In my previous post, I talked about a panel discussion hosted by the GAGV after a free screening of the movie Anyone and Everyone. In that post, I mentioned that I chose to share a few comments based on my own experiences. What follows in this post is an outgrowth of what I chose to share. I chose to modify and refine my comments here rather than offer an exact quote for two reasons. the first is that I don’t remember exactly what I said. The second is that I feel I can say more and say it better, and wish to do so in hopes that it might further help others.
One of the things that I loved about the movie we watched is that many of the parents admitted that it took them a while to come around and accept their children’s sexuality. Prior to that point, they even admitted to trying get their children — even through manipulation — to change their minds and live a “heterosexual lifestyle.”
However, one of my biggest criticisms of the movie is that none of the parents gave a time frame, but instead left people to draw their own conclusions on how much time “a while” amounted to. Indeed, I myself was left with the impression that most of them were measuring that time in terms of months, if not weeks. The sad truth, however, is that for some parents, “a while” can be measured in terms of years.
I came out to my mother back in the early part of summer 1996. I’m not sure when she told my father that I was gay. I know I never did. After her reaction, I just never felt like I could bear it. She did not react well, and it is a truly painful thing to watch your mother cry, knowing that you caused those tears.
For years, my parents and I lived in a sort of unspoken standoff. They clearly loved me, but there was now an aspect of my life that we simply would not talk about. Indeed, I remember more than one time when I bitterly commented to friends that my relationship with my parents was fine just so long as we didn’t discuss my love life (or religion, but that’s fodder for another post). If it came up, my mother quickly turned quiet and moody, and I tried to find the quickest way to move the subject on. And the subject never came up with regards to my father.
It is only now, almost twelve years later, that I really feel that I can openly talk to my parents about this aspect of my life. And I have to admit that I still find it somewhat frightening to do so. Even after over a decade, I can say happily that things are finally improving, but we still have a ways to go.
I should also note that to the best of my knowledge, my parents still believe that homosexuality is a sin. I doubt that will ever change. And though I wish they’d change their views in that respect, I do take comfort that they’re coming to a point where they can at least accept that aspect of my life and embrace me for it despite their own feelings on the topic.
So to anyone who thinks their parents might react negatively, I would offer some advice. My first bit of advice is to come out to your parents anyway as soon as you’re ready. But my second piece of advice is to realize that you may be in for a long, rough road, and you need to be prepared for that possibility.
That means having the support you need to help you through the rough times. That means having someone to be there when you need to cry if and when your parents are less than understanding. That means being ready to offer your parents resources to help them with their own emotional processes during this time. The more prepared you are, the more likely it is that you can make it through such a difficult process, hopefully long enough to see some positive outcomes from the whole ordeal.
To close my thoughts, I’d like to offer a bit of story from my own experience. Four or five years ago, I was eating Easter dinner with my parents. As the conversation progressed, we got onto the subject of grandchildren, and my father said something about me having children. My mother took on a forlorn, bitter tone and announced, “Jarred won’t have kids.” I think I might have actually cringed at this point, as this was not a topic I really wanted to have dampen our Easter dinner.
However, my father completely surprised me by saying the first thing he ever did on the topic of my sexuality — while in my presence at least. He took a consoling and even optimistic tone of his own as he reassured my mother, “You never know. He might end up meeting a nice widower with children.”
Never let the long, rough road get you to a point where you close yourself off to the possibility of such an unexpected turn of events.