Pat Stone went from PFLAG mom to out-and-proud lesbian, and she recounts her journey in a new memoir, ‘Awakening’
When Pat Stone finished a rough draft of her memoir "Awakening," she sent copies to her family. She wanted them to understand that her goal in writing the book was to help other women coming out later in life.
Among those active in the LGBT community, Stone’s story is well known. In 1992, she and her husband Dan founded the Dallas chapter of PFLAG, which helped spawn a number of other PFLAG groups throughout North Texas.
The help line she ran provided tools for gays and lesbians to come out to their parents and for parents to better understand and accept their children. PFLAG meetings could attract hundreds with the caliber of speakers she invited. When they led the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, they were overwhelmed with people rushing them from the sidelines, climbing over the barriers to hug these loving, activist parents.
Then in 1996, everything changed for Stone. She had come to realize that not only was she the mother of a wonderful lesbian daughter, but that she herself was lesbian.
While the LGBT community normally welcomes a new member, young or old, with open arms, the reception for Stone was mixed.
"What about Dan?" was a frequently voiced concern.
"He was so understanding," Stone says. He worked out all the financial angles to ease the transition. "But once he moved, he said, ‘I will find a way to deal with your leaving,’" and he concluded the right decision was not to see her again.
Dan was not one of the dozen family members to receive the full book — she sent him just the cover, back and preface. She didn’t want to be presumptuous.
"I was being careful about his feelings," Stone says. She did not hear from him.
From the outset, the local and national PFLAG organizations embraced her with open arms. Stone says they told her that their acceptance is what the group was all about. She offered to resign as president and was encouraged to step down by members of the LGBT community, worried that her presence might hurt the group. Would new parents attending a meeting, hear Stone’s story and leave with the additional worry that in a few years they might come out themselves?
Stone’s daughter T.J. provided the solution. Although Dave Gleason, her successor, wasn’t quite ready to take over as president, he could serve as co-president with her. The help line would be taken over by another parent with counseling experience.
In January 1997, the Dallas Observer wrote an article about Stone, which prompted calls from other women in a similar situation. These "late bloomers" began meeting in Stone’s living room, but when the group outgrew her house, they formalized it, creating Late Bloomers and moving the meeting to the second Tuesday of each month at La Madeleine on Lemmon Avenue.
Over the past 12 years, Stone thinks that advances in the LGBT community have helped change the conversation.
"I hear they continue friendships more, custody battles are not as nasty," Stone says. But she cites other unique problems faced by over-40 women coming out.
"Older women are more entrenched in their community and their lives. They have a whole network of friends. Religion," she says. "We have older parents."
Those elderly parents, she explains, may be even more set in their ways or have health problems that younger people aren’t worried about with middle-aged parents. Stone is dealing with her own mother’s Alzheimer’s.
And while PFLAG is expert in helping children come out to parents and helping parents accept their children, Late Bloomers deals with the opposite situation.
"If they’re in that age when they’re coming to terms with their own sexuality," Stone says of teenage children of gay parents, they may be embarrassed. "Some don’t want to talk about it."
Older people coming out have to deal with dating, often for the first time. She says she and Dan were married when she was 18 and she never really dated at all.
"This whole dating thing. All of a sudden … how do you date? How do you know when a woman wants to be a friend or more?"
Stone says that men coming out later in life often knew they were gay from the time they were young, but for a number of reasons, chose to marry a woman. What she says she finds in common with many women coming out later in life is they often didn’t really know.
When older women come out, she says, "They’ve found a missing piece of the puzzle."
"Awakening: How a 53-Year Old Wife and Mother Became a Lesbian" is available at Amazon.com. Stone will be the guest on Lambda Weekly, 89.3 KNON-FM, Sunday at noon.
THE SIMPLE LIFE: GAY EDITION
"At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream" by Wade Rouse, Harmony (2009), 272 pp., $23.95
Someone is sleeping in your bed.
Okay, so it’s not really your bed anymore. In fact, it’s not even your home these days but visiting the place where you grew up makes you remember your childhood. Everything is different through adult eyes — the rooms look so tiny! — even though it seems like nothing’s changed.
But you did, the second you moved out.
You can click your heels all you want, but can you ever really go home again? Read "At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream" and you’ll see.
When he was a little boy growing up in the Ozarks, Wade Rouse spent many happy hours sitting on a glider on a hill with his grandmother. There she shared her wisdom, quoting a much-loved, bedraggled (and pilfered) copy of "Walden." But Rouse couldn’t get away from the country fast enough. As soon as he could, he moved to the city, where Ikea and Starbucks were quick drives away. He and his partner, Gary, practically lived at the gym and the tanning booth. Keeping up with fashion and celebrities and shopping were high priorities.
But something was missing. Signs were pointing Rouse to a different place in his life. While on vacation to Saugatuck, Mich., he found it.
Rouse and Gary never planned on moving, but the cottage was too perfect. It was perched on the edge of woods, near a farm with horses and another with blueberries. There was a to-die-for view of nature out back and a rusty pink trailer next door. Lake Michigan was a mile away. Who could resist?
In the new house — channeling Thoreau, wanting to write and desperately looking for a New Wade — Rouse tried to live by 10 tenets that Walden’s famous resident embraced, modernized to fit a new century. But Michigan has snow (lots of it) and wild animals and germ-filled dirt and bare feet. It houses back-to-nature types, hunters and rednecks. And this stretch of Michigan lacked Ikea, well-stocked grocers and a decent Mochaccino.
How could a gay man from the city possibly thrive? How could you not love a book that starts out with "There’s a raccoon on my head"?
Rouse is introspective and sarcastic, often in the same sentence — a writing style that’s intimate yet hilarious. He paints a perfect picture of his surroundings and the people he lives near, exaggerating the ridiculous and noting the kindness. He’s willing to poke fun at himself and Gary, their peccadilloes and their relationship, and their fears while becoming accustomed to new surroundings. And Rouse’s memories of his parents, his childhood and his beloved grandmother will melt your heart.
While I don’t know that I’d give this book to grandma, I really loved it and I think you will, too. Pick it up and see that you can always go home, as long as you clearly know where it is.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 19, 2009.
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