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A FAMILY OUTING: ONE MOTHER'S JOURNEY FROM FEAR TO PRIDE
It was as if he was prepared to run, the day Carl Swanson told his mother, Ruby Swanson, he was gay.
It was 2002; Carl was 16. He came to his mother’s office after phoning to say he needed to talk. Closing the office door once he arrived, Ruby expected Carl to sit down. But he stood by the door, hand on the knob and said, sadly, “I’m gay.”
Those two words sent the Edmonton mother on an intense journey that has culminated, 15 years later, in the release of a memoir, her first book, titled A Family Outing (Cormorant Books). Written under her maiden name combined with her married name, it is an honest exploration of Ruby’s own feelings. It’s also an historical read, a documentation of Alberta’s history of gay activism set in the context of the events that had gone before, including New York’s Stonewall riots in 1969, and the 1981 bathhouse raids in Toronto.
A Family Outing is also a guide for other parents going through similar situations, and for friends and other family members wanting to know how to react, and how to best support, those exiting the closet. Because it’s not just a journey for the GBLT individual — it’s very much a family, and community, experience.
Ruby, who spent much of her career in university administration and is now general manager at the Devonian Botanic Garden, had never suspected her son was gay. But in retrospect, in the months leading up to his announcement (which Carl made first to his father Leonard), the young man suffered a series of night terrors. They left him screaming, flailing, desperate; clearly, something was up. He told his parents he had been dreaming about the whole family being attacked, and that he was trying to save them from bombs.
While the effect of Carl’s announcement on the family, which he made in stages to his dad, mom and brother Paul, was hardly incendiary, it was traumatic. The memoir is very much Ruby’s take on her journey from shock, disbelief and fear, toward acceptance and pride.
In the years after 2002, Carl and his parents became “vocal public advocates for equal treatment and basic human rights for the LGBT community,” as Ruby states in A Family Outing. Carl started the Gay Straight Alliance at Strathcona High School, and was a founder of Camp fYrefly, a summer leadership retreat for LGBT youth. Ruby and Leonard joined the Edmonton chapter of PFLAG, a national group that supports LBGT folks, their family and friends, and went on to demonstrate, lobby, educate and volunteer.
Liane Faulder - Edmonton Journal
Michael Phair, gay activist and former Edmonton city councillor
“Ruby’s account of her family’s journey with a gay son is a story of courage and love.”
Tamara D. Gartner, RSW, M.A., Registered psychologist, co-director of Inclusive Counselling & Consulting Psychological Services
“A Family Outing is a genuine account of a parent’s experience. This book exemplifies the process of moving through the stages of confusion, to acceptance, to celebrating a child’s authentic identity. Moreover, it also outlines this parent’s endless devotion to a healthier LGBTQ community.”
Ruby Remenda Swanson was born and raised in Humboldt, Saskatchewan and is currently General Manager of the University of Alberta Botanic Garden. Ruby is the author of A Family Outing, a memoir about the experiences she's had as a result of having a gay son. She's worked in public broadcasting at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and at the Children's Television Workshop in New York City. She has travelled frequently to Ukraine as part of a Canadian Foreign Affairs deployment to monitor elections and for almost a decade taught English to many new immigrants to Canada. Ruby is a recipient of the University of Alberta Human Rights Education Recognition Award and was a long time director of PFLAG Edmonton. Ruby lives in Edmonton with her husband.
A FAMILY OUTING
Ruby Swanson’s life changed when her sixteen-year-old son walked to her office, closed the door, and with his hand still on the doorknob said, “I’m gay.” A Family Outing is the story of her experiences.