I came out as a lesbian and my parents freaked

I want to work politically out in the open, but my sexuality embarrasses the folks.


Cary Tennis
December 23, 2008 4:10PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I am a 22-year-old lesbian. I came out to my parents this summer, and it's been a bumpy road up to this point. By "up to this point," I mean now my mom doesn't cry every time we talk on the phone.

Anyway, I found out about a Proposition 8 protest going on in Austin this Saturday. I was excited to participate, but when I saw that there was no official organizer in place for the event, I signed up. Soon, I received e-mails and phone calls from businesses, organizations, journalists, etc., asking how they could help, wanting to talk to me. I was thrilled to be a part of something that made me feel so connected to the GLBTQ community for the first time and to feel so connected to an essential part of myself. When I told my parents, though (because there was a strong possibility that they would find out anyway), they flipped out.

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My mom accused me of throwing her under the bus, and my dad asked me why I didn't rent a plane and write it in the sky. Seriously. So, I apologized for not thinking of them and told them I would give up the organizer role. I immediately felt sad and regretful. When my dad called back to apologize for yelling, I told him how I felt about the event, about activism in general, and about being the organizer. I told him I wouldn't make any promises, but that I would consider giving up the job. I don't want to devastate my parents further, but I don't want to give up something that could help me make friends and important contacts in the GLBTQ community. While I was planning and organizing, I felt busy, important, involved and alive. Now I feel the way I usually do: anxious, guilty and sad. Where do I draw the line? How do I live my life in a way that makes me happy without causing my parents unnecessary distress? What's more important? I'm stuck.

Gay or Orphaned

Dear Gay or Orphaned,

While you were planning and organizing, you felt busy, important, involved and alive.

Don't they want you to feel that way?

What is it with these people? Can they not see you as an individual, utterly separate from them?

I'm not a parent or even an expert on being a parent, but I like to think about the way things ought to be or could be if we strove to be our highest selves and achieve our highest ideals. And what could be a greater ideal than to accept and love a daughter for who she is?

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But they don't want to do that. Or they aren't ready for that. Or it hasn't occurred to them that bringing a life into this world means unleashing a terrible beauty beyond their control. They lack the humility, perhaps, or the courage, or the imagination to conceive of this as a cause for growth and introspection and learning. Imagine that! Imagine finding out your daughter is a lesbian and treating it as an opportunity to learn something!

But no: You mother says you have thrown her under a bus; your father says you might as well hire a plane and write it in the sky.

She treats it as a mortal wound. And he seems concerned only with his own embarrassment. What's his problem? He's not the lesbian. You are. Does he think that you are his permanent representative to the world? You're not his permanent representative, his avatar or shadow or reflection. You are not the reflecting pool into which he peers every morning hoping to see who he is. You are a separate being.

How hard can that be to grasp? Well, intellectually maybe not so hard. But to feel it, to admit it to consciousness, can be unbelievably hard. It's a thing you don't even know how to do until you begin doing it. It's like asking someone to play a game they've never heard of. To fully feel something that is fully alien, to admit to consciousness what we cannot "know" with any confidence: This is not easy! There are things right in front of us that are yet beyond us; we can see and "know" and yet not feel that we know. That is the tricky thing about pushing forward to accept difficult knowledge; it is hard to tell where we are. Achieving radical acceptance of one's children is not easy, but we are improved by striving toward things that are not easy.

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So one possibility is simply that lesbianism is an alien thing to your parents, something that they must work hard to integrate into their world.

Here is another possibility: Has it occurred to you that their outsize reactions may be because your lesbianism gives shape to their own repressed desires? I know, that's very kinky and not something you necessarily want to think about when it concerns your parents. But what is that "thrown under a bus" image all about? And the "writing it in the sky" thing? Their vivid remonstrances call to mind some quite passionate and detailed imaginative reconstruction of the possible consequences of the return of the repressed. It is not always a cliché to accuse people of having repressed desires for what they denounce. Certainly where one's reactions are so outsize, it is worth thinking about.

So how can you be compassionate toward your parents? What can you do?

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You can make peace with this fact: You are not your parents' narcotic. You are not their defense against the truth. It is not your job to deny reality so they can go on living in a silly bubble.

That doesn't mean you need to argue with them. You just need to go on being who you are and doing what makes you happy and fulfilled. This is their problem to deal with, not yours.


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Cary Tennis

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