Advice column by Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC.
Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC offers advice on family planning and parenting, LGBT issues, disability issues, education and work issues, relationships, ethics and "unusual" social issues. Send questions to Tim for future columns through his website.
I'm gay and I am out (and proud) to everyone except my family. I do not think that they will react in a way that brings me danger or kicking me out. But I know that they will become very uncomfortable around me for a very long time. My family has been through some rough stuff together and I feel like we are finally in a good place. I don't want to be the one to mess up the dynamic. I hate being looked at by them as an other. I just want to be a daughter.
Congratulations on coming out! I am happy to hear you have supportive people in your life. I am guessing you are younger, and if so double congratulations on taking this brave step early in life. The closet is a great metaphor for concealing our sexual identity. We can hide in there for years without anyone bothering to look, but they tend to be small, dark and lonely places.
Coming out to family, especially parents, is rarely easy. You could become closer, but there is the risk of rejection, even without outright homophobia, abandonment or physical threats. Family members may already have picked up on signs but denied them, and now they will have to admit the truth to themselves. To help smooth the transition, here are some guidelines I suggest for a healthy coming out.
Pick an appropriate time. Do not come out in an argument or any time marked by anger or resentment to avoid the news being associated with negative feelings. You did not mention siblings, but if you have them you may already be out to them. If not, it tends to be favorable to come out to them separately, but close together in time.
Understand that your family needs time. They may alternate between acceptance and rejection in the near future. A gay relative may be a good contact person for your family to learn more about the gay and lesbian experience. Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) offers peer support and education that confront some of the misinformation and stereotypes. For example, the notion that therapy will help. Unless there is another issue, you were hard-wired for homosexuality, and therapy aimed at changing you is harmful and abusive and denounced as unethical by the medical and psychological professional communities. The charlatans out there who promote it use pseudoscience to promote their agenda for religious, financial or political reasons.
Be prepared to teach. Your sexual identity is not a choice. It is biological and you cannot control it any more than they can control theirs. Making reference to whose fault it is or what they did wrong suggests that there is something wrong. There is not. Be patient as you teach your parents appropriate language. PFLAG can recommend great books if your parents respond better to literature and thinking about this on their own. Parents need to understand that their hopes and dreams for your life are not affected. You can still be successful, get married and have children as long as you want those things too. You are also a living example. Homophobia thrives when we stay hidden. Lots of families have the capacity to achieve acceptance, but not if we remain an invisible minority. They need to see you holding hands and cuddling on the couch with your girlfriend, hear about fights and breakups and falling in love in order to learn that you are not so different. The more visible you are, the more their anxiety is reduced. Encourage them to use their words if something makes them uncomfortable.
Explain why you are coming out. You love them and you were raised to be an honest woman, not insult your upbringing or your loved ones by living and maintaining a lie so that everyone around you can live in denial. Tell them about your gay and lesbian friends, that you know about safe sex and also about discrimination and you are ready to live an honest life and defend yourself in this unfair world. Describe the stress you have been under by living in hiding, and how this ultimately separates you from them because you cannot truly be yourself around them.
You will always be your parents’ daughter and being yourself does not “mess up” your family dynamic. You are a beautiful gay human being who was meant to be exactly what you are and that diversity has always existed naturally in the world, independent of whatever noise people have made up in their heads. Your family has had plenty of drama and will have plenty more and none of it has anything to do with your sexual identity. They have already had to adjust to things you do that they could not possibly understand, whether it is veganism, cosplay, an affinity for reptiles, or whatever. Your siblings might have been even harder for them to understand. Learning something new about you that they do not understand is not a new experience for any parent.
Go ahead and prepare for the worst case scenario. Identify those friends and other family who will provide emotional support to recover from a negative experience. But if you give them a little time, let them work out some of their discomfort and tolerate their awkwardness for a little while, they are more likely to come around. Good luck to you, and please write back to let us know how things went.
