Coming Out Stories: Burdens and Resistance
It was the summer after my first year at college. I remember it well because I had spent the last 19 years building it up so much in my mind. I spent the day writing letters to my parents. My intent was to write them a letter that they could read and digest in their own time and then have a conversation with me in the hopes of keeping emotions as low as possible.
I don’t even remember the actual content of the letter, other than explaining that being gay was not a phase, it was something I had struggled for years to come to terms with, and that I needed their support. I waited until my mom got home from work, and I told her and my dad that I had something for them to read. I handed them the letter and told them I would be upstairs in my room until they were ready to talk. For what seemed like an eternity (but was probably more like 5-10 minutes), I waited in silence in my room, eagerly listening for my mother’s shrill voice to screech my name through the house. Instead, my dad’s soft, deep voice lightly called my name.
“Oh, shit,” I thought. “I’ve broken my mother’s heart.”
I went downstairs, and my parents were sitting in the living room. Neither of them looked very distraught or concerned. We sat in silence for a moment before my mom spoke up. They read my letter and they had something to tell me.
“We love you and support you no matter what,” she said. Those words instantly unloaded the years of burden I carried with me. It was almost physical; I felt lighter, freer, more open. It is a hard feeling to describe to people who ask me about coming out, but I often say that it felt like someone lifted the many hundred-pound bags I carried on my back since I could remember. I no longer had to hide myself from my family. I could be me.
“Are you sure?” my mom asked, as I stood up to hug her.
“I’m definitely sure, mom.”
“Really, really sure?”
“Mommmmm…….” I groaned in typical teenage fashion.
It’s 12 years later. It took me a few more years to be comfortable enough to be completely out and open about being gay. It also took my parents a few years to become more comfortable with the idea of having a gay son. In fact, my dad is still sometimes uncomfortable–but, he has never made me doubt his love for me. They work really hard to be supportive of me and my partner, and their progress shows.
My parents are not religious (though my mom might say she is “spiritual”). I was raised by people who encouraged me to be open to the world around me and not limit myself to the culture I am embedded within. I knew deep down they were not going to kick me out of the house or send me to some fundamentalist Christian ex-gay counseling camp, but the overarching narrative of teenage coming out stories in the middle to late 1990s centered around all the homeless youth (I mean, did you ever watch My So-Called Life or Dawson’s Creek? Those shows scared me deeper into the closet!). Even kids who did not have radically religious parents were being kicked to the curb for the crime of being honest. I am one of the lucky ones.
As time has passed, I think back to that moment less and less. But I realize the profound nature of coming out, not just as queer, but as any stigmatized identity. I feel that it is an imperative for me to live my life as openly as possible so that other people do not have to struggle so much. In a way, I guess I am trying to show that, though we may be different in certain ways, difference is not a bad thing, and being queer is no reason to be mistreated and oppressed. Living my life openly and honestly is in itself a radical act of resistance against hegemonic cultural values and social mores.