“I came out to my parents the September of my senior year of high school, and although they didn’t react horribly, they still basically told me not to tell my brother or broadcast it to the world. It’s been almost a year and a half since I told them, and not once have they talked about it since then. I’m out at college, but I want to tell my brother and not hide that part of myself whenever I’m at home. How do I come out a second time to my parents and get them to take this part of me seriously?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Kristin Russo, co-founder of My Kid Is Gay
You and I have a lot in common, Anonymous. Well, I don’t know if you also love chocolate chip cookies or hate the way your cat screams in your face from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. every morning… but I do know that when I was 17 I came out to my parents, and they told me not to tell my sister. And it really, truly sucked.
I felt like, since they also “didn’t react horribly,” I should respect their wishes. I figured I would listen to their rules at the outset so as not to rock the boat too much in those initial months (and then years) of coming out. Part of that reasoning still holds up for me, but much of it has fallen apart in light of now being a very, very out queer person in the world. So let’s break it down, shall we?
First piece of advice for you: You can and should tell your brother when you want to tell your brother. That rule holds for anyone in the world, as a matter of fact, because being honest about your life isn’t “broadcasting” yourself to others…it is simply being honest about your life!
First piece of advice for your parents: Hi parents! Here’s what I would love for you to do: Think on what you mean when you say “broadcasting it to the world,” or when you ask your child to keep a part of them secret. Process how it might feel for you to go through a day without ever mentioning that you have a child, or a spouse, or even an adorable fish named Fred. Sure, you aren’t going to go out into the world and scream HEY EVERYONE I HAVE A KID AND A SPOUSE AND A FISH NAMED FRED…but you are going to chime in when your neighbor tells you that his kid just got a new goldfish named Sue. Imagine you just had to stand there and not tell them that your kid also has a goldfish, and its name is Fred, and your husband once spilled Fred on the floor but then somehow saved his tiny fish life?! That’s a great story, and you’d feel pretty damn weird if you just had to nod at your neighbor and keep all of that to yourself. Right? These are the little moments that your kid has to live through every day when they are keeping a part of themselves a secret. They can’t chime in to talk about their first broken heart when it comes up in conversation, they can’t talk about how they know so much about running because they used to have a crush on the high school track star, and they can’t even say something like, “Oh my god, once my girlfriend mixed up the flour and the pancake mix and we had to eat weird dough cakes with syrup.” It’s hard, and over time, it really starts to wear away at some very important parts of being a person.
Second piece for you: It is entirely acceptable and great that you gave your parents some time to process your identity. It isn’t required, of course, but when we come out to our parents, they typically have to go through their own coming out process as well. Giving them a few weeks or a few months to learn more about who you are or to ready themselves for conversations with others is really cool—and I am a big fan of parents having that space. That said, a year and a half is a lot of time…and you’ve made it sound like they are hoping that your identity just “goes away.” That isn’t a productive way to handle coming out (on any level), and so it’s beyond acceptable for you to take your journey back into your own hands.
Second piece for your parents: I know this is hard. I know you have a lot of questions. I know that a lot of times in life it just feels easier to pretend all the feelings just aren’t there…but they are, and now your kid really, really needs you to explore them, and to move forward with them. Read some more posts over at My Kid Is Gay, check out This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids, and if you feel ready to go out into the world, see if your local area has a PFLAG chapter. Any and all of those things will help you get the tools you need to be a supportive parent. You will now have to go through a coming out process as well, as a parent of an LGBTQ child. Sometimes it will be amazing and other times it will be really hard. Ultimately, though, it will bring you and your family closer together—which is what I’d consider the most important part of all of this.
Third and final piece for you: If I were in your position, I would write my parents a letter. I would sit down and make sure I was saying all the things I needed to say in that letter, and I would firmly include that I would be telling my brother because I loved him and because I no longer wanted to lie about an important part of myself. I would direct them to resources (just in case they didn’t get to read this post!), and I would let them know that I loved them. I would probably send that letter a few weeks before I went home, and I would include that I wanted to sit down and talk about it more once we were all in the same house. Then I’d try to be as patient as I could with them as they go on their journey, while also no longer holding a part of me secret.
Third and final piece for your parents: My sister barely blinked an eye when I came out to her—it didn’t change who she was and it didn’t change how she felt about me. The only difficult thing for her to understand was why I hadn’t told her sooner. Your kids need to be able to be open with each other about who they are so they can support each other, have each others’ backs, and be able to live the best parts of what it means to be a sibling. It’s okay if you struggle, and it’s even okay if your son struggles—that’s all a part of what it is to be a family.
Kristin is the CEO & Co-Founder of both Everyone Is Gay & My Kid Is Gay. She also hosted & produced the first season of First Person, a video series on gender and sexuality from PBS Digital. She co-authored the book This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids (Chronicle, 2014), is the co-director of A-Camp, and holds a Master’s in Gender Studies from the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan.
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