Praying for Grayson Allen: My “Coming Out” Story

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Just hanging out with some ballers after a Duke Women’s Soccer game.

I used to pray for Grayson Allen.

I know some of you Grayson-haters are thinking, “Humph! He needed some prayers!” I didn’t pray for Grayson to hold his temper (though that would have helped in a couple of games!), to go one game without being called for a trip, to be strong in the face of all the fans who for some reason loved to hate him, to NOT foul out, to make that last-second game-winner against Kansas in 2018, please! (Well, actually, I did probably pray for all of those things, but they are not the reason for this particular story.)

I prayed for Grayson to meet my daughter and fall in love.

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Photo Courtesy of Blue Devil Network

Grayson and Emma Jane “EJ” entered Duke University as freshmen in 2014.  During her first couple of weeks of soccer preseason, Emma had already met the well-known Duke basketball recruits.  To me, this presented such a wonderful opportunity for a “love connection.”  How hard would it be for a romance with one of those future stars to begin, right?

Spoiler Alert:  This is not a story about my good parenting.

Sadly, these were my secret thoughts, my ridiculous prayers: “Please, God, let her meet someone amazing, athletic, and adventurous like her. Maybe Grayson, Lord? She mentioned she met him and that he was really nice.”

Ugh. Of my many screwups as a parent and the myriad things I wish I had done better – or could do over – praying for Grayson is the one that makes me feel the most ashamed. You see, what I was really praying for was not for Grayson Allen to meet my daughter and fall in love. I was praying for Grayson Allen to save my daughter from being gay because – and I hang my head in shame here – a part of me believed, deep down in my Southern Baptist “love-the-sinner-not-the-sin” soul, that being gay was something that needed fixing, something that could be prayed away.

God, forgive me.

Of course, I already knew Emma Jane was gay before she ever went to college. She had dated a couple of amazing, practically perfect guys during high school without ever really seeming to be all gaga and googly-eyed over them.  But when I asked her questions, she would deflect or avoid or just plain lie, so I chose not to know for sure and tell myself whatever she was experiencing was just a phaseTeenagers go through all sorts of phases, and parenting them is definitely not an easy task, so there.

It will go away eventually if I sweep it under the rug long enough, I thought.

Still, I knew in my heart that she would never be gaga and googly-eyed over those guys, and I should have been a better parent so that my first-born child could have talked to me earlier. Instead, we told each other half-truths a lot of the time and pretended everything was okay.

Thank God my daughter was brave enough to change all of that toward the end of her first year of college when she decided she was tired of living a lie. She wanted to live an authentic life, something (ironically) I had always taught my high school seniors was one of the most important goals in life – “To thine own self be true” and all that good stuff. She brought home a beautiful, kind, intelligent, and oh-so-sweet girl for a family cookout one weekend. Though she introduced Savannah to us as “a friend,” I could see it — gaga and googly eyes.

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Savannah and EJ, July 2018

A couple of weeks after that is when, I suppose,  we could say Emma officially “came out” to me. I had talked to my husband Kelly about my suspicions for a couple of years at this point, and one bit of advice he had imparted when I asked what I “should do” if she really were gay went something like this: “Kath, just know that the way you react to that news will affect the rest of your life with your daughter, so if you want to protect your relationship with her, remember that. The wrong reaction could destroy your relationship forever.”

My husband is a smart man…and probably the best dad ever created. Seriously, ever.

I wish I could write that I listened to Kelly’s advice and said all the right things to Emma Jane, that I hugged her and said, “Sweetie, I know, and I love you, and it is all just fine and the way things are meant to be.” I wish I had said, “Thank you for trusting me enough now to tell me.  Thank you for being brave enough to stand in your truth and allowing me to stand with you. I am proud of you for being yourself and not pretending anymore.” While I have told her things like that many times over since then, on that day, her coming-out day to me and essentially my coming-out day as a mom of a gay child, I failed.

I was scared.

What will people think? Will people in Wilson (our small town) ostracize her? our family? What about Dawson? Does he already know? They have always been so close, but maybe this will be tough for him. He is still in high school, the same high school where I teach. Will people tease him about it? What will my ultra-conservative daddy think?? He has just finally come to terms with racial equality! What about my visions of her future wedding and children? What about my friends? How will I tell them? They better NOT say anything negative about my daughter! Why does she always have to be so difficult and make life way harder than it has to be? Life is hard enough. What does God think about all of this?

