I can proudly say I have "grown up and done some great things" like my parents wanted.
It all began when I chose that one-night to stand and love myself.