Thursday, May 8, 2008

I'm Not Out. But, You Know, They Know...

Yes, we've all heard it many, many times before. "I'm not out to my parents but they know." Or- "Yeah, they know but we don't talk about it."

Listen, ok. I get it. I really do. Not everyone is blessed with liberal open-minded parents who don't have a problem with homosexuality and/or have the ability to accept the fact that their son or daughter is gay. I also understand that to realize or accept that one's son or daughter is gay is a huge and life changing event for a parent. But for a modern gay person to withhold these very simple and basic details of their life from their parents only closets the child further and prevents the parent from truly getting to know their child for who they really are. If a parent is homophobic or judgmental or believes the stereotypes about gay people than not coming out only perpetuates the parent to carry on with these beliefs.

I have a friend who has been gay since we were in college. He hasn't brought a girlfriend home since he was at most, 20 years old. His parents are southern, religious conservatives who have preconceived Christian views as to what and who gay people are. My friend is now approaching thirty and has had a committed boyfriend for over two years. However, my friend is not out to either of his parents and he continually uses the excuse, "they know, they have to, but we don't talk about it," and thus he lives the existence with his parents with this huge pink elephant in the room. I beg him, "how much longer are you going to continue doing this? What way is this to have a relationship? Yeah it will be a blow to them at first but coming out will only let them to get to know who you are- who you really are, and further, it will challenge and potentially break their views on gay people and homosexuality!" To this, as always, he shrugs and changes the conversation.

Now I certainly wouldn't stress this to him if he had desperate financial connections to his parents, if they were drunks, violent or gun owners. But they're not- they're simple people living in simple America and he's an adult with the power to take ownership over his life and change his parents' perspective. Why, in this day and age are we so afraid to be real with our parents?

Of course there are reasons to remain closeted. If you live under your parents' roof or finances and risk being cut off or thrown out- then by all means, stay in the closet. Never put yourself in harm's way just to come out but if you're an adult living a full-on gay life and your parents "know but kinda don't know" then come the fuck out of the closet and put an end to this nonsense. You're not only hurting yourself and your relationship with your parents but, moreover, you're hurting the gay community as a whole by not changing the way your parents think. To be able to change even one uneducated or homophobic mind is so utterly and completely necessary. Education and change of opinion only spreads to positive outcomes.

In talking with gay men in their 20's, 30's, 40's and up I've often heard the excuse, "Why do my parents need to know? They don't need to know about my sex life." Or- "My brother and his wife don't talk about their sex life, why should I?" Well, at least your parents know your brother HAS a wife!

Here's the thing- this isn't about your sex life. I'm not asking you to say, "Gosh Mom you won't believe the guy I had sex with last night, what a stud-monster!" What I am asking is that you talk about your life, what you do, who your friends are, what your hobbies are because all of them include you and your gay friends. It is essential that uncomfortable parents realize and understand entirely that your life is just the same as theirs (although probably a lot more fun and exciting.) Ask yourself, what benefits do you have by remaining in the closet to your parents? If you're afraid coming out to your parents will hurt your relationship ask what relationship you're currently having? Is having a status quo relationship where you repeatedly sputter out the "life's good- work's good" mantra than you never had much of a relationship from the start.

Grab your courage. Grab your voice. Deal with the fact that the gasps might come out, that the fork and knife might drop and clatter on the plates, but understand that by this Thanksgiving or next or the Thanksgiving years from now, your parents will know the child they are sitting next to at the table.


Adam said...

Bravo! Brad and I talk often about how absurd it is that there are adult gay men who are not out to their parents/family and have no reason for being in the closet. I do believe though that it's entirely possible to be a gay man and have never come out to yourself, and you can't come out to your family if you haven't come out to yourself first.

Anonymous said...

What an awesome Mother's Day gift coming out would be -- "Mom, because I love you and trust you and want to share the most important parts of my life with the person who's been most important to me for my whole life..."

Terrific post, Eric.

Can we give a shout-out to a 30 year old quote from Harvey Milk?

"We must destroy the myths once and for all. We must continue to speak out and most importantly every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your family, you must tell your relatives, you must tell your friends, you must tell your neighbors, you must tell the people you work with, you must tell the people in the stores you shop in, and once they realize that we are indeed their children and that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all. And once you do you will feel so much better."

Anonymous said...

Great post Eric. We have a friend who is a successful attorney, getting close to 40 and has been with her partner for almost 15 years. She, however has never had the "talk" with her parents and goes home once a year alone and spends Christmas apart from her partner, something I could never do. I just don't get it...

David said...

"Gosh Mom you won't believe the guy I had sex with last night, what a stud-monster!"

Were you eavesdropping on my phone call to Mom this morning?!

Anonymous said...

I agree it's important to be known by those close to you, but there's another side. I'm close with my parents, and I'm out hand happy (and they know and love my partner, thankfully!). But my grandmother is of advancing years and of particular views. I love my grandmother dearly, but my life is no less complete without her knowing that my "friend" that joins us at every Thanksgiving and Christmas is my live-in, long-term, butt-sex boyfriend. It's all very cute, actually, how my parents treat him like family, but my grandmother looks charmingly perplexed at the too-tall white boy speaking English at our all-Cuban holiday.

Ryan Charisma said...