These were some of my thoughts — some that I did not articulate to Emma, some that (sigh) I did. I also told her I love her and want her to be happy and will always support her, though I “may have to kill somebody” if anyone says one single wrong thing about her. I mean, I may have screwed up most of the talk, but I was still my same ferocious mom self.  I just needed some time to process.

Now, almost four years later, I am coming out to people on behalf of my daughter all the time, and I absolutely DARE them to say anything to piss me off.  I am embarrassed and ashamed of the narrow-minded thoughts I harbored back then.  I had thought of myself as a “free spirit,” an open-minded person who embraced all people, a person who believed “Live and let live,” all that stuff — I mean, really! What I learned about myself when my own child began living her authentic life is that those principles I had professed to believe in did not apply to my own family. I was fine with other people being gay, but I wasn’t brave enough to handle it from my own child.

I told you this is not a sweet story of my amazing parenting skills.

I have found some comfort that I am not the only parent who has failed during this particular conversation. Sara Cunningham, author of How We Sleep at Night and founder of Free Mom Hugs, can relate to how I felt. In a recent podcast with Jen Hatmaker, she said,  “Our youngest son, Parker,… spent his whole life coming out to us. But when he turned 21, he said, ‘Mom, I met someone and I really need you to be okay about it.’ That’s the day that he faced his biggest fear, and that’s me. That’s the day that I had to face reality that my son is gay.”

It is sad for me to realize I, the mother who had prayed to have this child, the mother who had waited twelve years for this child to finally be conceived, was probably Emma Jane’s biggest fear, but I have to accept this reality and move on. As Cunningham explained, the journey to acceptance is not necessarily a pretty one. Cunningham’s own journey included questioning how to reconcile her faith with her child’s sexual orientation, but her story does have a happy ending: She says, “I call it a journey that took me from the church to the Pride Parade without losing our faith.”

I love that. You see, I was afraid to lose my friends and to face judgment from my family, my colleagues, and my community, but I also was afraid of what God would say. What if (S)he didn’t love us anymore?

After much soul-searching, reading, researching, talking, listening, finding my tribe of supportive voices (and purging the throngs of judgmental ones), I am happy to say I am just fine with our life, thank you very much. I know that being gay, like being white or black or brown or straight, is just the way God made us, and yes, we are “perfectly made,” and no representation of God is better than any other. We are all a part of God, and no one has the right to say whose image, whose earthly manifestation of God is more God-like.

God is love, and love is love.

Yes, I worry a bit with each hint of possible discriminatory legislation for the LGBTQ community, but, to be honest, I have always worried about the underdog, the minority, the oppressed, the – to use a “hip” term right now – marginalized. The difference now is I am finally brave enough to shout it to the mountaintops when I think something is just not right.  The difference now is I am brave enough to sashay around my small town wearing a Pride shirt and a Pride bracelet. The difference is when my family went to the first Duke Women’s Soccer Pride game, an event my daughter helped initiate and organize, my “conservative” dad was right there with me and even wore his Duke Pride bracelet with (dare I say?) pride and, more importantly, love. 

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Photo by Shane Lardinois

That was one of those moments when I realized God’s love really does surpass all human things and human understanding. Another thing I know for sure is that I am brave enough to stand in my truth because my daughter was brave enough four years ago.

And even though Emma Jane was drafted to play professional soccer for the Utah Royals and Grayson was drafted to play professional basketball for the Utah Jazz (!), I am no longer praying for a love connection between the two of them.

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Goalkeeper EJ Proctor of the Utah Royals FC; Photo by Roscoe Myrick

Instead, I am praying for Emma Jane and Savannah to continue loving each other so perfectly, even through law school and long distance, until the day they begin planning their wedding that will break all of the etiquette rules because what rules?

And by the way, I continue to pray for Grayson, not because I want him to date my daughter, but because he may need some prayers to deal with all the hoopla and renewed Grayson-hating because people have now found out who his love connection is!

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Morgan Reid and EJ Proctor at the NWSL College Draft 2018. Photo courtesy of NWSL

I do hope – and pray –  things go well for Grayson and his girlfriend, Emma Jane’s former teammate Morgan. 😉

76 comments

  1. YAY for your speaking your truth and opening up about the process you went through to get to the point you are now. I’ve always wanted to ask you about that, but never knew the words to do so, because you seemed so unlike most of the parents I had been acquainted with in the world of sports and how I portray them in my college-based series, “Love Out Loud”. Oh, and book the chapel already, girls!

