Coming Out to My Parents: What I Wish They’d Done Differently
Coming out to my parents changed my life, and mostly for the better. I can easily divide my life into two halves: Before I let my parents and the other people that matter to me know of my non-heterosexuality, and after. For me, and probably most gay kids, it was an important moment, but not an easy one.
Yet, it could have been easier. For everyone.
Coming out to my parents, the most important people in my life, was exhausting. They had absolutely no idea what it actually means to be gay, only preconceived stereotypes. They were stoic to begin with, but by evening, my mother was lamenting her fate.
They are still coming to terms with my distinctiveness – which is understandable – but they reacted in a few ways that made the experience and their journey to acceptance more difficult for themselves and cast a cloud over our relationship. I’m writing this to help parents of other gay kids; it can be difficult to reconcile the difference between reality and expectations — but it doesn’t have to be so hard.
Things I wish my parents had done differently when I was coming out
I wish they hadn’t made it only about themselves.
For a while after coming out to my parents, they seemed to completely overlook the dejection and alienation I had described in my school life. The one question they kept coming back to was: “Why do we have to go through this when other parents don’t? God has been unjust with us!”
They forgot the old adage that if we all start throwing our problems into a heap with others’, we’d soon want our own back. Self-pitying only helped my parents continue to see themselves as victims and me as a villain, which stalled our relationship. It may be natural or even comforting to ask “Why?” but dwelling on unanswerable questions only traps you in an endless spiral.
I wish they hadn’t laughed.
Neither of my parents had any familiarity with homosexuality at the time I was coming out to them, which meant they looked at my relationships not as real but as funny. My mother would laugh and kept telling me she “didn’t understand,” but after many explanations and introductions to my boyfriends, it began to feel like she didn’t let herself understand, and used that as an excuse not to take my relationships seriously. Her response made me want to not respect her opinions anymore, about anything.
The fact is, sometimes one doesn’t have to understand to love, care, and support. I felt like a less important member of the family, and her ardent denial of my relationships only made it worse.
I wish they had asked more questions.
The Internet is good for more than just cat and dog videos (though I can recommend several excellent ones). I found a lot of great and diverse gay-focused content online – ranging from documentaries to stories of LGBTIQ icons and their fight against HIV – and I’d suggest my parents watch some in order to understanding gender and sexuality. I hoped that afterwards, they would ask me questions and we could have a conversation. But they never made an effort. When I tried to make them more aware of sensitive vocabulary, they seemed disinterested.
But I was at fault, too. I very clearly remember getting exasperated at my mother’s early questions, mostly because I found them offensive and redundant. That discouraged her from asking more. If you’re a parent whose child has come out, and you’re confused – just ask. And keep asking. It’s the only way to understand.
I wish they hadn’t looked for things to blame.
American TV and web shows are a huge respite from the Hindi films and most Indian television, which reduce the LGBTIQ community to mere caricatures. Modern Family’s Mitchell was like me in more ways than one, and his relationship with Cameron was a ray of hope. My parents, on the other hand, believed these shows were corrupting my mind. Many friends and acquaintances shared this view as well: “God didn’t make you like this,” they’d say. “I’ll pray to God to ‘normalize’ you.”
It was frustrating; the very shows that made me feel normal were blamed for making me, in their minds, ‘abnormal.’ It took away the possibility of sharing a hope for what life could be like, or even simply sharing comic relief during a tense time.
I wish they had told me they needed time.
I was 18 when I came out to my parents and I believed I knew everything there is to know about handling a sensitive situation like that. (Ha!) I’d come out a zillion times before, and it hadn’t seemed like a big deal when I finally made up my mind about bringing it up with my parents.
What I didn’t understand is they needed time to adjust their expectations for their own lives, not just mine. My parents did not expect to have a gay son, which is fair. But they continued for months with the belief that they still didn’t have a gay son, after my coming out. The denial offered them a form of escapism and allowed them to delay the process of accepting reality.
I wish I had been a lot more patient at the beginning; it was only when a teacher spoke to me that I understood that showing patience and persistence was the only way for us to move forward as a family. I think if they had been upfront about needing time to adjust to the news, it would have been easier for all of us.
Coming out is a process for the person experiencing it. Similarly, it can be a process for parents as well. All individuals and families are different, but if there is one thing I could tell parents whose children come out to them in the future, it’s this:
It’s easy to invest energy in arguing; it’s hard to just sit and question and listen and, eventually, to understand. But communication is a give and take. Respect your kid’s voice; he or she has been struggling with it longer than you have, and may have to face the brunt of the world’s opinion before you do. Listening gives both them and you the time to understand and move toward the support they (and you) may need to navigate the rest of your life as a family.