A Feel Good Coming Out to Parents Story

 Coming Out to Parents

 

 

 

On Christmas Eve, 1988, I was home from college for winter break.  Like every other Christmas Eve, I was gathering inspiration and ideas to begin my holiday shopping.  Yes, begin.  My mom turned to me and asked, “How are things going at school?”  Though innocent enough, this was the kind of question that only seemed subtle.  I could sense something was up, I just didn’t know what.  I replied, “Great, why?”  Quickly, the subtle was no longer so, when she said, “Your father has been worried about you.  He tells me you seem more and more distant when you two talk.” 

I felt my stomach flip, then sink.  I think I know where this is headed. Coming out to parents is a terrifying experience for most of us, and I had the sneaky suspicion that my mom was rolling out the red carpet for me to finally say to her, I’m gay.

Testing the waters, I responded with, “Well what if I am just choosing to share less, because I don’t feel like dad will approve of what I am doing, or what I have to say, even if there’s nothing wrong with it?”  Unrelenting, my mom asks, “Like what?”

Suddenly I feel as though I am driving full-speed ahead toward an innocent animal trying to cross the road.  Gripping the steering wheel, eyes closed, I pray that no one gets hurt, including me.  I swerve, asking, “What if I am dating a man who is not Caucasian?”  Knowing that she would not have an issue if this were true, but my dad might, I give her yet another out, another path to safety for both of us.  I explain, “I don’t think dad would approve, but there’s nothing wrong with it, so why would I want to share that with him?”

Is the road clear?  You know that feeling, like you’ve done your best to avoid the vulnerable animal darting across the road, with the lingering guilt of not knowing.  Persisting, my  mom says, “Are you dating someone of a different ethnicity?”  Afraid to look in my rear view mirror, I move forward, feeling as though I may just vomit.  I muster up the courage to blurt out, “What if I am not dating men at all?”  There.  I said it.  Sort of.  Please let her know what I am saying because I can’t say those three words, I can not say, I am gay.

The dance is over.  My mom has managed to position herself perfectly to ask me the question she really wanted to ask when she started this conversation.  Without the slightest change in her demeanor, she simply asks me, “Are you gay?”  And I begin to cry.  Still unchanged, her silence is kind and patient, inviting my response.  Eventually, I managed to say, “Yes, I’m gay, and I’m sorry.  I am so sorry.  I never wanted you to know. I didn’t want to be, and I am so sorry to disappoint you.” 

All this time later, still etched in my mind, is her most amazing response. I quote: “Michele, you have nothing to apologize for.  You have done nothing wrong.”  I have my mom to thank for helping me unwrap the gift of freedom that Christmas.  A gift I’ll never exchange. 

If you are contemplating coming out to parents, here are some other articles that may interest you:

Coming Out Stages

Coming Out in Heterosexual Relationships

Coming Out

Being Out

Coming Out to Parents

 

Got Questions?

1 + 5 =

ABOUT 

 Michele O’Mara, LCSW, Ph.D. is an expert lesbian relationship coach and psychotherapist with a comfortable obsession with all things related to love and relationships between women. She is particularly fascinated by lesbian couples in blended families, issues of infidelity, lesbian sexuality, lesbian premarital care, loving out loud, and recovery from lesbian breakups. She is the author of Just Ask: 1,000 Questions to Grow Your Relationship, which is available in paperback or Kindle on Amazon, as well as an app on Itunes /Google play. As a side-hobby, she operates a quirky site called "AskLesbians.com" where she randomly polls lesbians to satisfy the quirkiest of curiosities. Lastly, she and her wife Kristen host Lesbian Couples Retreats in various destinations. So far lesbian retreat destinations have included: Nebraska, Texas, North Carolina,Tennessee and New Mexico.You can learn more about those at lesbiancouples.co. This article is an adaption of Chapter Six of a dissertation written by Michele O'Mara, PhD. Tap here to read the entire dissertation in a pdf format. 

