In 1995, 21-year-old Robert Rave was in New York City, hundreds of miles away from his home in suburban Illinois. He needed to talk to his mother.
Rather than call or email, he decided to write her a letter â€“ one that would change their lives forever.
Rave told his mother he was gay.
â€œI still cringe when I read that letter,â€ he said. â€œI had to do it that way though. It was too emotional a topic for me to speak about. I wanted to make sure I got everything out.â€
The letter became a springboard to â€œConversations and Cosmopolitans: Awkward Moments, Mixed Drinks, and How a Mother and Son Finally Shared Who They Really Are,â€ a book written by both Rave and his mother Jane, that chronicles their journey after the letter was written.
But Raveâ€™s letter did more than open up his world to his family. It allowed his mother to open up to him, too.
â€œI was a different person back then,â€ said Jane. â€œAll of this has allowed me to feel so much more confident.â€
Things did get better.
â€œI was shocked,â€ Jane said. â€œI didnâ€™t know. I feel guilty looking back that I didnâ€™t. Once I read the letter, none of that mattered though. We felt so bad that he was dealing with this all by himself. I wanted to just give him a hug.â€
There was no fallout between Rave and his family. In time, the family was brought closer together as Jane exposed a life that, like his, was partially a secret.
â€œGetting pregnant as a senior in high school and getting married young was something that I never really verbally expressed to my children,â€ said Jane, a mother of three. â€œI wasnâ€™t ashamed of it, but it was something I had never really spoke about. It got emotional. He used to tell me he felt so bad, but I told him not to. I have his father, weâ€™ve been married 44 years.â€
From his journey in the dating scene to the litany of words used in the gay community, Robert shared just as much. Jane ended up getting a first-class education in her sonâ€™s life.
â€œHe sent me a list of words and told me to tell him what I thought they meant,â€ said Jane. â€œI thought it was going to be easy. But I was floored. It was funny at times.â€
One word that left Jane confused was â€œfag hag,â€ which according to Robert, means â€œA woman who uses gay men as an emotional crutch when she canâ€™t find happiness of her own.â€
â€œI try not to remember what some of the words mean,â€ said Jane. â€œSome of the other words got me saying to myself, â€˜Thatâ€™s not what it meant when I was a kid.’â€
The notion that the mother and son should write a book started as a joke. Robert worked in media relations and had a background in fiction writing. Jane was a housewife with no professional writing experience.
The Raves didnâ€™t let that stop them.
â€œWhenever I would come home for a visit, weâ€™d discuss chapter ideas,â€ Robert said. â€œShe would write out everything she wanted to say on a yellow legal notepad. Then sheâ€™d e-mail them to me and weâ€™d start the editing process.â€
Jane enjoyed the collaboration far more than she thought she would.
â€œI thought of it like a journal,â€ Jane said. â€œI had to go in a room by myself and I just wrote. Some of it was sad to write about, but it made me think about my life and how much itâ€™s progressed over the years. I just kept at it. I wrote from my heart.â€
The book is more than a memoir to the Raves. They want the world to read their story and embrace the differences in individual families.
â€œIt was a way for us to look back on some of the experiences weâ€™ve had,â€ Robert said. â€œThis was before the â€˜everything gets betterâ€™ campaign and all the new stories. Sadly, this story feels even timelier today. While this book is not that serious, we do want it to be able to open dialogue between families.â€
He notes that the relationship between him and his family is stronger than ever.
There is some jealously lingering around, though.
â€œDad jokes that he wants his own book,â€ he said. â€œI told Mom weâ€™d call it, â€˜What about me?â€™â€
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