Defender of Testosterone
I’m a man, 30’s and engaged to a great woman who is all caught up in the feminist movement, where women want so much equality that they control the world. I have no problem with that, I’m fine with lesbians as long as my future wife is not one, and if I get to keep at least partial custody of my balls, we’re good. I’m happy everybody gets to be equal, but she keeps calling me out on things I say and I want someone to tell me how you say something right to a feminist. They are never happy! What’s the secret I can’t seem to grasp? I really do love and respect this woman but what do I need to say to convince her she’s equal? She suggested I write to you because you’re the male feminist.
- Defender of Testosterone
I have to take a step back just to sort out all the multiple points that must be addressed in your letter. I am not “that male feminist.” I am one of very many pro-feminist men out there who want absolute gender equality, but maybe I run my mouth about it more than average. Anything I tell you should be double-checked with a genuine feminist organization. If men spoke for women, what would be the point in calling it feminism? We would call that “business as usual.” Also, if you are just trying to impress or please someone or check a box by exploring feminism, stop and think. If you truly wanted equality you would want it for the greater good. So learn it for yourself and do not worry about what you think others, including the fiancée, want to hear. Finally, let go of the awful stereotypes. Feminists do not hate men. In fact, feminism provides multiple benefits for men. Feminists are not miserable, they are not all lesbians and their quest is not world domination.
I do not even have room here to address all of your needs, but let me give you some constructive criticism. You do not sound sincere when you say gender equality is fine with you. In fact, you sound defensive as your nickname even suggests and, no doubt, your fiancée is picking up on this too. Get educated by contacting the National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS)and Institute for Human Education to get started. When you have the facts rather than the tired stereotypical nonsense to work with, you are going to be able to recognize the epidemic of misogyny on this planet, your own privilege as a man, and understand that women having equal rights will cause you to lose absolutely none of those which you have enjoyed since birth.
I’m a career woman, 32 and work in an office with around 300 employees. A mid-level manager there is carrying on a relationship with another employee. They don’t work together, but they meet at least twice a day in the parking lot. She moves her Fiat into a dark corner of the parking garage close to my assigned place. Because I’m on the level above, I can see directly into her car where they’re going at it like animals. I thought it would end with the usual fellatio, but now they are going full-throttle with intercourse, and seeing it through her poorly tinted windows is almost unavoidable for me. We all have the same break times. I can adjust it to a bit later but then I still have to see them emerge from her vehicle, sweaty and spent, straightening their hair and clothes. Should I report this? Leave them an anonymous note?
- Parking Prude
This first sentence is purely filler. That should give everyone plenty of time to imagine what intercourse in a Fiat looks and feels like. It is a comfort to know that the word fellatio is still in use, although I have not heard it in so long I actually read it in the accent of Dr. Ruth. I believe you chose your nickname for a very good reason, conscious or not. As we struggle to imagine the painful trauma of your ritualistic peepshow between concrete and steel beams, one floor below through tinted windows with what must be laser-like visual acuity, often enough to be able to identify their “usual,” the inevitable giggle fit threatens to overcome us.
Two coworkers, neither of whom have daily interaction with you or each other, are getting some afternoon delight on your break time in a secret hideaway. I completely understand why the lovebirds are in her car, but do you have somewhere to go? If not, I suggest you bring a magazine or check your messages, or bring your lunch and forego the mid-day matinee. Let them get their validation in the parking lot, look away and say nothing. They are getting it on in a tiny car. Unless a bunch of clowns are in there with them you have already seen this show. Find a new diversion.
Editor’s Note: The opinions offered in this blog are the author's alone. Tim White, and any experts he may consult and/or quote in responses to letters, will never provide medical or psychological advice, diagnoses, treatment, or counseling of any kind. General advice, opinions, and suggestions may be offered with no obligation on the part of readers to accept or act upon the content published within this column. Anyone in immediate crisis and/or mental/physical distress should call 911 or related resources of assistance.
Photo by Fotolia/micromonkey