After You Master How to Come Out, Use These 3 Strategies for Being Out

After You Master How to Come Out, Use These 3 Strategies for Being Out

HOW TO COME OUT

After You Master How to Come Out, Use These 3 Strategies for Being Out

 

How to come out involves informing the people in your life that you do not identify as heterosexual. The assumption for most people is that everyone is heterosexual until proven or informed otherwise. I find it most helpful to assume that everyone is gay. This way I can more efficiently identify those who are heterosexual because they make no bones about letting it be known. Coming out is directed at the people already in your life who have assumed you to heterosexual.

How to be out, on the other hand, is different than how to come out. Being out is the experience of living without censorship of, or hiding your sexual orientation from others. This happens after you’ve done the work of figuring out how to come out to all of your friends and family. Being out is more about stopping something (to stop censoring) than it is about sharing something (“I’m gay”).

When you think about it, to proclaim, “I am gay,” is awkward for reason’s unrelated to your sexual orientation. When this statement is lobbed out into the air, it is difficult to know how to respond. It’s not a question, an instruction, a request or even a helpful tip. It’s random, possibly unsolicited, information. It’s sort of like saying, “I got my hair cut.” It’s as if you are inviting feedback, seeking commentary or soliciting an opinion by stating a fact. How is someone supposed to respond to these kinds of statements? “Uh, duh!?” or, “Congratulations!??” or maybe, “That’s wonderful, how do you like it?” Or, “I thought so.” Awkward.

The following strategies are about how to be out, not how to come out. Once you are out, it’s time to practice the art of being out. These three strategies make being out a natural and straight (hmmm) forward experience:

1.  UNCENSORED SHARING. Talk openly about your life without censoring pronouns, partner relationships, and other orientation-revealing information. Just as heterosexuals do, share stories with your co-worker about your weekend. When you refer to your girlfriend or wife in ways that affirm her relationship to you, this is a natural function of being out. Discuss your everyday life as you ordinarily would. For example, “My girlfriend/wife and I went to a great show this weekend.” If someone is uncomfortable, they are not being invited to share their discomfort with you. You are not putting a statement out there for their commentary. PUBLIC SERVICE (COMMON SENSE) ANNOUNCEMENT: If you have concerns about your safety when being out — always choose safety first.

 

2. CORRECT MIS-ASSUMPTIONS. “No, actually I don’t have a boyfriend, I have a girlfriend/wife.” Again, this is a natural correction to a wrong assumption. It is no different than saying, “No, I am not married, my boyfriend and I haven’t tied the knot yet.” It’s a natural part of communication to correct someone who has made an erroneous assumption.

3. NON-VERBALS. There are many ways to communicate that you are a lesbian through non-verbals. You can place a picture on your desk of your wedding day. You can put a pride flag or HRC sticker on your car or somewhere in your office. You can wear gay-pride jewelry, apparel, and other accessories that tell a story without having to speak.

Sometimes people do not want to hear what you are telling them. Early in my being out process, I was often experimenting with how to come out. One time that stands out is when I attempted to correct an assumption that I was heterosexual that was shockingly unsuccessful. This happened years ago when gay marriage was but a blip on the radar screen.

I was working at a private psychiatric hospital, and it was the end of a very long workday. I walked my last client out to the lobby, and, as I turned back toward the receptionist to head back to my office, she informed me that I had a personal call waiting. She asked if I wanted the call transferred to my office, or if I wanted to take it there at the front desk. I opted to take the call right there in the lobby. After transferring the call, she picked up her Bible and started reading again — which is how she spent her time between calls.

The call was brief. I talked about what time I’d be home, what I wanted to do for dinner, then I hung up the phone.

The receptionist, with whom I had only had limited and playful communication, turned to me and said, “You’re married, right, Michele?” And I casually replied, “Nope, not married.” So she followed up with, “Well, you’re engaged, aren’t you?” To which I again replied, “No, I’m not engaged either.” Finally, she throws up her hands and says, “Well, why did I think that?” And as casually as I had replied to the questions before, I said, “I’m not sure why because I’m gay.”

To my surprise, she burst into laughter, only pausing long enough to respond with a playful response: “You’re so funny, you’re always joking!” We both smiled, and I headed back to my office.

As I tried out various strategies for revealing the truth about my life and my relationships, I discovered that it was much easier (and often more fun) to stop working so hard to break things down for other people. Over time I just stopped censoring anything (within reason!) that I said about my relationship, my partner, and all of the usual social topics shared with friends, acquaintances, family, and even strangers. If I’m talking about my wife, I say, “my wife” and I use the pronoun “she.” There — I’m out. It’s that easy.

