Rhea's Face
Home
 
Journey to Moriah
(book, 1999)

a short autobiography
Mother Phoenix

1995 Press Conference
Bruce's Statement
Rhea's Statement
Phila. Daily News

1999 Speech at the Indiana State Capitol
The Answer is Love

1997 
Rhea fights burnout
Tragedy in the Heartlands

Christmas 1997
another bashing
A Mother's Tears

Rhea's husband
Butch

A friend's witness
Dixie Writes

March, 1996
Mrs Murray goes to Washington

 Nov. 1996 letter for the Chrysler Campaign
No More
 

Mother Phoenix 
by Rhea Murray

I was born and raised in Seymour, Indiana, the "Small Town" that is
distinguished in song by John Mellancamp. Surprisingly, up until a few
years ago, the city limits of this town comprised the dimensions of my
entire world. I lived in a safe, comfortable environment as a wife,
mother, and Sunday School teacher, a very predictable, milk-toast way of
life, never challenging my self-imposed boundaries.

One by one our children left home. And now only my youngest was
left, but soon he too would pursue his own life. Anticipating my
soon-to-be-empty nest filled me with a bittersweet mixture of sorrowful
longing for babies nestled in my arms, and a giddy elation for my imminent
liberation from the all-consuming responsibility of tending to their every
need. My future held the promise of relaxation and ease, a harvest I
justly deserved to reap. Then came a revelation.

Like a big, bad wolf that huffed and puffed, it blew down the fragile
walls of my June Cleaver world. My despondent thirteen year old son,
Bruce, was contemplating suicide; his life was hanging by a frayed thread
of indecision. He was struggling to decide which would grieve his parents
the least; his death or the revelation he was gay.

Fortunately, my son had enough faith in us to tearfully tell us he
was gay. I embraced my son and reassured him of my love for him, but all
the while, I was wondering if I could possibly measure up to his blind
faith in me. " Dear God, please let me be there for my child." This
striving to be there for my gay son has profoundly impacted my life in
such a way that it would be forever changed.

Following this disclosure, I spent many agonizing days crying
uncontrollably, and lonely nights screaming into my pillow under the cover
of darkness. I would wash my swollen, tear-stained face before my child
would return home from school. He was assessing whether he had made the right decision and consequently was watching me very closely. Realizing I was inadequate at my masquerade, I put my arm around him and said, "Son, you are not responsible for my feelings. I am. Please give me some time to work through this. Have faith in me." At that moment, he grew taller with the weight of that incredible burden of guilt lifted off his young shoulders. Nonetheless, I was free-falling into the dark night of my
soul.

In the solitude of an empty church, I would beseech God to take this
bitter cup away from me; it was more than I could bear. However, God
answered me with bone-crushing silence. The fear of rejection isolated me
from my family and friends; my diminutive world shrank to the dimensions
of a closet. Butch, my aptly named husband, took the revelation in stride
which only made me feel more forlorn. Consequently, I would have to
wrestle this demon alone; but in order to do so, I first must identify
this appalling demon.

I took a long, candid look at the haggard woman in the mirror until
her unsightly warts were obvious. My prejudice was the rootstock of my
caustic grief. Then, amidst this painful self- revelation, God broke his
torturous silence. Instead of speaking to me in a grand cathedral, he
chose my small, humble bathroom. Instead of speaking in a booming
proclamation, he spoke to me in a still, piercing whisper: "Child, you
must not put on your son the hateful stereotypes you have of gays, but
rather put the face of your beloved son on the gay community. After all,
you know what a gay person is like; you have lived with one for 13 years.
He is the same child in whom you have always delighted." A metamorphosis began in the core of my being, much like the Phoenix rising out of the ashes of its former life.

After that life-changing encounter in my bathroom, I never shed
another tear because my son was gay; however, I have shed many tears for all the indignities and injustices hurled at Bruce daily from an
intolerant society. First, our minister told several people in our church
and community that he believed our son, to be gay. This had dire
consequences for Bruce and our family. Rumors in a small town spread like an oil slick on water; as a result, we were ostracized. Our minister
declared that no church would welcome us. Meanwhile at school, teachers, as well as students, harassed Bruce. There are no words to describe what it does to a mother's heart to have her despairing child look at her with eyes full of pain and say, "Mom, in gym they spat upon me and the teacher did nothing." Tormented by our inner rage and feelings of impotency, his father and I would lie in bed at night staring at the ceiling.

