Syd Jackowitz and Enid Jackowitz

Recorded January 13, 2008 Archived January 13, 2008 59:19 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBX003401


Enid Jackowitz interviews Syd Jackowitz, her husband, and both discuss their process since their son, Michael, came out to them 20 years ago. After attending a weekend workshop together, “The Experience,” Enid and Syd realized, from hearing about young people whose families disowned them and kicked them out of their homes, that they were very focused on how Michael’s coming out affected them, and decided to help other people and reach out to and for support. Enid became a psychotherapist, working mainly with parents of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, and Syd became co-president of a local PFLAG organization, which offers, among other things, support to parents whose children come out to them.

Subject Log / Time Code

20 years ago, Syd and Enid’s son, Michael, came out to them when he graduated college.
Through reading a lot of literature, Syd realized that being gay wasn’t a choice.
Enid remembers feeling very sad that Syd did not attend her first PFLAG meeting with her.
Michael expressed his desire to come out to family members, and Syd said, “Not now. Give me three months.”
Syd began therapy and also attended a weekend workshop with Enid, “The Experience,” which Michael had attended and recommended.
“We can deal with society rejecting us, but not our parents” (participant of The Experience).
Michael met his parents at the workshop’s graduation ceremony, and surprised them.
After the workshop, Syd and Enid joined PFLAG and Syd became co-president of the local PFLAG chapter one year later.
Enid remembers going back to school after Michael came out to her, and became a therapist.


  • Syd Jackowitz
  • Enid Jackowitz

Recording Location

MobileBooth East


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00:00 Okay.

00:06 Hi, this is Enid jackowitz. I'm 64 years old. Today's date is January 13th, 2008 in Orlando, Florida, and I'm here with my husband Sid.

00:25 Hi, and I'm sick. Jackowitz. I'm 66 years old. It's January 13th. 2008. We're in front of the the Orlando librarians.

00:37 Funeral in Orlando, and I'm here with my wife in it.

00:43 So this year we're going to be celebrating our 45th anniversary and we're really happy to have an opportunity to talk about a difficult time in our during our marriage. We have two grown children and two grandchildren and 20 years ago.

01:04 When our oldest son was graduated from college, he came out to us and he said Mom and Dad I have something I need to tell you and that changed our lives and through our lives into other chaos, and we had a really rough time with it and a very long journey through that.

01:28 What did he say to you?

01:31 So what was it like for you said when Michael first came out?

01:36 Well, he came home from college and he said he wanted to talk to us. So we went into the family room and he was just a little too nervous and I thought what could it be? I originally I thought he was going to announce that he was getting engaged to his girlfriend. But because he was too nervous. My first thought was well, she's probably pregnant and that's what he's telling us. So when he did say that he was gay.

02:06 It really was a shock to us. It really threw us for a loop things were a lot different 20 years ago when he came out there was no Will & Grace. There was no Ellen people wearing his accepting and sure and I think the only there were rumors that maybe Rock Hudson I might be gay. But other than that, it was just not a subject that was discussed. So my first reaction was anger and it was why do they have to tell us this? Why couldn't he just pretend and save us this pain and then as men do the next thing I thought of his why don't we fix it?

02:59 And I realized after a while that it wasn't anything to be fixed and you go through. Of grief.

03:12 Because there is a loss of loss of your expectations and

03:18 And shame because we live in a homophobic society and fear at that time age was very big and

03:30 There were no.

03:33 Pills to take and it was a very dangerous thing. So it was really difficult for both of us. How was it for you?

03:44 Well, my life completely fell apart. I blamed myself. I thought it must be must be something that I did wrong later. I was to find out that almost all mothers feel that way. But my I just felt like my entire life came apart at that moment and I didn't know what to do. I thought Michael was when he said he was gay that it was a choice that he made and I couldn't understand how that could happen in our family. Why would he why would he choose to be gay? I just had a very hard time understanding. Why was completely heartbroken.

04:25 Thankfully, I found a really good therapist.

04:32 Well during that time. We tried to be loving to Michael but years later he had said that.

04:43 We wouldn't look him in the eye for like the first two years and our entire Focus was what his coming-out did to us and how he's coming out affected us.

