Coming Out
November 8, 2012 7:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm completely in the closet, but would like to know how to come out as a gay person of colour? I could use any sort of advice whether that's in the form of academic articles, anecdotes, words of wisdom, etc.. Also, what happens after coming out?

I'm gay. I've known this about myself for close to a decade if not longer now, but I've never disclosed this information with anyone in person.

People have speculated things about me including family members. My older sister has asked me if I was gay quite a few times over the years. My brother has mentioned various celebrity figures, artists, talked about the gay village, etc.. My conservative & religious mother even asked me if I had a girlfriend once. But, I choose not to discuss this information because I'm scared shitless of how they'll react. I come from a family that's made up of two immigrant parents who are strongly firm in their religious, cultural, and conservative beliefs. While my siblings and I were born in NA, my siblings are not as open-minded as I am and tend to share similar ideologies as my parents. They also have negative views towards the LGBTQ+ community, at least that's how it comes across.

I'm also scared of how my parents will react, what they'll say, or what they'll try to do once they find out this information.

My family is quite hot and cold with their emotions. In other words, they're quite unstable and if one person such as my mom is angry then the whole house will feel hostile and unpleasant. When my mom gets upset she does things like yells, pounds on her chest, and sobs which makes for an incredibly difficult situation. My dad has alcoholic 'tendencies' for a lack of a better word and my mother was physically abusive if someone disagreed with her on certain matters.

Today, my relationship with my parents and family has improved and I see them regularly (about once a month or so), but I still feel like I have to tread on very thin ice whenever I'm around them. They also feel the same about me (well at least some family members do) because I have been told that I'm too sensitive about things like equal rights and being politically correct (in the sense that I'm mindful of how people refer to others...).

I've realized this aspect about my family for years, so I always just assumed that I would move to a different continent where nobody knew me in order to carve a new life for myself. I realize how many people think this is strange or crazy to think, but that's what I always dreamed of. So, I didn't take the risk required to come out because I figured I wouldn't have to share my life to such an extent if we were worlds apart. Pretty sad now that I think about it, but it was a means of mentally escaping and telling myself that things would get better.

I'm no longer at the point where I want to move so far away. I want to get to know my family members, share my life with them, and in turn have them share their lives with me. But, I realize that I'm going to have to come out in order to do so. The problem is that I don't know how to do this. I realize that there are different ways to do it and that there's no right time to come out, but I'm still truly at a loss. I feel like the longer I wait, the more difficult it will be to come out.

Any advice is greatly appreciated. I don't know how to frame this question beyond asking for help with coming out. I am open to anecdotes, resources, or words of wisdom. Thanks!

(P.S. Sorry if this is an incoherent post, I'm incredibly exhausted from work. But, hope you can understand this post...)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Tell your brother first, who sounds like he's trying to give you an opening (in a slightly clumsy way). Sound him out about the rest of your family; it may not go as badly as you fear, and he may be able to help you strategize.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:07 AM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Can you be out to others socially without coming out to your family? That could be a first step.
posted by Nomyte at 7:11 AM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

My older sister has asked me if I was gay quite a few times over the years. My brother has mentioned various celebrity figures, artists, talked about the gay village, etc.. My conservative & religious mother even asked me if I had a girlfriend once.

I guess this is the part I'm wondering about. What's the tone of these inquiries and comments? If they're not hostile, I think that's a good sign that they a) know and b) want you to come out to them. That doesn't mean you shouldn't proceed carefully, but how people talk and think about strangers and how they talk and think about their family members can be contradictory. They may always be intolerant of "queer people," but that doesn't mean they'll be intolerant of you, queer beloved.
posted by liketitanic at 7:12 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with Eyebrows McGee, a sibling who is "on your side" can be really helpful. My brother came out to me before he came out to my parents and I had many sidebar discussions with my parents to try and help them accept the news. I like to think this made my brother's life a little easier.
posted by cranberrymonger at 7:14 AM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a friend who lives his life out in the open, exactly as he is, but never bothered to "come out". His family knew, but it was never discussed. He'd bring his boyfriends over for family dinners, etc.

I didn't have to come out as a straight person. I just live my life as the person I am. People who are into S/M don't have to sit down with their parents and tell them that.

