Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Parents have to come out of the closet too

Every year on October 11th we celebrate National Coming Out Day, "a day observed annually to celebrate coming out and to raise awareness of the LGBT community and civil rights movement". And it also serves as a good day, for those who feel ready, to come out of that corrosive, soul-crushing closet and tell their friends and family that they are gay.

But one thing most people do not realize until they are in the situation is that many of us parents who learn we have an LGB or T child immediately move into the closet from which our precious son or daughter just freed themselves. And that is what my husband and I did when we learned our son was gay. We deeply closeted ourselves and stayed there until we were able to regain our footing and come to terms with our new reality.

As is often the case, a child struggling with his sexual orientation will spend a long time, sometimes years struggling to come to terms with and get comfortable with their sexual orientation. And most of the time, this all happens in a complete one-person vacuum (closet) with massive energy and deception expended to guard their secret from discovery, so when that child does finally come out (or as happened in our case- a parent or family member finds out accidentally) it is an unexpected shock that can feel like your world has just been turned upside down and had the bajeezus shook out of it. And many of us (though not all) go rushing into that closet and begin the task of getting comfortable with and accepting our new reality, gathering the courage to start telling close friends and family, and hoping the sky does not fall and our lives will continue on as usual.

I have written about my husband and my coming out process before, here and here. And though I could never ever claim it to be as traumatic an experience as what our children must go through, I can say it is still a very difficult process full of nasty possibilities for destroyed friendships and very damaged family relationships and it will go on and on throughout our lives as we meet new people or reconnect with old acquaintances. But fortunately, we parents are adults and we have the emotional maturity and skills, a lot more years of life experience, and the financial independence to handle whatever happens after full disclosure without worrying about abandonment and having to make our way alone and unprepared. Our children do not yet have those luxuries.

Happily, in my husband's and my case there has only been one casualty in our "coming out" experience thus far and that was my relationship with one of my four brothers, and his reaction was certainly not a surprise - being that he is the "good" Christian in the family, I expected a full-out disaster when he found out, and I got it (I have written of this here, here, and here so I will not waste any more time or energy on this sad chapter). Thankfully telling my other 3 brothers and my husband's siblings and cousins did not even cause a blip on the radar screen. But then these are educated, loving, and open-minded people and that always makes a difference.

I guess what I am trying to say in this wordy post can be boiled down to this: National Coming Out Day is NOT just for our LGBT children, it is for everyone and anyone who has a gay loved one. Visibility is our best weapon. When people know a gay person or someone who has a gay loved one, it becomes much harder to discriminate against them. Putting a face on the religious right's scary gay boogeyman is the best way to neutralize the enemy. For some of us that closet was an awful necessity, but coming out of it is also a necessity. 
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2 comments:

Jarred said...

And many of us (though not all) go rushing into that closet and begin the task of getting comfortable with and accepting our new reality, gathering the courage to start telling close friends and family, and hoping the sky does not fall and our lives will continue on as usual.

This right here? It's exactly what closets are good for.

As much time as we spend talking about the importance and benefits of coming out of the closet, I think it's important to remember that there are times where it's entirely appropriate to stay in the closet or even go rushing into it. When it's a place to gain insight and personal strength, a closet really is a great place.

Seething Mom said...

Oh my dear Jarred, as always you are right. I have always thought of the closet as an evil and corrosive place, and it is, but maybe as you say, it is also a necessary place too. It was for my husband and me.

Interesting that you can actually see a positive side to closeting oneself (at least for some people). I never really thought about that.

And as usual Jarred, you give me another way to look at things. Thank you.