The harassment escalated to such a degree that physical attacks and
death threats occurred frequently. Inaction by the school left us with no
other recourse than to withdraw Bruce from public school and enroll him in
a correspondence school. Walking out of the principal's office with
Bruce's newly signed release paper in my hand, I heard the principal's
parting words: "Mrs. Murray, I hope you realize many doors will be closed
to your son." In that instant, I made a fervent vow I would show my son
otherwise. Perhaps Seymour did not offer many options to my son, but on
the other hand, the world was teeming with unexplored possibilities. He
would only be limited by the depth and breadth of his vision and his
determination.

Developing networking skills was a definite tool I would need;
however, in order to do so, I would first have to overcome my fear of
driving in metropolitan areas. With white-knuckled resolution, I
conquered Bloomington, Louisville, Indianapolis, and eventually Chicago.
I networked earnestly; and I discovered gay youth support groups and PFLAG (an acronym for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in those cities.

When my family and I walked into our first meeting, my cheeks blushed
with shame, not for being there, but for being surprised at how normal
everyone looked. The room was abounding with diversity (a new experience for this former June Cleaver). Witnessing people of different
nationalities, religions, genders, and sexual orientation coming together
and unconditionally affirming each other was truly a spiritual moment for
me. Then I realized that basically there are only two kinds of people in
the world: those who empathize and those who fear; those who take a leap
of faith to embrace and those who rebuff. What separates the one camp
from the other is the ability to affirm oneself. How can you affirm
another, if you can not first affirm yourself?

After the meeting, my beaming son said, "Now I know I have a chance
for a happy life. I couldn't even envision one before." Bruce blossomed
by being surrounded by positive gay role models, for I was not the only
one affected by those negative stereotypes. My ardent desire to show
Bruce as many new corridors toward self-affirmation as possible required
that I would challenge myself to try new things. Like a rose unfolding,
my world blossomed.

Three years have passed since that fateful turning point. I am now
president of Seymour's very own PFLAG. Bruce is employed full time at a
gay-friendly business and continuing his education. Butch and I have used
our feelings of rage and impotency as an impetus for becoming zealous
activists. As a family, we serve on educational panels for workshops for
police officers, teachers, family and school counselors. We are often
requested to speak about our family's saga at several Indiana University
classes. Contrary to the minister's grim prediction, churches not only
welcomed us, but asked us to share our journey with their congregations.
In addition, we had the humbling experience of having our story inspire
sermons.

Recently, Bruce traveled to San Francisco for NGLTF (National
Gay/Lesbian Task Force) Youth Training to acquire the skills necessary to
organize a gay youth support group in southern Indiana. Next month he
heads to Detroit for a gay youth convention and is on stand-by to address
Congress. As you can see, I'm still very efficient at networking. As for
me, I also conquered my fear of flying and fly coast to coast in my
support and advocacy work. Furthermore, an author is collaborating with
me on a biography about our family. The monotonous merry-go-round of our life has changed into this wild, thrilling roller coaster ride filled with
unexpected twists and turns.

We are gaining new friends across the nation, and some former
friends, having to grow at their own pace, are gently easing back into our
lives. We now have a diversity of friends who greatly enrich our lives.
We are still shunned by others; but like a weeding of a garden, we are now
left with a group of loving friends, accepting relationships that can
thrive and bloom.

Surprisingly, Bruce's gayness has brought me many gifts. First, it
brought me the gift of liberation from a predictable life, a life limited
by the fear of what others may think. I need only to be at peace with the
lady in the mirror. Second, it brought me the gift of motivation, which
caused me to stretch beyond my binding boundaries and see my own expanding possibilities. Third, it brought me the gift of discovery: I have
courage to live by my principles, no matter the cost. Fourth, it brought
me the gift of realization that I was a flat, one-dimensional person (much
like a cardboard movie prop). My world lacked color and texture, but now it is a rainbow tapestry that fills me with reverence and awe. Finally,
it brought me the most important gift; the gift of enlightenment which
allows me to make that empathetic leap of faith to embrace humanity in all
its diversity.

I was a frightened mother who stood on the edge, staring into the
vast unknown before me; the love I held for my son gave my trembling legs
the strength to leap. At first, it felt like a death spiral; but when I
found the courage to open my eyes, I discovered my miraculous Phoenix
wings. The view is intoxicating; the flight is exhilarating. And as an
uplifting current catches my wings, I take a fleeting glance over my
shoulders to the precarious ledge where the smoldering ashes lay of a
woman I can barely remember.
 

Rhea Murray
Seymour, IN
rmurray@hsonline.net

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. ---Emerson

Copyright, 1996. All rights reserved.
Do not reprint without permission
Rhea Murray can be reached by email at rmurray@mail.hsonline.net.