I just say, be who you are, do everything you'd do as the person you are.

If someone asks you if you're gay say, "Yes. What do you think of that?" If your family members want to discuss it, be open to that.

If your mom asks about girlfriends, just give her a look and say, "I don't think so." Then give her a wink. Then hug her and say, "I love you, Mom." If you think she wants to know for sure, tell her, "Mom, I don't think there's ever going to be a girlfriend." See what she says about that.

If it feels right that you need to officially come out, then do that. But be respectful of your parent's sensibilities and be aware that it may be "don't ask, don't tell" until they get used to the idea.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:21 AM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is absolutely nothing wrong with only coming out to family members you know or at least suspect will be allies. NOTHING. In time, when you are more used to dealing with discussing it, you can gradually, and only if you choose, let the intolerant members of your family know. Just because they are your family does not mean you somehow owe them your personal happiness! I have family members I have never discussed this with, because it's not worth the hassle to me.
posted by elizardbits at 7:23 AM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just fwiw, I was socially out for years without coming out to much of my family. I recently had a family reunion of extended family and I brought my girlfriend of over a decade and basically figured 'fuck it' and did a lot of "oh, and this is my girlfriend". But years ago, I wouldn't have been comfortable doing that. It's a gradual thing.

Try talking to your sympathetic family members - it definitely sounds like they're trying to provide an opening.

Depending on where you are, there may be organizations of queer folks of color and you might find folks who can sympathize and/or who also come from a similar cultural background.

Good luck, and remember there are people out here on the net cheering for you.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:28 AM on November 8, 2012

I was/am/have been in almost exactly the same situation. And I came to the same realization, that I don't want to just distance myself from my family in order to live truly and honestly. I feel your pain. Please feel free to PM if you need a buddy, and I mean it.

But addressing your question specifically, I have three thoughts:
1) Nth-ing Eyebrows McGee and cranberrymonger, a sibling on your side makes a huge, HUGE difference. My sister told me about six years ago, right when I was coming out to friends and coworkers, that she knew and it was okay, and that she will help. When I came out to my parents about four months ago (this is a long, long process), my sister was there to buffer any awkwardness and tension, and she answered many of the questions my parents had but didn't want to ask me. She relayed messages from them when they didn't want to talk to me. She put things into perspective for me when I wallow in self-pity (and that will happen, because it's hard. It's really hard). And, to me, there are days when I am tempted to give up. Sometimes I thought "oh F this, I'll just marry the first man who is willing and put up with it." Other times I wish a truck would run the red light and hit me. In these times, thoughts of my sister kept me going.

2) That said, I read your message closely, and I think you should proceed cautiously when coming out to your sibling(s). They might surprise you, but they might not. It's hard to say. Test the water temperature first. A cousin will do, too.

And on this note, I think you should be super careful with thinking that they know. In my experience, when parents/conservative relatives and family ask questions that suggest they know, it doesn't always mean they know and are waiting for you to come out. It can easily mean that they are worried and are hoping you to confirm that you are not. If that's the case, "just come out" will be worse than if they hadn't been suspecting.

3) Come out to your close friends first. Come out to people around you who you know will accept you first. Make gay friends and tell them you are going through a rough time with coming out. This sounds awful, but knowing that your "chosen family" got your back will give you strength in facing a situation where your real family might disown you. At least that's my experience. I first came out to a group closer friends about six years ago when we were all lying under a christmas tree in February, and they were all like, " well, duh. But we still love you." That really gave me the courage to come out to other friends. Gradually I was openly gay in my social circle and at work, and I have found that no matter where I go, there area always gay "mentors" who appear in my life when I have a hard time dealing with coming out to my family.

All of this is to say, coming out to your family is incredibly hard and arduous of a process. It's a process, because it will take your parents a while to get used to the idea. My parents haven't yet. They might also go into denial. I've come out to them at least three times now. But it's totally worth it. I can't imagine staying in the closet forever.
posted by atetrachordofthree at 7:44 AM on November 8, 2012 [8 favorites]

If your mom asks about girlfriends, just give her a look and say, "I don't think so." Then give her a wink. Then hug her and say, "I love you, Mom." If you think she wants to know for sure, tell her, "Mom, I don't think there's ever going to be a girlfriend." See what she says about that.

