Coming out to only one parent
April 9, 2009 6:54 PM   Subscribe

Tell me your experiences of coming out as gay to just one of your two living parents alone. I'm not interested in opinions from everyone, just opinions and accounts of people who have been through this either first or second hand. If you later came out to your other parent too, I'd love to hear about it too.

So I'm in my 30s, both my parents are, or at least appear to be pretty anti-gay, though their hardline attitude seems to be gradually softening over the years and giving me some hope. I've spent most of my adult life convinced I could never tell them, but my Dad recently went through life threatening surgery and has been giving little hints the past few years about accepting who I am and such like. It made me realise just how much I'd regret it if he died never knowing, if he never knew the true me, and I hate how much the lies keep putting more and more distance between us.

Out of my two parents my Dad is the most level headed, rational, and I think the most capable of taking the news. My Mum I really wish I knew, sometimes I get glimmers of hope, sometimes I imagine the news would permanently break her, and our relationship. Ideally I want to tell them both, but as of right now I have decided to tell my Dad first, alone, and take it from there. A little more background, I've lived with a male partner, now ex, for over 5 years now, people think surely they've totally guessed but I'm pretty certain they havn't, they take denial to an artform.

So I'm wondering if there's anyone else out there who's made the same decision, told just one of their parents, at least initially. I'd love to hear your experiences of how it went, how they handled being the only half to know, if it ended up being a burden on them. If you eventually told your other parent, or they eventually found out or were told, how did that go? Was there anger/guilt at being kept in the dark for so long? What kind of ramifications do you set yourself up for in this situation? Does your other parent still not know? How's that been?

If you think this whole plan is a bad idea, please feel free to comment too, but only if you've personally had it go wrong or known someone who did.
posted by Elfasi to Human Relations (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to check out this post from the blue. The site linked has several stories similar to your situation. I can't speak to what you are about to attempt, but it sounds like you are taking logical steps. Good luck going further.
posted by stachemaster at 7:40 PM on April 9, 2009

My gay male friend came out to just his mother initially. Although he made it clear that he wasn't ready to tell his father, his mother pretty much immediately did. Thankfully, both of their reactions were overall very positive, which surprised him because he's from a "traditional" culture. Once he had cleared up some pretty serious misconceptions- his mother was initially very upset because she thought that his being gay meant that he had AIDS- they were accepting and supportive. Interestingly, they were not surprised in the least, despite his having been deeply closeted (girlfriends and all).

So, know that it's certainly possible, if not likely, that your father will tell your mother. It might be easier for her to hear it from him, though. Also, it wouldn't be shocking if their reaction is one of relief that this is finally in the open. Deep denial or not, you're in your thirties, presumably have not had a girlfriend in recent memory, and lived with another dude for many years.

Good luck!
posted by charmcityblues at 7:44 PM on April 9, 2009

I'm a bit confused as to whether you want answers from people whose parents are currently married to each other, because there are certainly people I know who've come out to one parent at a time partly due to the fact that the parents were a few thousand miles away from each other and never talked, so I don't know if you're envisioning some kind of family meeting, or telling them consecutively...?

My parents have been divorced for a while, but reasonably amicably -- they live a few blocks away and talk to each other regularly -- and when I decided to come out (at 21), I came out to my mom first. I'm not sure my circumstances are at all relevant, as I grew up in the SF Bay Area and my mother is a great big hippie liberal who assured me starting from when I was about thirteen that she would love me just as much if I were a lesbian (clearly she suspected long before I did). So that was an easy choice. She was actually the second person I told, period, after the person I had a crush on (who, luckily, liked me back and we're still together six years later, aww). And my mom was, as I kind of suspected, absolutely okay with it. I think she told me my father would be okay with it too, but I don't know if she thought of it as a burden. Looking back, I think she understood how worried I was about coming out in general and didn't want to push me.

I held off on coming out to my dad, just because I really didn't know how he'd react -- he'd never talked about gay people at all, so I had no idea what his views were. A few months later I decided I was being stupid and I just told him. He didn't seem mad/resentful in any way; just wanted to know if I was happy. Tip: do not come out to your parents while they are driving through particularly treacherous cliffside sections of highway. Luckily, he was okay with it, but I see how this could have gone badly.

(My father then regarded this as public information and told all of his family, which was a little weird and something I had not actually considered. So you might want to be prepared for that.)

Hope it goes well.
posted by sineala at 8:02 PM on April 9, 2009

Although he made it clear that he wasn't ready to tell his father, his mother pretty much immediately did.

That's immediately what I thought reading this. You probably cannot count on your dad not telling your mom, unless he's really nice and keeps secrets like that. On a practical level, if you come out to one you are probably coming out to both. Just had to emphasize that before you give it a go.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:42 PM on April 9, 2009

my Dad recently went through life threatening surgery and has been giving little hints the past few years about accepting who I am and such like.

...if I were a lesbian (clearly she suspected long before I did).

I actually believe that Moms know. Dads know. Elfasi, your parents have likely talked about the possibility of you being gay.

"Breaking the news" to them separately or together may indeed result in some anguish/despair for one, the other, or both. In the end, what is important in "coming out" to them is that you will have been honest with them, as you have with yourself.

Think of this: they may be "hurting," waiting for you to tell them. They love you as their child and may appreciate the fact that you finally were able to share your "true" life with them. This was my experience. There were bumps after coming out, but both parents came around (quite quickly; YMMV). "We always suspected. You're still our son. No matter what, we love you. What took you so long to tell us?)

