I picked up my 20-something son, David, at the Metro a few weeks ago. After he got into the car, he put out his hands towards me, and asked:

“Do you like this color? Kind of a deep purple. I get a lot of compliments on it.”
Yes, David wears nail polish — bright, glossy, frequently-changing-colors nail polish. And it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I like the deep purple shade.

When David first told us he was gay in his junior year in high school, my husband and I were somewhat surprised, but when we thought about it, it began to make sense. At first I worried about the increased chances that he would develop AIDS and I was concerned about problems he would likely face being accepted as a gay man in the less tolerant world we lived in a decade ago. But the gay part? We had an inkling. Okay, more than an inkling. (What parent doesn’t?)

As an avid reader and news-watcher, I did have some knowledge of the evolving gay community. I was aware of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, I remember when Barney Frank became the first U.S. congressman to come out as gay in 1987 and when a New York Court ruled in 1989 that it was legally possible for a same-sex couple to constitute a family.

But when our teenage son told us he was gay, my personal knowledge of what it meant to be a gay man was, unfortunately, tainted by popular media stereotypes which told us that most gay men:

dressed impeccably
were extremely neat and organized
often chose interior design or hair styling as their professions
had high pitched, effeminate voices
liked to gossip
had many women friends

From time to time, in my son’s late teen years, I honestly wondered if maybe he had been mistaken. After all, he was incredibly sloppy, his bedroom was knee-deep in dirty clothing, he planned to major in chemistry and disliked idle chatter.

He is comfortable with his own identity. And because he is so comfortable, we are too. He has patiently explained that what I first thought I knew about gay men was all wrong. And finally the media has caught up a bit. We hear about gay football players and (sometimes) see gay men who don’t wear stylish clothing.

Unfortunately, it still makes the news when a gay man is the first in his field or profession.

Earlier this year, when our synagogue hired a new rabbi who happened to be gay, it became a news story in The Washington Post. “Rabbi Adam Rosenwasser recently became the first rabbi hired to fill a major pulpit in Washington who is married to someone of his own gender. But he doesn’t like to focus on that. ‘I’m gay, but I also like to scuba dive and play guitar.’ ”

So now we all know that some men who are football players, some who are messy and some who are rabbis, can be gay. And that the fact that they have sexual partners of the same gender is not what defines them.

And there are some men who wear nail polish. And change colors frequently, and with great pleasure.

But I draw the line at mint green. A few days ago, when David showed me his latest color, his nails were mint green. Reminded me of medical scrubs, bad memories. Better to go back to the purple or maybe try a new shade, I suggested, how about deep pink?

David looked up at me as if I was crazy, “Mom, I am not that gay.”

Okay, so maybe I don’t totally get the gay male thing yet. But I accept it, and I accept him. Purple nail polish, mint green. Whatever. His color choices don’t define him either.

Nancy L. Wolf, the mother of two young adults, erroneously thought that the difficult years of parenting were behind her. She is a recovering lawyer, who lives in Washington and blogs at Witty Worried and Wolf. 

(A version of this essay first appeared on her blog.)

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