04:58 It was really no understanding of what Michael was going through at that time. So I started to read a lot to

05:09 Try and figure it all out and

05:15 I guess the first realization was that his coming-out wasn't wasn't a choice and for any again years later when we talked to her son. He said he could see it for perceivable difference in our relationship. Once I came to that conclusion that this wasn't a choice. When did you how did you come to that conclusion?

05:38 12 just in reading reading articles and books and that kind of thing.

05:51 Well, I still it took me longer to realize that it wasn't a choice, but eventually I started I did a lot of gross work during that. And I started asking people.

06:05 That I knew who were gay. When did they know that when they were gay and it was very interesting that the answers that I got there were so while they were very different circumstances everybody that I asked and I'm asked hundreds of people at this point. Everyone that I had asked said that they knew at a fairly young age usually during puberty that they were gay and they felt that there they would have to keep this secret that there was something terribly wrong with him because Society said how terrible it is to be gay.

06:43 And one of the most incredible stories that I heard.

06:49 I'm really profound was I asked somebody when they first knew they were gay and they said when they were he said when he was 5 years old his sister brought her boyfriend home to meet the family and he got a crush on the boyfriend and he knew this wasn't right and he kept that locked deep inside of him. He didn't tell a soul for so many years. It took him a long long time to till until he was able to come to grips with that. And I also remember meeting a man who was in his seventies to was married. He lives at during the time where you couldn't come out and

07:33 He was he was in a relationship with children and after his wife died. He gave me a letter that he wrote to his children.

07:43 To tell them that he was a gaming and that he was going to be living with a partner a life partner now and his kids had a very hard time with it at first, but eventually they did come around, but I heard stories like that early for the certainty that first year we used to go for walks every morning and just process the whole thing and they reached the point after maybe it was close to a year.

08:20 That I said to you then I was done processing and you said no you still needed to process and I said that

08:32 I was kind of done with it and I didn't want to do it anymore and kind of gave you permission to.

08:42 To talk to other people, but I remember that I was so.

08:48 Hidden at that time that

08:54 That I said it's okay for you to tell other people but I don't want to know who you're telling and I don't want them to acknowledge to me. I remember that then you started it wasn't until that time that I started to tell one that I told one friend who felt safe for me and I was terrified. It was a tremendous unburdening when I told her and she was very loving about it. And then I told another friend and then took me like an 6 months later and then another six months. I told somebody else until eventually I had told.

09:37 Most all of my friends at that point that I had a gay child. You hadn't told anyone tip to me and said how come you haven't told another person I said, it's nobody else's business and he's just wanted to take a look at that, right?

10:03 There's there was just feeling that once Michael came out of the closet that parents tend to go into the closet and I certainly was there and for the next couple of years.

10:20 I think we were accepting but not talking about it, please for me you were talking and loving to Michael, but I didn't want to talk about I only talked about it in very small group. You know, I just with one friend at a time and I didn't discuss it any place else.

10:43 And I think it was around that time that I went to a piece of my first pflag meeting.

10:51 And I asked you to come with me. Do you remember what you said? That's right. And then at one point some years later, you became co-president of people favorite. Yeah, and I went by myself and it was a really hard thing to go by myself cuz I wanted you there with me and I felt like we weren't so drifting apart at that point of a relationship and and we always were so close and did everything together and it was that was a very hard time for me.

11:30 Could you say a little bit about pflag and and what it is any parents of family and friends of gays and lesbians and it's so support group in the chapters all over the country.

11:46 We're people primarily parents go when their kids come out and it's a support group parents that are

12:00 Who come for the first time here stories very similar to their own from other parents and they realize that they're not alone and it's it's the best thing that parents can do when they find out their son. Unfortunately. I didn't feel I was ready to go there, right?

12:29 So after that, I guess the next couple of years things just went along you were much more at talking to people. I was not we both were loving to our sun.

12:46 And it finally reached the point where I send said he really wanted to tell other family members and we just weren't ready. Especially me for that to happen. But I had for some reason I had said that Michael not now give me three months to this day.

13:16 I don't know what that three months was about, but I it was a Friday night date in the in the future.

