Coming Out Doesn’t Solve All Problems
I sincerely hope that in the rush to promote the coming out process, that the message doesn’t come across that it’s an end of sorts. Yet the more I see about coming out stories, they tend to fall into two categories: triumphant messages of hope that involve instant acceptance and miserable blow ups that sever families,tearing them apart. Unfortunately, there is plenty of space in between.
I hope you’ll indulge me as I use a personal experience by way of example. I spent the Thanksgiving holiday with my family as I always do. I came out to them as bi a year and a quarter ago, and since then I’ve noticed them both trying to avoid the topic. This is not much of a change from my father, who is wonderful but tends to turn inward about things, but my mother at least tries to be outgoing. That’s why it’s so painfully obvious when she is upset about something, and why this was a difficult holiday for me.
It started when she realized I was carrying a canvass shoulder bag with me. I’ve had this bag for years, and regular readers of my other blog might recognize it as the Rucksack of Equality, so named because I got it from volunteering with the HRC at Gay Days a couple of years ago. Despite seeing the bag and commenting on it previously, she seemed to have just noticed it and asked if I got it from an Army/Navy store. When I told her just that it was from the HRC (not even that I tabled for them or have ever been to Gay Days), she got very quiet. Had it come from an Army/Navy store, that would have been manly and proper, but because it’s from a gay right’s organization, now she’s concerned. The bag featured heavily in an argument later that weekend when I put it on to go to my little cousin’s birthday party, and she passive-aggressively attempted to guilt me into not wearing it, then refused to say what she was thinking: she’s embarrassed by the idea that her family might find out her son is queer. She apologized later, but never dealt with her reaction in any detail.
I’m in no way disappointed that I came out to my parents. I’m glad that I did. But I admit that I have very little hope that my mother will ever be ok with it, based on over a year of gender policing and a refusal to understand that sex and gender are different things. That, and despite my mother being very smart, she is one of the laziest thinkers I know, which is to say that she hates conflict, so anything that might conceivably make her have to rethink a position is ignored, forgotten, or hand-waved away with a “I don’t want to talk about this.” She has made no effort at all to try and deal with who I am, or if she has it’s so paltry as to be practically indistinguishable from the night I came out and she claimed she was going to pass out like a Southern Belle in an antebellum melodrama.
The thing is, my story is not that uncommon. A lot of queer people who have come out are stuck in that limbo between acceptance and disgust. I still love my parents and they still love me, but I’m trapped in a place where I came out so I wouldn’t have to hide a part of myself, and have basically been told that I have no choice in the matter, and will receive condescension, guilt trips, and the silent treatment should I attempt to discuss freely the people I may be interested in, wear t-shirts that suggest that I might not be 100% straight, or remind passersby that queers exist in the world.
I honestly don’t know how to deal with this, nor what I might recommend to others. A friend suggested that I actually be more confrontational, in the sense of bringing up queer topics more, trying to associate good things with non-hetero people, etc., and I think that’s a good thought that might be helpful. However, the cynical part of me is hesitant to get my hopes up about it. Right now, I can only think that maybe I will have to live with discomfort around this topic, and accept that this sort of stuff will happen.
When we tell our coming out narratives, we need to be sure that we tell them in their entirety. I suspect that there are fights in my future with my parents over this, though not bad enough ones that I would feel they didn’t love me or would want to cut off contact with them. Some people have it better or worse, though rarely as far to either spectrum end as the narrative around coming out tends to be. However, as we discuss this narrative, perhaps there will appear more recommendations for how to handle it.
In the meantime, this year I am both excited by and dreading Christmas. I want to see my family and I want them to not roll their eyes if I accidentally pack my “It’s OK to be Takei” shirt. Seems like a reasonable holiday wish, and maybe some day I’ll believe it’s likely that I’ll receive it, but not this year.