    P.S. A LOT of hearts will be broken over the last couple of sentences in your entry.

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  2. Aww, Kathy, I love your post on “National Coming Out Day” which I just learned is today from a talk show I watched today. The host has a brother who is gay, and her love for him just exudes every time she speaks of him:) I love your honesty in admitting how you first felt, but I know it is only because as a parent, you want the best for your children in life and being gay would present some difficulties that were new and different than other difficulties you had faced in this life, but, really, you just want your children to find happiness and be kind, and work hard:) I have learned through Emma Jane that until you are directly affected, you don’t realize how you really feel or understand some things about others, but I know that I love her as much as I ever have and have learned a lot more about life, love, and acceptance. I love you ❤️

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  3. Kathy!!💗💗💗hanging on your every word! this is so beautifully written. So proud of you. So proud of Emma Jane! So much love from me to you girl💕love and miss you Proctors so much.

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  4. Wow! Just wow!! I am speechless but I could not read this, through tears, without saying Thank you. Well written, well expressed, and ultimately that I am proud. To have been your student, a parent of your student, and to just know you as a person. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for being real about the many struggles we, as parents, face once our babies aren’t babies anymore. I wish you and yours all the best!!!

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  5. KP – You have always been so supportive of everyone. Your coming out as a proud mama doesn’t surprise me at all! I am so glad EJ has a supportive family who loves her as God made her. Being honest with your family is the hardest and scariest part of coming out. I know your words will speak volumes to other parents! 💛

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  6. Kathy, wow! This is beautiful. When you used the word “fear”, my heart sank, for I know my beautiful daughter was faced with the very same fear, me. Fear of disappointment. That really hurts. We are fortunate to have strong daughters who are opening our eyes. It’s also great they have found love and happiness. ❤

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    • Yes, Shine! They are both so brave and amazing, and you are right that we are so blessed to have these girls who are opening our eyes, our minds, and our hearts. So many children are not able to be so honest with their parents, and that is sad.

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  7. Kathy, your transparency is wonderful! Coming to terms with our own behavior and attitudes from our past is difficult enough when we are alone with our thoughts, but beautifully articulating them to others in a testimony like this post is a sign of vulnerability, wisdom, and strength.

    Continue loving life and being you! You are the best, Kathy!

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  8. KP! You know this made me cry and giggle (still remember and use those life lessons from senior year at Hunt)! 😉 And here you are, still teaching us all. Love you and your family…I feel your kind spirit every day sitting at what I know refer to as “our” teacher desk. ❤️ You!!! -AK

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    • Thank you, Amanda. I am so proud that you are there at What The Fike, sitting in “our” teacher desk and trying to carry on the lessons we both learned together. You were one of my spiritual role models, for sure.

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  9. Kathy, your story is poignant and so relevant given our current political climate. I, for one, admire you greatly. I know this was difficult. I remember my own fears with regards to having a what might be perceived as shameful family secret outed in our small town. I learned there are wonderful people here who will support you. I am sure you know this as well…. and I hope you know that I am one of them!
    Sophie💕

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    • Sophie, from the moment you walked in the doors of James B. Hunt, Jr., High School I knew you would be a soulmate, and our teachers’ lounge heart-to-hearts only solidified that knowledge. Thank you for always supporting me despite our small-town dramas. :0

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  10. There is nothing like the love between and mother and her daughter. I’m so proud of you for the way you have handled all of this. Especially in a town like ours. Love is unconditional and you have shown that with more courage and heart than anyone else I know. I’m proud of both you and EJ and wish you and your family all the love in the world.

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  11. Wow, I remember you telling me you were pregnant with Emma Jane after trying for so long and watching your stomach move like there was an alien inside during AP English, it is hard to believe that baby is all grown up and an amazing woman!!! I knew then how lucky that baby was and still is. I have three kids of my own now, the oldest a 12 yr old girl, and it is challenging as she moves into this more adult phase to not assume she is any one thing and to always let her know we love her and support her no matter what (the same for her brothers). Your article is as inspiring now as you were as a teacher then.

