First Novel About Coming Out to Parents Is Published Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Laura Z. Hobson’s best-selling novel, Consenting Adult, is the first fictional treatment of the experience of coming out as gay or lesbian to a parent, as told from the perspective of parents of lesbian or gay children. Hobson was inspired to write the novel after her son came out to her.

Summary of Event

The opening page of Laura Z. Hobson’s novel, Consenting Adult (1975), announced the book’s controversial subject matter (parents struggling to accept their son as gay). It also showed that Hobson, at seventy-five years old, was using her fiction to tackle an issue of social justice.

Dear Mama…I am a homosexual. I have fought it off for months and maybe years, but it just grows truer.…I know how much pain this will cause you, and shock too. But I can’t keep it a secret from you any longer.… [kw]First Novel About Coming Out to Parents Is Published (1975) [kw]Novel About Coming Out to Parents Is Published, First (1975) [kw]Coming Out to Parents Is Published, First Novel About (1975) [kw]Out to Parents Is Published, First Novel About Coming (1975) [kw]Parents Is Published, First Novel About Coming Out to (1975) [kw]Published, Novel About Coming Out to Parents Is First (1975) Consenting Adult (book) Literature;on coming out to parents[coming out to parents] Coming-out literature [c]Literature;1975: First Novel About Coming Out to Parents Is Published[1090] [c]Publications;1975: First Novel About Coming Out to Parents Is Published[1090] Hobson, Laura Z. Hobson, Christopher Z.

Hobson was born Laura Keane Zametkin in 1900 in New York City to Russian-Jewish parents who were socially active, indeed radical. An impassioned writer early in her teens, Hobson (she married in 1930) wrote for newspapers and magazines for nearly twenty years before publishing her first novel, The Trespassers (1943), a scathing account of the injustices of the U.S. immigration system. Her second and most notorious work, Gentleman’s Agreement, appeared in 1946; its searing portrait of the polite realities of anti-Semitism in the post-World War II era was enduringly successful for the emerging, and soon notorious, author, permanently securing her status as one of the leading social-justice voices of mid-century American letters.

Later novels dealt with such topics as free speech and civil liberties (First Papers, 1964) and single motherhood (The Tenth Month, 1971), but Hobson’s 1975 novel about parents dealing with the coming out of their gay son, Consenting Adult, stands out, however, as the author’s most personal and enduringly relevant work.

Hobson traced the inspiration for Consenting Adult to her receipt of two letters from her younger son, Christopher. She received his first letter in 1958, when Christopher was an accomplished high school senior preparing to matriculate at Harvard University. In it, Christopher informed his mother of his homosexuality. The second letter arrived in 1970, when Christopher was nearly thirty and finishing his doctorate in English literature. In this second letter, Christopher, who had become deeply involved in the gay and lesbian rights movement, informed his mother that he was coming out as gay. For Laura Hobson, these two letters—the first from a teenage boy, the second from an adult man— marked the beginning and end points of a journey of acceptance for both parent and child. As she wrote in her memoir, Laura Z. Laura Z. (Hobson)[Laura Z] (1983,1986), “for twelve years his secret had been my secret…and it [began] to occur to me that Christopher’s life was not the only one that had been changed by the decision [to come out].”

In 1970, Hobson began the research that would ultimately be instrumental to the composition of Consenting Adult. She had read many novels about homosexuality. While appreciating the work of Mary Renault, Gore Vidal, and James Baldwin, among others, Hobson noted that “in all those books, one person had always been missing—a parent.” With the novel’s central character, Tessa Lynn, acting as Hobson’s acknowledged surrogate, Hobson began writing Consenting Adult to correct what she called the “orphanhood” of gay and lesbian characters in literature.

Consenting Adult received the best and most widespread reviews of Hobson’s career. She had received “as many as eight or ten” letters per day from parents who identified with having a gay or lesbian child, from gays and lesbians inspired to write coming-out letters to their own parents, and (most numerous of all) from young people discovering that they too were gay or lesbian. Few of Hobson’s fans could have known, however, that Christopher Hobson, whose own letters inspired his mother’s novel, was less than pleased with Consenting Adult, and the novel’s publication led to an extended period of estrangement between the author and her younger son.

Hobson’s more-famous Gentleman’s Agreement was made into an Oscar-winning film (1947), which had entered production even as Hobson’s novel was still arriving in stores for the first time. Consenting Adult, however, struggled, despite constant interest from producers, to enter film or television production for nearly a decade. Finally, in February of 1985, barely one year before the author’s death, ABC-TV broadcast the television movie Consenting Adult. Consenting Adult (television movie) The television adaptation updated the story by a decade, transplanted the action from New York City to Seattle, Washington, and featured actors Marlo Thomas and Martin Sheen, both of whom are social-justice advocates, as Tessa and Ken Lynn.

Significance

Laura Z. Hobson’s Consenting Adult reframed the discourse that described the issues faced by families with gay and lesbian children. Rather than fixating on their son’s sexuality as a solvable problem, Hobson’s characters, Tessa and Ken Lynn, like Hobson herself, had to learn to accept their son and his homosexuality. The novel corrected an absence in gay and lesbian literature—a lack of parents or other family members—and it described the process by which one family member’s coming out transforms the family as a whole.

Consenting Adult emerged as one of the first works to seriously and empathetically consider the experiences of individuals with gay or lesbian family members. The novel became a crucial touchstone in the early organizing efforts of groups such as Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Consenting Adult (book) Literature;on coming out to parents[coming out to parents] Coming-out literature

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Anderson, Robert W. “Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).” In Gay Histories and Cultures, edited by George Haggerty. New York: Garland, 2000.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bernstein, Robert A. Straight Parents, Gay Children: Keeping Families Together. 2d ed. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1999.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Drucker, Jane. Families of Value: Gay and Lesbian Parents and Their Children Speak Out. New York: Insight Books, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Lesbian and Gay Families Speak Out: Understanding the Joys and Challenges of Diverse Family Life. Reading, Mass.: Perseus, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fairchild, Betty, and Nancy Hayward. Now That You Know: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding Their Gay and Lesbian Children. 3d ed. San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Griffin, Carolyn W., and Marian J. Wirth. Beyond Acceptance: Parents of Lesbians and Gays Talk About Their Experiences. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hobson, Laura Keane Zametkin. Consenting Adult. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Laura Z: A Life. New York: Arbor House, 1983. Reprint. New York: D. I. Fine, 1986. Contains an introduction by Norman Cousins and an afterword by Christopher Z. Hobson.

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