If, for example, I need to hire a service person to fix my toilet, I will indicate that I may not be there, but I reference my wife, saying, “she will be when you arrive.” I don’t pause for permission or acceptance, and I don’t invite comments or feedback about my sexual orientation either. To do so would indicate that it matters to me what the plumber thinks about my relationship status. I don’t. And, that his the key, to genuinely realize that it is of no concern what the plumber thinks about your sexual orientation. He is there to fix a toilet, not to judge my relationship. I will not pretend I have a husband or that I am single so that the plumber feels more comfortable. Sadly, there was a time I would have, though.

I vote we raise the bar. Instead of striving to come out, let’s be more specific about this — let’s set our sights on the never-ending process of being out.


❤️ Michele O’Mara, LCSW, Ph.D. is an expert lesbian relationship coach with a comfortable obsession with all things related to love and relationships between women. She is particularly fascinated by lesbian couples in blended families, issues of infidelity, lesbian sexuality, and recovery from lesbian breakups. She is the author of Just Ask: 1,000 Questions to Grow Your Relationship, which is available in paperback or Kindle on Amazon, as well as an app on Itunes /Google play. Lastly, she and her wife Kristen host Lesbian Couples Retreats in various destinations, and you can learn more about those here.

Got Questions?

15 + 3 =

SEXUAL IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT

Sexual Identity Development Process:  Observations by Michele O’Mara, PhD

CURIOSITY

A distraction develops. Sometimes this occurs in childhood, during puberty, young adulthood, or even after a heterosexual marriage.  This can be repressed, denied, or otherwise delayed, or perhaps right on time, whenever that is. This stage is marked by awareness and an increased focus on one’s attractions and feelings. Sometimes it’s a feeling of difference; sometimes it is a new sensation, awareness, distraction, or other experience that piques one’s interest 

EXPLORATION

During this period of active exploration, a person moves from simply being curious, to actively gathering info from his or her environment, and seeking out information and connections that relate to being gay 

THE UNDOING

From the beginning, we are all conditioned to believe we are heterosexual; this is the “norm.” When evidence begins to accumulate that heterosexuality does not fit perfectly, disclaiming heterosexuality is often an easier next step than claiming bisexuality or same-sex attractions.

CLARIFICATION

Clarification usually occurs once a person has had a defining experience. This can be a physical experience, an emotional experience, or a combination of the two. Sometimes a person can fall in love (whether requited or not), or become consumed by a new attraction that serves as confirmation of his or her sexual identity.

INTERNAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

This is the stage of sexual identity development where a person decides, yes, I am attracted to at least one person of the same gender. This acceptance may involve telling close friends, family, dating, or committing to a new relationship(s), or it may simply involve a personal shift into a new way of seeing oneself.

BRIDGING

Once a person has accepted his or her attraction to at least one person of the same gender, the next step in sexual identity development is to integrate this identity with rest of life (work, family, friends, etc). Some people bridge their identity with the rest of their lives entirely, others are selective about with whom they will share this new information.

LOSS OF FILTER

Once a person has accepted his or her sexual orientation and integrated their professional, personal, and family lives, there is a gradual lessening of censorship about one’s sexual orientation. Eventually, life is viewed as life. It’s not a gay life, or a lesbian life, or a bisexual life, it’s just a life, without funneling first through a “gay” or “bisexual,” or “pansexual,” etc. lens)

*REASSESSMENT

Some people experience an intermittent re-assessment of their sexual orientation and feelings of same-sex attractions. Sexuality is being seen as more fluid, less stable than it was once thought, and people are not as inclined to cling tightly to one specific sexual orientation as much as they are inclined to cling to the truth of who they are and how they feel, whatever that may be.

Coming Out Stages: Cass

It was 1979 and I was 13 when the beautiful new girl in school, with long brown hair and green eyes, approached the locker next to mine. Obviously struggling to satisfy the lock she was trying to open, she turned to me and said, “Hi.” She told me her name and said, “I’m new here.” Out of the blue, my entire body flooded with what felt like a million butterflies all trying to get out at once. 