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    • Sharon Faulkner! I soo remember that you poor kids in my AP English had to go through my pregnancy with me in the 95-96 school year, and y’all were so sweet and patient. 🙂 I cannot believe you have three kids! That is so awesome. Love every minute with those babies; they grow up so very fast. ❤️

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  12. Wow! So touching! All mamas want is the best for their children and it sounds like EJ has found it. This is beautifully written about a beautiful family. Will always love Emma Jane!

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  13. My beautiful wife, my better half, my best friend. I am so blessed by your presence. You make my life better, you make my life complete. I loved your words, I love your writings. You always speak of the power of words and are so talented with them. Over the many years of your teaching career I watched you positively impact so many young people’s lives. Now that you’re retired you sometimes struggle to feel like you continue to contribute in a positive way. You have done so here and again you have with your talent for writing had a wonderful impact on others lives. I encourage you to keep wrting, to through your talent one word at the time change the world. You began with me and continue everyday to make the lives of our children wonderful. Thank you my love. I look forward to the next word…..forever again 😉

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    • It takes one to know one, Lisa, and you definitely win in that category, as you have loved that Nikki so fiercely from the moment she was born. Plus, you have taken care of everyone in your family for as long as I have known you! ❤️

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  14. This post made my heart so happy. As an LGBT person who grew up in Wilson, I can’t tell you how much I wish I could get this kind of support from my own mom. EJ is incredibly lucky to have yours her mother.

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    • Thank you so much. Remember, though, it took me a little while to get to this point, and I said some things I deeply regret. Maybe your own mom just needs more time. Listening to Jen Hatmaker’s podcast with the Free Mom Hugs founder really helped, too. Sometimes we all just need to know we are not alone. ❤️

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  15. This is such a great article! I am so proud to call you my friend! Emma Jane is lucky to have you for a mom! Hopefully this will help others to love unconditionally and to realize God made us all and he made No mistakes! Love you my friend!

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  16. Kathy,
    Wow!!! I can so relate to every word you wrote. I’m so thankful to be the mother of my daughter. She has taught me so much in her journey. The number one thing I know is God is love and he wants us all to be happy and love one another. I’m so proud of you for writing and sharing this with the world. It’s so perfectly written. And…I know that mama grizzly bear feeling. It will come out if I hear one unkind word etc about my daughter 👍

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    • You have always been the sweetest, kindest person, and I appreciate your words. Thank you for reading and for responding. I know you can relate, and I also know how blessed Ashley is to have you as her sweet mama. ❤️

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      • Well done K

        athy and your southern Bap. Mama Jane would be so proud and full of love for you and EJ… I firmly believe God makes no mistakes when he made us all no mater how different we all are. our world gets better and better..our love for our Catherine -Lee and Brittany will grow in April with baby girl….Love you and your words..God will Bless

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      • Oh my goodness, Harriett Page, this messages fills my heart and soul with love…and tears. I know my mama would definitely be full of love because that is how she lived, for sure! I am so happy for Catherine Lee and Brittany and the baby girl in April! ❤️

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    • Ditto to Karen Gregory! We really should start a Mother’s Group! Kathy Proctor, you have opened a conversation that was so needed in Wilson.

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  17. What a beautiful example of a Mother’s LOVE. Emma Jane is lucky to have a mom strong enough to be honest and open about her struggles. God is surely smiling down on you all for the love and acceptance you have shown to one another. The teacher continues to teach. God bless you all.

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    • Haha Justise probably does not remember me, but he knows my daughter well, since they both started at Duke in 2014. Of course, he left after that freshman year, but we saw him every now and then at a soccer game…and on Instagram. 🙂
      Thanks for reading, Takeitha!

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  18. You are as compassionate and courageous as always, Mrs. Proctor. Best of luck to your daughter and her partner in their endeavors, and do not stop hacking at those outdated social mores!

    Best,

    C. Vines

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  19. Kathy, it has been some time since we have spoken…hope you remember from so long ago. Thank you for sharing since Shane and I are on a similar journey with our most precious youngest child. Maybe one day people will realize love not hate is the true meaning of Christ.

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    • Amen! My family has found so much love and acceptance since we have been going to West Nash United Methodist Church. EJ is finally feeling what it is like to be welcome, really welcome (not the fake “Everyone is welcome but not allowed to be leaders” kind of welcome) at a church.

      Like

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