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.
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