In the (unlikely?) event that you don't know the resource, check out PFLAG, as a resource for you and your parents. Also, this previous thread maybe of interest.
posted by ericb at 10:42 PM on April 9, 2009

When I told my mother (she, by the way, had no idea) she told my father immediately. Or, more accurately, she was upset enough that he asked her what was wrong; at which point she told him.

I read somewhere once - it may have been Dan Savage, with whom I don't agree on all counts, but it's food for thought - that when you're coming out to some members of your family and not others it's unfair on the people you're telling because you're effectively forcing them into the closet too. I think I call foul on that one, because of all the people this situation's least fair on YOU're the one who's suffered most with keeping silent, and why on earth should you have to do that forever because your family may contain some people who aren't amenable to being told? But it's certainly true also that this could be something your father's going to find it difficult to keep to himself - whether he reacts well or badly.

Since he may need to speak to someone not you, I suspect ericb may be onto something suggesting something like PFLAG -- or giving him the number for your local GLBTQ counselling line, or letting him know that his brother your Uncle Bob already knows and he could talk to him about it, or whatever. Just *some* outlet. Without being equippred with alternatives, it's not all that surprising really to see the trend forming above, whereby the first person confided-in parents run to is the one they usually talk to about their serious stuff: the other parent.

Good luck, man. :)
posted by springbound at 11:53 PM on April 9, 2009

Thanks everyone, these are some really great comments so far. Some clarification. Yeah I was thinking of parents in a relationship and living together, when I framed my question, and the dynamics of one knowing but not the other. Now, while I have deep reservations about telling my Mum right now, I'm not against it, I wouldn't swear my Dad to secrecy, and if he made the call to tell her anyone (and/or everyone else), I'd be completely fine with that. The risk is if he told with lapsed judgement in the heat of the situation and things turned out as bad as I imagined, but that's a risk I'm happy to take. In the end she really should know, and that takes the burden of telling from me somewhat.

Assuming my Dad does decide to sit on the secret, I did think about him needing someone to talk to. My two brothers and their family know, my middle brother especially would be very supportive and I think my Dad could talk at great length to him about it. I also have a book, that I'm hoping will help him (and me) -

Finally, I wish I could believe that one or other of my parents knows or even suspects on some level, but if there is a level of awareness, it's buried so deep as to be invisible to absolutely everyone. I asked my brother once if they ever talked to him about my potential sexuality, and he said the subject hadn't come up ever, only if I'll ever get married, etc.
posted by Elfasi at 5:16 AM on April 10, 2009

I told my republican, racist, conservative (and up until homophobic) parents separately. Both were completely accepting (which was a shock) and both told me not to tell the other parent because they would not understand. This was 30 years ago before AIDS. It was about a year before they realized that I had told both of them and we talked about it as a family. They have both passed, but I was really happy they had a few years knowing the truth. Their acceptance really surprised and thrilled me.
posted by hworth at 5:46 AM on April 10, 2009

From my experience, you NEVER know how someone is going to react until you tell them... but if you're thinking it's time to come out then you've probably, finally, grown tired of playing the game.

I steeled myself for the possibility of being abandoned by my family. Fortunately that didn't happen, but that's not always the case for some. I just reached a point where I had to let my family know the real 'me', and if they didn't like it then tough - their loss.

So I told my super-cool, super-close just like me mom first. She didn't get off the couch for 3 days. So I went to my dad. My southern-baptist, conservative, all condemning dad. He shrugged, said he loved me no matter what and that there was nothing he could do about it. Then he asked me where we were going to dinner.

You just never know...

Great advice above from Springbound btw. I played "Pick Who to Tell"... I chose poorly. Tell them all, tell them loudly, and let THEM sort out their feelings.
posted by matty at 6:13 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Asking one person to keep a secret from their partner is an additional stress for them, especially when the couple (your parents, here) are in a relationship and share living space. I don't think you can reasonably expect someone to keep a secret of this magnitude from their spouse.

That said, I told my parents separately, but within days of each other. I knew my dad wouldn't bring it up to my mom -- he wouldn't want to start that up -- but once my mom was involved, everyone was involved. So I told my dad first, and it was a good warm-up for the circus that followed.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:37 AM on April 10, 2009

FWIW, I'm female, and I went through several stages of trying to identify myself in my late teenage years. I was convinced I was a lesbian - turns out I'm bi. Anyway, during the lesbian period, I decided to come out to both sets of parents (mine had divorced and remarried other people). I had no expectation that they would keep the information from my stepparents.

The worst decision I made was telling them while I was in full adolescent-rebellion mode, so they took it as "she's just saying this to be rebellious; she doesn't actually mean it." I also pushed the envelope with my politics and confronted their homophobia in a very non-productive manner. The second worst decision I made was telling my father in a moving vehicle while we were several states from home. I was lucky I didn't end up on a Greyhound for the return trip.

My mother and stepdad came around to being supportive ("as long as you're happy, dear"). My father and stepmom just vowed to never speak of it again. I'm sure both sets were happy when I finally ended up settling down with a guy, even though I just as easily could see myself married to a woman. If for some reason we got divorced, or my husband died, I'm sure I'd have to have the whole conversation with them again if I dated a woman.

I'm sure you're long past the teenage rebellion mode, but I'd examine your motivations for telling them before you do so. Be clear about your intentions. Don't do it to try to prove a point, i.e. "you're wrong for being homophobic." Do it because you want to be closer to them. Be generous and patient with them - don't get reflexively defensive if they say something stupid like you must have AIDS or that your "roommate" must have led you down the path of perversity. And yes, I'd sit them down together. It's very possible that the less homophobic one will positively influence the more homophobic one.
posted by desjardins at 8:02 AM on April 10, 2009

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