Coming Out to Parents
From Chapter 5, “My Voice in the Crowd: Finding My Authentic Voice”
“Son, How Do You Know So Much About Homosexuality?”
This is what my mother casually asked me when we sat down to her great home cooking. Suddenly I found myself between a rock and a hard place. I wasn’t going to lie about it anymore, but I was definitely not ready to come out — not now, right before the concert. I tried to blow the question off as unimportant without lying, but they saw right through it. Needless to say, by the time dinner was through, Mom and Dad were asking me point blank, “So are you telling us you’re a homosexual?” And their panic was on the rise.
Several hours and a few nightmares later, we were all a mess. Wailing and gnashing of teeth paled in comparison to how my parents were behaving. I remember highlights in the negative of that evening. I remember watching what I could only describe as these dark and distorted stereotypes surfacing in my parents’ minds and the sheer terror of their son being one of “them” flashing across their faces as though real pain was being inflicted on them. I would try to educate. I would try to stop them from blaming themselves, or the college I had attended — at one point they were sure I had been molested. I would try to dispel their myths of what a gay person was and let them know that it was going to be okay. Then another thought would flood their faces and it was more than I — more than anyone, really — could keep up with. It was as if my parents were engulfed by one trauma after another and there was nothing I could do but watch. How could they possibly respond in a loving manner when they were experiencing such a tidal wave of fear and shock from their misinformation (and lack of information) regarding homosexuality? I remember at one point my mother realizing that I might never have children, and her sobbing words were, “...and you’re so good looking.” That really surprised me since I don’t remember ever getting such a compliment when she was in her right mind. Everything they believed me to be was falling apart and they could not hold back the “horror.”
Mixed into the revelation and the sadness was argument. I can’t say that my mother uses her emotions to manipulate a situation in her favor, at least not consciously. I’m not sure she has the mental dexterity to be that malicious (which I realize is a back-handed compliment, but a compliment nonetheless). But I will give her credit for not being able to hide her internal emotions — ever. Unfortunately, she could be so emotionally forthcoming that hurting Mom’s feelings, either purposely or accidentally, seemed like “the” cardinal sin in our house. As I was growing up, it was one of the reasons I’d rather lie than be honest about something that could make my mother upset. I would rather cut her with a knife than hurt her feelings. It was as if her emotional pain was just as real as physical pain, or more so. The hurt in the room that night seemed out of everyone’s control.
The evening finally culminated in the harshest statement she has ever said to me: “This is worse than when your sister died.” I couldn’t believe she said it. To try and deflect some of the utter rejection I, as usual, denied it and tried to justify it away in my mind with excuses, like, “Oh, she’s just upset. She really doesn’t mean that. She’s trying to manipulate me into changing, etc....” But it had hurt me so deeply that my survival instinct finally kicked in. That statement quite honestly sounded emotionally life-threatening. I called the conversation “over” and said that we needed to take a break and get some sleep since it was already late into the night. It was the first time that I did not feel at home in the very house I grew up in, and that only heaped on more feelings of rejection.
Fortunately, I had friends in town, a gay couple whom I called and basically said, “I’ve come out to my parents. I cannot stay here tonight. I’m coming over right now” — without so much as a chance for them to respond. When I set foot in their house these two muscle-bound lumberjack men enveloped me into their arms. I was in such shock that the two of them insisted I sleep between them, safe and warm where nothing evil could reach me. God bless them.
The next morning when I returned, not surprisingly, Mom and Dad hadn’t slept much. As I have previously stated, I give my family credit for being tenacious in their creativity and curiosity. Yet the dark side of this characteristic is what I like to call “scab-scratching.” If there’s something that isn’t quite perfect, we just can’t leave it alone. And so it was with my sexuality.
Something that took me by surprise was that Dad was going to call his pastor to cancel my concert. “We can’t knowingly allow a homosexual to get up in front of our church.” Youch! That was a harsh blow and further diminished whatever bit of confidence I thought my parents had in me. Somehow I felt like a coward to leave it up to my father to make the call, so by the end of Saturday I called the pastor and cancelled the concert without giving any reason except that it was an emergency and it couldn’t be avoided. I felt that I had come so close to doing something special for my church family, and now, not only was I forced to bail on them at the last minute, but the humiliation around the whole situation was so potent that I almost never set foot in that sanctuary again, aside for a funeral or two. “Never a hero in your own home town.” I hate it when clichés are truly spot on. Yet a friend comforted me by saying, “Jesus had that problem too, ya’ know.”