ONE month before Zach O’Connor, a seventh grader at Brown Middle School here, came out about being gay, he was in such turmoil that he stood up in homeroom and, in a voice everyone could hear, asked a girl out on a date. It was Valentine’s Day 2003, and Zach was 13.
“I was doing this to survive,” he says. “This is what other guys were doing, getting girlfriends. I should get one, too.”
He feared his parents knew the truth about him. He knew that his father had typed in a Google search starting with “g,” and several other recent “g” searches had popped up, including “gay.”
“They asked me, ‘Do you know what being gay is?’ ” he recalls. “They tried to explain there’s nothing wrong with it. I put my hands over my ears. I yelled: ‘I don’t want to hear it! I’m not, I’m not gay!’ ”
Cindy and Dan O’Connor were very worried about Zach. Though bright, he was doing poorly at school. At home, he would pick fights, slam doors, explode for no reason. They wondered how their two children could be so different; Matt, a year and a half younger, was easygoing and happy. Zach was miserable.
The O’Connors had hunches. Mr. O’Connor is a director of business development for American Express, Ms. O’Connor a senior vice president of a bank, and they have had gay colleagues, gay bosses, classmates who came out after college. From the time Zach was little, they knew he was not a run-of-the-mill boy. His friends were girls or timid boys.
“Zach had no interest in throwing a football,” Mr. O’Connor says. But their real worry was his anger, his unhappiness, his low self-esteem. “He’d say: ‘I’m not smart. I’m not like other kids,’ ” says Ms. O’Connor. The middle-school psychologist started seeing him daily.
The misery Zach caused was minor compared with the misery he felt. He says he knew he was different by kindergarten, but he had no name for it, so he would stay to himself. He tried sports, but, he says, “It didn’t work out well.” He couldn’t remember the rules. In fifth grade, when boys at recess were talking about girls they had crushes on, Zach did not have someone to name.
By sixth grade, he knew what “gay” meant, but didn’t associate it with himself. That year, he says: “I had a crush on one particular eighth-grade boy, a very straight jock. I knew whatever I was feeling I shouldn’t talk about it.” He considered himself a broken version of a human being. “I did think about suicide,” he says.
Then, for reasons he can’t wholly explain beyond pure desperation, a month after his Valentine “date” — “We never actually went out, just walked around school together” — in the midst of math class, he told a female friend. By day’s end it was all over school. The psychologist called him in. “I burst into tears,” he recalls. “I said, ‘Yes, it’s true.’ Every piece of depression came pouring out. It was such a mess.”
That night, when his mother got home from work, she stuck her head in his room to say hi. “I said, ‘Ma, I need to talk to you about something, I’m gay.’ She said, ‘O.K., anything else?’ ‘No, but I just told you I’m gay.’ ‘O.K., that’s fine, we still love you.’ I said, ‘That’s it?’ I was preparing for this really dramatic moment.”
Ms. O’Connor recalls, “He said, ‘Mom, aren’t you going to freak out?’ I said: ‘It’s up to you to decide who to love. I have your father, and you have to figure out what’s best for you.’ He said, ‘Don’t tell Dad.’ ”
“Of course I told him,” Ms. O’Connor says.
“With all our faults,” Mr. O’Connor says, “we’re in this together.”
Monday, April 02, 2007
Thank God for Parents Like This
From the New York Times yesterday: