Coming out isn’t simply one moment; it’s a process those in the LGBTQ community experience their whole lives. Regardless of how outwardly gay I am, I still have to come out occasionally.
Six months ago, I started a new job. I assume everyone who meets me knows automatically, including my new employers, but when I needed to request a day off for my girlfriend’s college graduation, I was still nervous. The truth is, I get nervous every time. There is always at least a little bit at stake. The anxiety one feels during these moments, however, is nothing compared to the terror during the moment — that first moment. That first time you look at your parents and say it.
That moment is life-defining. Eight years later, I still want to throw up when I think about coming out to my mother. Until you start coming out, your life is built on lies.
You don’t know how to talk to your peers because they’re starry-eyed over the opposite sex. You tell your parents that you don’t have a boyfriend because you’re too busy with school to think about boys. That cliche nightmare teenagers have about going to school naked — that’s what being closeted feels like. It’s a combination of feeling blatantly exposed and disconnected.
But that moment. That first time. That is when you first feel like a real person.
I collect coming out stories. I don’t pass them on to other people. They’re not trophies of mine to share, but I love hearing about when someone was first able to stop living their double life. Even an uneventful coming out story is the most raw and passionate piece of themselves a person can share.
And a lot of us wish we had or will have uneventful coming out stories, but the problem is that sometimes parents can be total dicks.
I realize many mothers don’t give birth and then immediately think “I hope this one grows up to be a flaming homosexual.” But this is not about you. So if you’re a parent, aspiring parent, or even if you hate children but there’s a possibility someday it could happen, let’s talk about how to not make your child’s coming out story a nightmare.
- Do not ask your newly out child about how they’re going to fare in the future.
I’ve heard this one far too many times. In fact, my friends’ parents will still occasionally ask, “Do you still want a family?”
As a lesbian, I feel like this questions secretly means “You don’t want a husband who’s going to support and take care of you?”
I don’t need a man to take care of me.
I think I do just fine on my own, thanks. If we’re really talking about an actual family of my own, sure I suppose some day I’ll want a wife and a couple of kids.
But being gay doesn’t stop us. There are a lot of different ways to have babies. We may have to do a little more work, but we’re a pretty resourceful community.
Parents will still ask this question. It seems to be a logical one, but it really just provokes a lot of guilt that we’re letting you down by not having that biblical sort of family.
Please don’t go there.
- Speaking of biblical, just don’t bring God into the coming out process, unless it’s to tell your child that he loves everyone.
Have you seen the video where the teenager from Georgia recorded his parents verbally and physically assaulting him because homosexuality goes against “the word of God”? The video may seem extreme, but this is a very real fear for many queer youths. If your child’s sexual orientation is such a violent contradiction to your religion, it’s time to disown your religion, not your child.
- Don’t tell your child that they’re too young to know their sexual orientation.
A good friend of mine was in seventh grade when he came out, but he knew a long time before that. I waited until I was 17, but my first crush was on a teacher when I was just six years old.
Generally, when we come out, we’ve been thinking about it a lot.
The words “I’m gay” didn’t just happen to fly out of my mouth as I was speaking because it was a fleeting thought I had 10 minutes ago. I agonized over my sexual orientation for years and spent weeks just wondering how I might begin to approach the topic with my parents. I spent the entire summer before my senior year sleeping with men, thinking maybe I could turn off the attraction to women.
We agonize over our coming out moments. We live in fear of our sexuality. Don’t minimize this freeing step by alluding to the idea that your child simply is too young to know.
- Don’t assume that your child is trying to be hip and rebellious by coming out.
No one “comes out” because they’re trying to piss off their parents.
When I was a teenager, bisexuality was trendy. Every high schooler who had more than a thousand MySpace friends was “interested in men and women.” But these weren’t the kids who struggled to sit down and have the serious sexuality discussion with their parents. If your child or teenager cares enough to begin a real conversation with you about their orientation, they’re not just gay for street cred. It’s the real deal.
- Don’t punish them. Like seriously, at all.
You can cry. That’s OK. Your child will understand. He or she will probably cry too. Any negative reaction that extends beyond that is unacceptable and a total dick move.
Coming out presents this newly found freedom, and your child will never want to return to the closet. Severe punishments and restrictions will only force them to rebel. You’ll create liars out of kids who were once model students simply because they’re avoiding the prison that was the closet. Your children will continue to be gay whether or not you allow it, but they would much rather be upfront and honest with you about it.
Coming out is not about the parent.
You didn’t make any mistakes to make your child gay. The most important way to not be a dick to your child when they come out is just to let them do it. Tell them you love them, and then move on with your lives. A gay child shouldn’t change anything in a familial relationship. We’re not asking you to hang a rainbow flag or go to a Pride parade with us.
Just be our mom, our dad, our family, our parents. That’s all we ever need you to be.
Biz Hurst is a graduate of the University of Michigan.