I agree 100%

speaking as someone who was touched by this sad situation. My bf of 7 years just recently came out to his parents approximately 1 year ago. It broke my heart for him to hide his life & me from his entire family. Sadly, he hid himself for so long from his family, that now that they know - they still don't seem to want to get to know him. And they certainly don't want to meet me. That's abundantly clear. I feel bad as my family welcomed my "domestic partner" with open arms. At least he gets to share my family. And that really does help.

Rick said...

My first lover, whom I met when he was 34 and I was 22, was not out to his parents, though I was already out to mine. We were together five years and he never came out to them, although he took me home to visit them in rural Ohio twice a year where we slept in the same bed in the same room, something they did not seem to find unusual. Like your friend, he also claimed they did not need to know. The thing about this 'arrangement' that eventually infuriated me was, first, its diminishment of his personhood, and secondly, its minimalization of our relationship. They were continuously working with an abridged version of his identity; they only had access to a counterfeit representation of what we were together. We parted for many reasons, but I must admit his unwillingness to come out was one one of them.

Lucky Pierre said...

When I came out to my Mom in my late 20s, she made me promise not to tell my father. "He's of a different age, he'll never understand!" she pleaded at the time. I've actually kept my promise, but only because I know he's fully "in the know." He has discussed my being gay with all of my brothers, and has always been kind and welcoming to my partner. So, even though I felt stifled by my mother's request, over the years I've come to realize that the status quo works for them, and doesn't mean I'm any less whole. Just my situation, I know . . .

bigislandjeepguy said...

i guess it's easy to look at someone's situation and know what's right (in your mind), but also realize that for a lot of people, parental approval still means a lot, or everything, whether they care to admit it or not. and maybe they feel like, keeping the peace even if they are living a lie is easier than "the great unknown." and it never know how people are going to react. you seem like someone who lives your life without any excuses. but not everyone is that way. many people are scared; of anything, of everything. yea, they don't rely on their parents for money or support...but as i said...the approval of your parents sometimes is still a huge thing in your life.

and by the way, i'm out to my family. i came out to them at my brother's funeral, who had just died from complications from AIDS.

Jon said...

I have conservative christian parents who didn't approve of gay people until they learned that they were related to one. I took the plunge with them when I was 19. I was never in their face but I was always honest. It's been a long road over the past 15 years, and it started out really hard but increasingly got better. It payed off in a big way. They came to my husband's and my wedding in October. I know they see the world in a much different way than they used to. What if every gay person with conservative parents did that? I wonder how our culture would be different. And I can't imagine how terrible my life would be if I hadn't been honest. This applies to the rest of my life too- I'm a high school teacher and I'm out, and it's been a slow hard process, but it's better for me in the end, and I think it's much better for my students as well.

Anonymous said...

What is your opinion on disclosing one's HIV status to a parent.

Anonymous said...

What is your opinion on disclosing one's HIV status to a parent.

Ludo said...

How about, you have a jewish bias that leads you to think that your parents, aka your mum, has to know about your love life ;)

How about they can't handle it ? They don't want to know ? It's sad but it is that way. As for many things in this life, there is no "right" way. Just ways.

I'm sad every once in a while my parents knew one day and decided to "forget" about it but I won't force them, and I've made my way and I've built my life, like one you built with a crooked leg.

I think i'm quite a happy person. Maybe they're not. Their loss.

Anonymous said...

Harvey Milk said
"You are afraid to come out to your parents, you say, 'Think how much it will hurt them.' I say think of how they will hurt you in the voting booth.

Amen brother

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Coming out was so hard for me. Told mom first on Thanksgiving Day, total relief, best TG ever. Dad on the other hand still has problems relating. Although he has always shown the utmost respect to me and my partners. As a matter of fact the last time we spoke I asked him why he was so quiet, he told me that he always wanted me to have children because of all my siblings I would have made the best "daddy". Of course I laughed my ass off and cried in private.

John in Seattle

James Figueiredo said...

Great post, Eric.

And I absolutely agree with you - Not one of the hardships I had to endure while coming out to my family, not A SINGLE ONE (and there were many), even begins to be as strong as the good feeling I get when my husband calls my mother on Mother's Day and I hear her referring to him as her "newest son".

Or when my brother asks us to stay over for a few days during a business trip and he's totally aware of and confortable with the fact that he'll be staying in the home of a gay couple.

And that's not to count the many advantages of being able to talk to my boss about scheduling my vacations around my husband's schedule without having a single confused or disaproving look shot at my direction.


Jeff said...

I'm super glad that I told my parents. It was a little awkward, and has led to some REALLY awkward conversations... But there's not a single person in the world better to call when you're sobbing after a breakup than Ma. After all, she'll reduce you to a (snotty) laughing mess in minutes as she plans her flight to San Francisco to kick the guy's ass.

Anonymous said...

Actually, you really don't get it.
It's terrific that you had really
liberal parents, etc...
That kind of explains your soapboxish point of view(by the
way, a hugh turnoff).
When you get a little older, you
will realize that parents have their own issues they are dealing
with, and sometimes it might be
good judgement to not come out, even if you are established financially, agewise, etc..

You will also realize thet family
comes first. Try counting on on the
'gay community' if you really,
really need help.

I'm sure you mean well, though.