It was at that moment that I knew there was something very, very different about me.

Ironically, that same year psychologist Vivienne Cass unveiled a 6-stage model of sexual identity development for gays and lesbians which would prove to be very handy information for a budding young lesbian like myself. Sadly, however, her research was not on my 8th grade reading list and I was left to figure all of this out by myself.

This six stage model by Cass describes a progression of phases that gay men and women go through as they “come out.” It has been my observation that many people never get past stage four – how about you?

Here are the stages, see what you think.

STAGE 1: IDENTITY CONFUSION

“Am I gay?” This is where it all begins… with the wondering. Confusion and a general lack of clarity are the most common experiences during this stage. This is a pre-coming out stage and it’s unlikely that you share your feelings with anyone. You are faced with four options: deny, reject, accept, or do more research. If you choose to “accept,” please advance to stage 3. If you choose to “deny” this, skip your turn and stay here until you change your mind. If you choose to “reject,” head on back to heterosexuality. Those choosing “more research,” progress to stage 2!

Stage 2: IDENTITY COMPARISON.

“Yes, it’s possible, I could be gay.”  This is the “one of these is not like the others” stage (from Seaseme Street). This can be a very lonely, scary place – to not relate to your heterosexual peers, and to not have a network of gays and lesbians in place to normalize what you are feeling. During this stage you’ll find yourself noticing what fits for you, and what doesn’t as it relates to your sexual orientation.  There is a lot of fear, denial, and hope that this is just a passing phase. Once you begin to connect with, or learn about, other gays and lesbians you slowly move into stagethree.

Stage 3: IDENTITY TOLERANCE,

“I’m pretty sure I’m gay.” The isolation of feeling different from your heterosexual peers tends to motivate you to get out (or get online) and meet other gays and lesbians. During this stage you are gaining clarity about your gay sexual orientation, but you are not too happy about it. You continue to censor and hide your feelings from most people, while seeking connections with “safe” (other gays and lesbians) people with whom you can relate.

Stage 4: IDENTITY ACCEPTANCE

“Yep, I’m gay alright!” As you begin to find your place among other gays and lesbians, you develop greater comfort in your skin and you find more comfort spending time around others like yourself. As a result, you start to distance yourself from a heterosexual identity, while often trying to maintain the appearance to those around you that everything is the same. This is a complicated place to be, and is often riddled with fear, sadness, and even depression because of the feeling of living in between two worlds. There is a lot of anxiety about what it would mean to step out fully into an openly gay identity. The stress of managing dual identities (passing as heterosexual in some environments, and not others) becomes stressful and overwhelming.

Stage 5: IDENTITY PRIDE

“I am gay and I’m proud of it.” Responses in this stage can range from feelings of anger toward your perceived oppressor (heterosexuals), to greater comfort with being out in all areas of your life, without apology. This stage brings greater confidence about who you are, and while you continue to prefer the company of your gay and lesbian peers, you put less energy into censoring your life from others.

Stage 6: IDENTITY SYNTHESIS.

“Being gay is just one important aspect of who I am.”  This final stage, for those who continue to take the necessary risks to be true to themselves, brings the gay or lesbian person full-circle. You can now function as if sexual orientation is not a central variable in life. Here you have integrated your sexual orientation with the rest of your life, you are able to make decisions, interract socially, and function in life without doing so through a filter of your sexual orientation. Your life is no longer about dealing with, concealing, censoring, or advocating for the right to be gay – it is about living, loving, and being with ALL of who you are.

So where do you fall in these stages?

Are you a real lesbian?

Are you a real lesbian?

No one is ever surprised when they learn I am a lesbian. Well, I suppose my grandma did seem a little taken aback, asking, “How did that happen?” Interestingly though, aside from my appearance I am seriously lacking when it comes to a lot of common stereotypes of a lesbian. My friends even tease me, saying my card-carrying status as a lesbian is in danger!

Of course we don’t actually carry lesbian identity cards. That would be silly. The process is really much more efficient than that. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles provides an endorsement that is placed directly on your driver’s license.