13:30 And that's about the time that you suggested going to the experience. Well, that was really I think for me it are such a big turning point when we went to the experience. Michael have going to the this weekend workshop for gays and lesbians and I saw such a change and we had much more confidence in himself. He just felt better about himself and

13:56 And I was talking to him about it. And I said Michael do you think that would be a place for Dad and I to go because I was really wanting to find a place to get to the next level not just for myself, but for you to you were still very stuck at that point. I was out everybody that I knew that I had a child and I had really work through a lot of the shame and I had moved on but you had and then I was just wanting to go to the next level of this journey and

14:28 Michael said oh mom it would be incredible if you and Dad would go but dad's never going to go, you know, you can forget about that. And I said, well, you know what I'm going to ask him anyway, and nobody was more shocked than I was when I asked you when you said sure let's go. I couldn't believe that you would want to go and it was during that. I guess that 3-month. And you knew you needed to do something to get you to a different place and one of the things that I told the therapist

15:09 Was that I was really stuck like this fear of moving forward was like an anchor.

15:17 That was holding me back and he said to visualize picking up that anchor that was holding me back and throw it is far out in front of me as I could.

15:35 And then to use the anchor to pull myself into the fear, which is exactly what we what I did and I remember when we were driving down to

15:49 To this weekend workshop and both of us really, who's going to be there is going to be like and we were very nervous. But when we first walked in I think I leaned over and said to you this could be a room full of account you did.

16:09 I mean we went there.

16:12 To learn, but the I think the first thing we learned is that we brought some of internalized homophobia and some homophobia with us. We certainly did.

16:26 Well, and I remember at the experience that

16:33 Some of the people we met it was it was so incredible again lesbian.

16:47 Kid's brain and things that we read about

16:55 Was that

16:58 At least at that time when kids were coming out about 25% of them were being thrown out of their houses so we could read about it. But here we met those kids who actually been abandoned by their families.

17:15 That was the most incredible thing for me. I remember one young guy said to me.

17:23 We can deal with Society rejecting us but we can't deal with is our parents rejection. We don't and we didn't and they didn't understand it and then somebody said to me, how can I be how could it be that yesterday? I was the Golden Boy.

17:43 And today my parents want to throw me out of the house, and I remember feeling so

17:50 I'm at a loss for what to say to him. What could I possibly say? I went because I had a lot of questions that I wanted to have answered about what I was getting from all these people were questions more and more questions and I remembered a wonderful saying that you have that in the Valley of the blind the one-eyed man is King and that weekend. That's how it felt. We were the one eyed me. We didn't really have the answers but but we listen to them and and I got to see this journey. I saw Michael's Journey Through The Eyes of these kids and it was in a whole other layer are in a level that I had never gotten to before because up until that point. It was all about me.

18:44 And what it did to me and what is it to my family and then all of a sudden it became about Michael and I realized Michaels Journey was so hard for him and I was felt tremendous pain over the fact that when he needed me, I wasn't there for him. He had to go through this most difficult part of his life coming to grips with his sexual orientation, and he couldn't even talk to us about it. And so I was in a lot of pain about that.

19:18 And

19:20 So at the end of the weekend, which was just a profound experience. They had a graduation and everybody was standing in a circle.

19:33 And holding hands and the there was music playing it was Bette Midler's the rose. She was singing the song The Rose and we all were holding hands and swaying to the music and all of a sudden I felt something stir in front of me and I open my eyes and there was Michael

19:57 I need with the whole thing of her.

20:05 Do you remember that that moment it was such a moment of healing for us?

20:14 Well the whole the whole weekend was life changing you in the sense.

20:21 In the sense that we were going there.

20:25 Really needing help and we left with the eye the idea that

20:34 We needed to help other parents.

20:39 And our entire Focus up until that point had been have Michael's coming out at affected us. But now is he say since we we could see through the Journey of these other kids who were telling their stories and there was one story about Lou Who was in it?

