Saturday, June 18, 2011

I wasn't always this out there.

This post has been triggered by a question that often gets asked me on my other blog; how I came out to my parents; how one should come out to their parents; what should be expected when coming out?

I'd like to start off by saying that I am by no means a professional on this subject. I am simply a gay man who lives my life openly to everyone around me; however, I was not, to Lady GaGa's chagrin, "born this way."

Coming out to my parents was, hands down, the most terrifying thing that I can think of having done in my life. It's a huge step in affirming your LGBT* identity; in my opinion, the biggest step you can take. With friends/peers, you can make it a "take-it-or-leave-it" situation—when you come out to them, you don't have to stay in their company if they don't treat you well, nor do they have to stay in your company if they don't like your sexual orientation.

But with family, it's an entirely different realm. No matter what happens, your family will always be connected to you, and that's a pretty big burden to bear.

A brief account of my personal coming out goes as follows:
I am one of those gays who claims to have known about my "differentness" for most, if not all of, my childhood. When I got to middle school, I learned the many definitions of "gay," and I finally had something to identify with. At first, as is the case, I believe, with many gay men, I claimed a bisexual identity, just to ease myself into coming out.
I started by telling my closest friends about being bi, then used it as a way to "correct" people who called me gay (it was sixth grade, it happened), and finally I told some of my closest teachers. After mostly positive reactions, I finally took my identity to my parents, coming out as bi towards the beginning of 8th grade. We didn't talk about it. My parents sent me to a therapist for a few sessions, but when it came to "family sessions" in which they would be confronted with talking about my sexuality, they even stopped sending me there. The ultimate goal of the therapist, my mom has told me since, was more or less to convert me back to being straight (I'm thankful things never got that far).
By high school I was openly telling everyone and anyone that I was gay. Maybe it was the new atmosphere, or maybe it was just "acceptance," but I wasn't scared of it anymore. By the end of sophomore year, I confronted my parents again and came out as gay. This time, there was no therapy. There was more talking. Over the years since, my parents have grown to accept my sexual orientation and are trying to constantly educate themselves on the LGBT* community.

Coming out is not easy, at all. Whether your parents are liberal or conservative, coming to terms with finding out their child is gay is hard. I like to put it like this; imagine having a baby boy. Imagine raising that boy for sixteen years dreaming of the girl they're going to meet in college, bring home for Christmas a few times, get engaged to, and have children with. That's what my parents did, for sixteen years; they imagined the life that society has told them I would have. Then I came in and "ruined" things with my change in plans; homosexuality. Being gay was not necessarily something my parents abhorred; it was something they had never imagined; it was sixteen years of history they had to re-create for themselves.

To the individual that spurred this post, here is my advice to coming out to a more conservative family:
——Don't do it alone. If you're worried your parents will have a negative reaction, have someone with you—a friend, teacher, school counselor—that already knows you're gay and can support you as you come out to your parents.
——Have a place to stay for a few days. Your parents may need some space from you after coming out, I've heard of parents asking their children to leave the house. Don't be left out cold; make sure there is somewhere you can go if you need to leave your house.
——Have information ready. If you're worried your parents are too conservative/don't understand the LGBT* community, have information ready for them; people become less hateful/fearful of people they understand. Some great places to start are AVERT and GLSEN.
——Make sure you're not in a vulnerable position. If your parents are paying for things you can't afford on your own (college, helping you out with an apartment, etc.), and you're worried they'll pull financial support, you may want to wait until you're in a more stable situation.
——Practice. I know it sounds silly, but it may make it easier to come out to your parents if you've come out to someone before them. Find a friend, sibling, teacher or counselor whom you trust and are comfortable with, and come out to them first. The experience will ease your nerves in front of your parents.
——Find community support. The GLSEN link I provided will show you local GLSEN chapters of GSAs that will be able to support you if things go bad when you come out.
——Don't get angry. Maybe your dad is like mine; maybe he'll get frustrated start yelling. Don't yell back. Do your best to keep a level voice and temper; adding your own anger will just escalate things.

Finally, don't psyche yourself out. Your parents will be surprised, yes. They may have a negative reaction at first, but you are their child, and they love you no matter what. It may take them a while to come to grips with your sexual orientation, but they eventually will.

Good luck to you, anon, and come back with any further questions!

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