Of course there are exceptions. Of course some men come out in their 40s and surprise even the most attentive mom. But most moms know. Even research shows a unique bond between mothers and their gay sons. Authors write about it. Information on the web abounds. I can tell you, as Zac’s mom and as the oldest sister of four straight brothers, most moms can sense gay and not gay.

Mothers’ ways of knowing start early. A mom of a gay son grasps, long before anyone else, that this boy does not consciously choose to reject bright yellow Tonka trucks at age 2 in favor of pink ballerina tutus. I knew that Zac, who wanted to play dress-up in my formal skirts and wear stage make-up at age 3, and take dance lessons at age 4, was not choosing to be gay.

In fact, moms know in their guts way more than gender preference, and “get” our kids beyond our ability to explain. We can tell, from two stories down, which baby upstairs is rustling.

I knew Zac’s infant cry, could distinguish his sneeze from his sister’s and knew exactly what each cough meant. I’d say to my husband, “Hear him?”

My husband would say, “I’ll go.”

“Thanks; it won’t work. He wants me.”

“How do you know?”

“I can tell.”

Moms know their children with their whole bodies. How do we understand them so well? We can’t say. It’s a tone, a look, a feeling, mother’s intuition.

Last year, I should have known better than to ask 29-year-old Zac yet again about buying those tickets. But I did anyway: “Are we going to the Broadway show next week when I visit?”

“I don’t know, Mom.” I could hear the bother in his voice, the gritted teeth even over the phone; the brief gap between “don’t know” and “Mom”, and the staccato “t” in “don’t”. When he’s angry, my insides fire up, my belly and throat lock.

I skulked, “Oh.”

I knew he heard my frustration. My lower jaw gripped. At moments like this, I stop. I have learned what is sometimes called the smart and sacred pause. After a breath, I redirected to the larger truth. “I’m so excited to get to NYC to see you. I can’t wait.”

He said, “Me too.”

I sensed he had relaxed some; his tone downshifted and softened. I could also still feel his annoyance at me. When I got to New York, my body jittery and nerves jiggly, he hugged me, “It’s OK, Mom.”

In a full embrace, we knew we’d sample hair products together, eat, walk to design shops all over the city, and talk fashion, facial masks and bronzers.

He put his arms around my shoulders and we both, at the same moment, made the same eyebrow-raising face. Being a mother is an affair of the heart.

Most moms are married to heterosexual men, have heterosexual fathers, heterosexual brothers and have dated many a straight guy. We never wonder whether any of those males chose to be attracted to women. We never ask them, “When did you know you were straight? When did you come out as non-gay? Are you sure you like women? Why do you choose female partners rather than male?”

Moms know these men did not choose their sexual orientation any more than Zac did. So when it comes to gay marriage, a mom knows that love is love, whether it’s her daughter becoming engaged to Thomas, or her son crying over a break-up with Scott. Moms ache for fairness, crave stability for all children. We know that all of us share our common humanity more than our differences.

When a mom hears the words “democratic society of equals,” she feels the pain of the subordinated, dismissed, disenfranchised, pathologized and marginalized, especially if non-equality hurts her son whose homosexual brain structure and gay genetic code are his truth, like his inherited deep brown eyes and ruddy freckles, all genuine aspects of who he is.

As we vote again on gay marriage, let’s stop, take that smart and sacred pause, and tap into what is also hard-wired into our brains: the inborn instincts we have for compassion, empathy, justice and equal opportunity. I know I’m not alone; like most moms, my biggest fears and largest hopes are for my children, your children, and our children of this world which sorely needs our soft hearts, open minds and growing souls. I hope you want for my child what I want for yours.

Susan Lebel Young is the author of “Lessons from a Golfer: A Daughter’s Story of Opening the Heart.” She can be reached at

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