Ask your gay and lesbian friends if you can see their driver’s license. Ifthey are really gay (meaning they passed the Gay or Lesbian Endorsement Test at the BMV), there should be a faint rainbow that is visible over his or her photo when held at the right angle, in the right light.

Okay, so that’s not really true.

Can you imagine if there was such an endorsement? I can see it now – we will all be provided with a government created, computer generated test.

I’m thinking the Lesbian Endorsement Test might look something like this (remember, this would be created by the government):

_____Do you hate men? (clearly the test would be different for gay men)
_____Do you have multiple pets that you call your “children?”
_____Do you have a motorcycle, or a valid license to drive one?
_____Do you have season tickets for a WNBA team of your choice?
_____Are you a vegetarian?
_____Were you considered a tomboy growing up?
_____Do you wear patchouli?
_____Can you find whatever you need at Lowes (your favorite store) without asking?
_____Is your hair uncharacteristically short for a woman?
_____Are you currently on a recreational softball team?

Now anyone with any sense knows that this test is nothing but a pile of stereotypes. Obviously. Clearly this test is not accurate. Because if it were, I would not get my endorsement!

I can only affirm three answers, and with serious qualifications on two. #3 (and if it weren’t for my wife and sons I would have no pets), #6 (and I have pictures to prove it!), #8 (but I’ve barely completed season one). For a long time # 9 applied, but I can’t even claim that one now. So according to this test I am roughly 30% lesbian.

The point is, and I do have one, there is no right way to be gay or lesbian. There’s only a right way to be you. The only right thing is to be real. Be yourself.

Despite my failure to meet the above qualifications for the Lesbian Endorsement Test, as I indicated already, most people I encounter assume I am gay. And I’m good with that. In fact, I find that it’s a good strategy to assume all people are gay unless it is revealed otherwise. I appreciate it when folks get the clue without my having to break it down for them. I want people to know I am a lesbian, and for one reason only, because I am.

Once while shopping for cars with my partner, the salesman asked, “Are you two sisters?” To which I replied, “no, we are partners.” Still not getting it, he said, “Oh, what’s your business?” Without skipping a beat I said, “LOVE.” He didn’t ask us another question.

Those who are heterosexual are quick to talk openly about their boyfriend/husband or girlfriend/wife, and many are so bold they even frame pictures of themselves with their heterosexual significant others, and broadcast their relationship right there on their desk at work! They go on and on about their weekends together, future vacations, and other plans. It’s easy to know who they are. These people can’t stop flaunting their heterosexuality to save themselves! And I love it. They are real in ways that they take for granted. They are real in ways that they don’t even stop to think about. They are real about their lives without even thinking because it is socially sanctioned, and encouraged to the point it’s not even a thought anymore.

Gays and lesbians on the other hand don’t generally feel as comfortable to express their true selves. I find that disappointing. Many of us have been brainwashed to believe that censorship is the key to survival. Perhaps that’s the appeal of Halloween. I was reading an article by David Frum online at the CNN Opinion (11/1/10) where he traces the roots of the modern day appeal of Halloween to the gay culture.

The “masked culture” first developed by the gays
of San Francisco has reached across the
lines of orientation — and now jumped across the boundaries
between nations and languages.

The article goes on to say, “In 1994, University of Florida anthropologist Jerry Kugelmass published a book on the new trend, “Masked Culture,” describing Halloween as an emerging gay “high holiday.”

Halloween is NOT my high-holiday (just another ding on my lesbian endorsement record.) I was never too into costumes growing up, though I did win my kindergarten costume contest. I was an angel. That was the same year I got my tongue stuck to the frozen flag pole on the playground. Irony is priceless, isn’t it?

Halloween is now centered around the joy it brings to my sons. And my wife too – because she, who is never mistaken for – or assumed to be – a lesbian, loves Halloween. Her lesbian endorsement is probably safer than mine will ever be because she also loves animals (more than people, really), she drives a big truck, she has read every Rita Mae Brown book written, she was a Martina Navratalova fan before I even knew who she was, and she had a vegetarian parent which surely puts her closer to vegetarianism.

Many lesbians partner with women who are very different “kinds of lesbians.” Mostly because they are just different kind of people, and we are people first. We have personalities, likes, interests, strengths and challenges that have nothing thing to do with our being gay.