I think the poster is a woman.
posted by valeries at 7:57 AM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

From a totally straight perspective it sounds a lot like they already know and are waiting for you to tell them. You may find if you confide in your closest sibling that it's already been fully discussed in the family.

I'm fairly sure a close family member of mine is gay, or at least has had a substantial number of gay relationships, and for years we've been waiting for him to tell us. I'm not sure he ever will, for a lot of reasons, but it would be an ENORMOUS relief to all of us if he ever did. There was an utterly horrible period where he was struggling with an illness that might have been HIV and we would have given anything to be able to talk about it.
posted by unSane at 8:17 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good advice upthread. The part nobody tells you is:

Also, what happens after coming out?

You keep coming out, over and over and over, in many different ways. Sometimes this is very tiring and sometimes it's really great. (Having friends who are queer too helps increase the ratio of great to tiring.)
posted by clavicle at 8:56 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Speaking as somebody who has been through this (gay, potentially hostile family):

You need to be comfortable in your gayness before you tackle the potentially hostile members of your family.

If you are 100% in the closet, the first thing you need to do is tell one person who you're pretty sure will be fine with it. That first person is the hardest - I was terrified, and I was telling somebody who is gay!

As you begin to come out, you will develop a comfort level with being gay that you really don't have right now. You'll stop being ashamed in your heart and you'll become proud of your decision to come out - that you're being honest with yourself and that you're living your life the way it's meant to be.

Once you have a bit of comfort and you're out to at least some people in your daily life, tackle the members in your family who have asked you. They already know - they just want to hear it from you. Enlist allies amongst your family, and use those allies to help defend you if things go awry with your parents.

But good news, I've seen this pattern over and over: A person comes out to their hostile family. The family freaks out and things are strained. Over time, things calm down and within a couple of years the family is accepting. I've heard stories through the grapevine of permanent estrangement, but I've never heard of it amongst my age group (30's) or younger. The parents always seem to come around eventually.
posted by zug at 8:57 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm straight, so I have nothing to add from a personal standpoint, but I regularly read a lesbian (etc.) webblog called Autostraddle that might give you some good perspective on coming out to your family. The community is very inclusive of people from all different backgrounds, trying to give voices to as many perspectives as possible. They have a whole tag of "coming out" posts that may be of particular interest.
posted by urbanlenny at 9:08 AM on November 8, 2012

Are you financially (or otherwise) dependent on your parents? Do you see a real possibility of harm if you come out to them? If so, absolve yourself of the pressure to come out. You are under no obligation to do so right now (or ever) and you should wait until you are comfortable and safe(r).

You can start getting comfortable with the idea by coming out to friends, or acquaintances, in a social circle that is very different from your family. Start getting involved with other LGBTQ people (especially LGB people of colour who can empathize with your particular experiences) - they can be your support network, your cheering squad, and your kick in the ass if you so wish. If you then feel comfortable coming out to your family, don't be afraid to go to those you think will be more supportive first (but they might not keep your secret).

I have several friends who are queer POCs and who came out to their families. Some of them reacted poorly and came around, others reacted poorly and are still jerks, still others reacted well and are super supportive. People can surprise you. Whatever happens, remember that you deserve to be loved, that you have people who know you are queer and love you all the more for it, and that if they cannot see past their prejudice that is absolutely not your failing - it's theirs.

Also, try to think of coming out as a series of events instead of one big shabang. I am still coming out to people on an almost daily basis 9 years after I first told someone (and yeah, it's a little annoying but it's not earthshattering or terrifying anymore).

Full disclosure: I am white, queer and trans, so my experiences may greatly differ.

Best of luck!
posted by buteo at 10:04 PM on November 8, 2012

Great advice up thread.

I felt reborn after I came out, it was like a 1000 ton weight was lifted from my back as soon as I told the first person (a straight friend). I waited a few weeks getting comfortable with the idea and telling some more friends before I started telling my family (who live far away from me) and I started with a brother I knew would be supportive although to be fair I was pretty sure my family would be Ok with it and I let my mother break the news to my dad.

One word of wisdom, don't come out on April 1st (like I did) half my friends thought it was a joke.
posted by Long Way To Go at 10:21 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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