21:00 He was in a relationship for 25 years and partner who just died like six weeks ago. The six weeks before the

21:12 And his parents had never

21:16 Accepted the relationship and so he called his parents to tell him that his partner of 25 years has died and ask them to please send flowers to the funeral is a recognition of his loss and they refuse to do it and you offered to pay for the for the flowers and the

21:38 I couldn't do it and when the kids would say we could understand with societies homophobic, but when our own parents are throwing us out very very powerful and it was also a realization that bite through these other kids we could see that Michael had done his part. It was now a good time to step up to the plate and that trip home was incredible. We drove back to Orlando together and we just talked the whole way home and we talked about so many things.

22:20 And did so much healing and then we talked about what what do we do now? We we I know I felt like I had a just such a desire to do something in the community to help other parents to understand that being gay was not a choice. I realized if it was being a choice. Nobody in that room would have chosen to be gay. I realized that at that point how none of the kids there would have chosen that and so I really wanted to do something to help after we came home. We both joined pflag. And as you mentioned within two years I was the co-president of the chapter.

23:12 And you became a member of the board of jail B's CC which was can

23:19 Lesbian bisexual Community Center in and then we started speaking out at groups. We were friends of ours was a professor UCF Tunes teaching a course that included a section on homophobia invited us to speak and we went and then you went speaking all the time. I did and you did but

23:46 So we started to get it active and we had made like this incredible shift from being needy that wanting to help others and then and then we had that opportunity with the with the watermark. We went as a group from pflag and to ask Tom Dyer. Who was is the editor of the watermark, which is the paper.

24:19 From the IT central Florida's newspaper for the gay community and we went and asked him a group of us if he would be interested in having having parents write a column like each month, but different parents writing columns that what it was like for them when their kids came out and he thought about it for a minute. He said no I wouldn't be interested. But what I would be interested in is to having the same parents write a column each month and then he said he looked at us and he said Enid and said would you be willing to write that column and I said, well, you know, I don't know I have to think about that and because I knew it would take a big commitment of time to do that.

25:10 But

25:13 We went home and we thought about it. We realize it was the university. The universe was giving us a wonderful opportunity. So we decided to do it and what was really so funny was that

25:28 Was that

25:33 That's not too long before in I think it was knew. It was New Year's Eve. We were with a group of friends and they said we were talking about what we are goals were for the year and what my goal was for the year was to be a have my book published. I wanted to be a published author and and I don't want to get paid for what I did. And so when we wrote the column but a few weeks later after a First Column with. There was a check in the mail from The Watermark, and I was so surprised and I thought well it came true. It happened. So

26:12 So what what did you what do you think you learned through this process?

26:20 Go first that it is a process that for parents. It could be a short time or a long time for us. It took quite a bit of time, but other families come to pflag and nowadays there.

26:39 Time of understanding and acceptance is

26:45 Is much much shorter and I take

26:55 That there's a. Of time when kids discover that they're different until they finally as they grow feet put a label on it and realize that they're gay or lesbian, but there's that. Of time and for parents, I think it's the same thing. They find out in an instant that they have a gay son and it does take Cinema periods of time to make that adjustment.

27:25 Couple sober in the pizza is pretty good.

27:29 Pretty good place for parents to go and that it's a journey in a frost ruin a 20-year Journey first. There's all the stuff you go through them. There's tolerance Acceptance Now advocacy in and acceptance.

27:50 Well, I think what I learned was that Michael's coming out with such an incredible gift to me that he had the courage and that he loved us enough to trust us that we would eventually come around. I mean, I certainly didn't think so at the time. It didn't feel like much of a gift at the time but it was such an incredible gift to me because along that journey I found myself and I went back to school and I began to discover who I was and in that I became a therapist and now I work as a therapist helping other people.

28:29 Which is an incredible thing for me. There is a wonderful story.

28:37 About a king who had a son and they had a major disagreement and the sun feeling very misunderstood and unheard by his father.

28:50 Left his father's Kingdom and settled in a Faraway place.

28:55 Many years passed

28:57 And the King was missing his son greatly and he sent word with a messenger to his son.

29:03 And he said please come home. I miss you. Bring your family come back and the Sun considered it, but then send a message back to his father saying I can't come home. It's too far to travel and the father is send a message back saying then come as far as you can and I will meet you the rest of the way.

29:26 And I think that this journey has been

29:30 Meeting Michael the rest of the way.