If someone offers you advice about how to be a lesbian, I suggest you thank them kindly for their words of advice and promptly erase them all from your short term memory. Then pick up a blank journal and write on the top of the first page – “Who I am, what I think, how I feel, what I love, and what I believe.” Fill it with your truth. Whatever that is. Start by taking your mask off at home. Then begin to live those pages out in the world. Keep filling them as you age, change, and grow.

I feel so grateful to spend so many hours each week with people sharing themselves honestly and openly, without their masks. It is my favorite thing about being a therapist, and I can’t help but like each and every one of the people with whom I work – because they are real.

People who know us best are able to because of one thing: we are real with them! When we are real, people can know us. When people know us, they can feel close to us. When people feel close to us, they like us. When they like us, we feel comfortable to be real. What a perfect circle.

So that’s why I say – get real. However that looks for you. Lose your masks, create your own brand of gay or lesbian. Just be yourself.

Coming Out Books for Married, Single, Confused and In Between

Coming Out Books for Married, Single, Confused and In Between

Coming Out Books

Books are a helpful resource when you feel overwhelmed and unsure of what steps to take next.  The following list of books is a place to start as you consider your journey toward coming out.

coming out books 

WOMEN Coming Out of Heterosexual Relationships

Living Two Lives:  Married to a Man and In Love with a Woman by Joanne Fleisher

Early Embraces: True-Life Stories of Women Describing Their First Lesbian Experience by Lindsey Elder (Editor)

From Wedded Wife to Lesbian Life: Stories of Transformation
by Deborah Abbott (Editor), Ellen Farmer (Editor)

Non-Gay Spouses of Gays and Lesbians

The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight Spouses and Families, Revised and Expanded Edition
by Amity Pierce Buxton

Just Tell The Truth: Questions Families Ask when Gay Married Men Come Out by Terry L. Norman, Terry L. Norman

 When Husbands Come Out of the Closet by J. Gochros 

The Truth Shall Set You Free: A Memoir by Sally Lowe Whitehead 

Coming Out Books: General

Coming Out: A Handbook for Men by Orland Outland 

 Coming Out Every Day : A Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning Man’s Guidby Ph.D. Bret K. Johnson

Coming Out to Parents: A Two-Way Survival Guide for Lesbians and Gay Men and Their Parents by Mary V. Borhek

Is It a Choice?: Answers to 300 of the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Gay and Lesbian People by Eric Marcus

Unashamed: A Coming-Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians, Amber Cantorna

General Resources on Being Gay and Coming Out Books

Is It a Choice?: Answers to 300 of the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Gay and Lesbian People by Eric Marcus 

Straight Parents, Gay Children: Inspiring Families to Live Honestly and With Greater Understanding by Robert A. Bernstein

Beyond Acceptance: Parents of Lesbians and Gays Talk About Their Experiences by Carolyn Welch GriffinMarian J. WirthArthur G. Wirth,Brian McNaught

Closet Door: A Coming-Out Guide on a Journey Toward Unconditinal Self-Love Griffo, Chelsea

Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight, Loren Olson, MD

Spirituality

The Church and the Homosexual by John J. McNeill

Openly Gay, Openly Christian: How the Bible Really Is Gay Friendly by Samuel, Rev. Kader (Paperback)

Got Questions?

3 + 10 =

ABOUT Michele O’Mara, LCSW, Ph.D.

Relationships are my thing. Some would say, my obsession. While I only scored an 83.75% on my own "How Lesbian Are You" test,  don't let that fool you. Since returning to school in the '90s for my MSW, I knew exactly what I wanted to do: help lesbian couples grow love. 

I am that person who has built her life around one thing: lesbian relationships and women loving women. For fun, I do things like create online quizzes at asklesbians.com, to learn more about real lesbians. Or I write books. like, "Just Ask: 1,000 Questions to Grow Your Relationship," to give couples an easy way to communicate. (www.1000question.app) And, now that our boys are young men, my love, and my wife, Kristen, and I are growing lesbian love through Lesbian Couples Retreats and The Lesbian Roadshow throughout the U.S. in awesome destinations where our motto is, "love out loud" with Adventures in Love.  You can learn more about those at lesbiancouples.co.

X