When I tried to come out years ago at 14, my mom said some really terrible things and continued to say terrible things throughout the years. When I was 20 and came out officially, my mom says she doesn’t remember any of those terrible things she said even though they really hurt me and defined how I saw myself when I was younger. How do I make peace with an apology I’ll never get so I can move on with my life as a fabulous gay man?
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Cornelia Prior
Never has a question echoed my own experiences of coming out more thoroughly. I want to give you a neat parcel of advice that you can unwrap, take heart in and use constructively. I want to give you a tidy couple of steps to take so that you might find the peace you’re searching for. But the honest answer is: I don’t know.
During my own time coming out to family and friends, which I have written about before, I often encountered this particular kind of “Don’t be So Silly” attitude reserved, I think, for queer children. It seems to be a kind of last-ditch attempt at rationalization before parents admit, presumably with an abrupt sense of abject horror, that their child is, in fact, gay. My family said I was too maternal to be queer. Friends said I had always liked boys. My parents said that, just as other parents know their children are gay, they knew I was straight. This was my experience of coming out. But it was not my parents’ experience. For them, my coming out was such a shock (because of their initial dismissal of my sexuality when I was 16) that somehow, to them, their utter conviction in my heterosexuality had made it true.
Parents don’t always realize the impact their words have on their children. Many of the defining moments in my upbringing were characterized by careless comments that family members and friends either don’t remember or deny saying. I say this not to defend your mother, but because it illustrates perfectly how absent-minded remarks can have a lasting effect on the recipient. An unpleasant jibe about a new hairstyle said casually, back turned, while washing up. An ill-timed pronouncement about a family member’s new partner said between sips of tea with newspaper spread wide across the lap. An off-hand opinion about sexuality espoused over dinner in the presence of a struggling teenager. It also serves to illustrate how these comments can at best influence and at worst dictate a person’s self-perception. Try not to let it. Trite, I know. But you deserve the freedom to live the fabulous life you seek.
Hurt is only exacerbated when people don’t understand what they have done to hurt you, or worse, don’t acknowledge the hurt they have caused at all. I want to advise you to meet with your mother, to be brave, and to have a conversation about your feelings with her. Failing that, write her a letter explaining to her what you have told me: that she hurt you, that the pain defined how you saw yourself when you were younger, and that an apology might start the healing process.
If you don’t have the time or the energy to talk to your mother—and I can’t blame you if you don’t—then try to focus on other, more supportive relationships. Do you have a different relative you can confide in? Perhaps speaking to someone who is aware of your particular family dynamics could be just the tonic you need. Alternatively, the impartial ear of a friend, off or online, could prove a cathartic outlet and comfort.
What I am trying to say is: you do deserve an apology, but you might not get one and you shouldn’t let that lack prevent you from living your best life surrounded by people who do make you feel good and supported and comfortable in your own skin. And above all, remember: you are fabulous despite your mother’s terrible words, and you are amazing with or without an apology.
Cornelia Prior is a Writer and Communications assistant by day and Cultural and Critical Studies student by night. I currently work at the Whitechapel Gallery creating content for the website, blog and social media. I was Culture Editor of The Leopard Newspaper from September 2014-July 2015, where I commissioned, edited, and wrote pieces that delved into local culture, from fine art to food and from book reviews to restaurant reviews. I have written about art for The Flaneur and Best for Film and about LGBTQ issues for My Kid Is Gay. When I’m not busy being 25 years late to the Judith Butler party or frequenting art galleries, the theatre, the cinema and other things that classify as either “Critical,” “Cultural,” or both, I can be found reading, swimming or admiring lighthouses.
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