A sad coming-out story
October 16, 2007 9:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm dealing with the fallout from coming out to my deeply religious immediate family. For years, I had prepared for their tears, their anger, their remonstrances, their appeals to the Bible, and all of those have come. What I hadn't prepared for was how disappointed I would be, and how fundamental and lonely that disappointment would be. Help?

All my life, the person I've considered myself closest to was my older sister. I love her dearly, and I've always held her up on a pedestal as a rational, incredibly decent, and most deeply generous person. A little under a decade ago, when I first realized I was gay, and that it wasn't a phase, I knew my sister would be the family member I'd come out to first, because even though I knew she'd have some trouble with it, I also knew she'd understand and assuage my fears in a way no one else would or could. If I could depend on no one else in life, I could depend on my sister.

I've been living on my own for almost a decade, in a different state than any of my family members. I've been out at work and to friends for 6 years. After years of prelude, I formally came out to my sister at the beginning of this year, as best as I knew how. Our first conversation about it made me grimace and chuckle a little bit -- she said everything the textbooks tell you not to say when someone comes out to you -- "Were you abused as a child?" "And you're sure it's not a phase?" But she assured me she loved me, and was, on some level, OK with it, and understood I couldn't be the person I was if I wasn't the person I am.

In the ensuing months, though, our conversations became a touch more difficult. She started telling me in every phone call that she was praying for me, asking me to open my heart to God, pointing out the standard passages in Leviticus and so forth. I was taken aback, because although my sister has always been religious, she's never been a fundamentalist. But I assured her of my own time spent studying the Bible, reconciling my sexuality with my faith, and walked her through the numerous doctrinal interpretations challenging the fundamentalist position on homosexuality. (I attended Christian schools all my life; I've read the Bible basically cover to cover, and I've done a lot of intense Bible study to help inform my own faith.) I was trying to engage her at her level, although I was astounded that she'd brought it there. Leviticus, really? My sister?

Tonight was the last straw. My year of finally coming out to my family climaxed in what was more-or-less a coming-out conversation with my uber-religious mother. (A wonderful person, who commands much of my love and admiration and respect, but whom I will probably never describe as thoroughly rational.) It was tough, but I've been steeling myself for that for years. My mom is probably still wailing and screaming and asking what she did to deserve this. I don't know how long it will be before we speak again, but again, that I was prepared for.

But the giant blow was the conversation with my sister that followed, which included every distorted Biblical canard a fundie ever threw at a fag. (OK, she left out the Adam-n-Eve-not-Adam-n-Steve quip.) We each remained as civil as we could, but "civility" is a term I'd hate to ever use to describe an interaction with my dear, dear sister.

What I'm left with is my disbelief and disappointment that this was my sister. My decent, rational, generous, cherished sister, clinging to such uncharitable, irrational, bileful dogma in the face of all reason and loyalty and love. Something fundamental has soured in our relationship, even if things get better between us. It feels as though the person whose love and support I have always counted on in life is a different person entirely, and the loneliness and disappointment in that is just wrenching.

Give me some perspective. Point me to an essay, or a speech, or a book, or a song, or something. Lay down your words of wisdom. This was long, but I had to get it off my chest.
posted by grrarrgh00 to Human Relations (37 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
The power of their reaction is related to the amount of love they have for you. They've spent a long time building up these beliefs and now a person they really love acts in a way counter to them. If they didn't love you, they'd just shrug.

Don't judge them based on the original shock. Just give it time and see what happens. Have as thick a skin as you possibly can, as these are your relatives.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:49 PM on October 16, 2007

How terrible for you. If I were you, I would write them a letter, once you've lost some of the heavy emotional immediacy of it all. Tell them some of what you've told us - why you love, care for and admire them. Point out that this isn't something you can change and that there's an ever-increasing amount of evidence that one's sexuality is determined before birth. But don't go too far with that (just sort of stick it in there.) Tell them that you can understand what a shock this must have been for them, but appeal to them by saying that you take solace in the fact that Jesus offered the world a new deal, which is why we (as a society) have dismissed so much of the Old Testament and now can eat shellfish and ignore admonitions to stone adulterers and that we can now accept homosexuals . . . and that one of the Bible's primary messages is "judge not . . ."

And then leave it at that. Don't be angry, don't be vengeful. You will have done the right thing with no escalation, and then the ball's in their court. If they are the people you wish them to be, it'll get worked out eventually. If not, you were honest and open and kind . . . and you can't change who you are. You'll eventually find people who can help fill an empty part of your heart. And believe me, you've got strangers who'll be rooting for you. Good luck.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:55 PM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

They'll come around. It's amazing how easy it is to be hateful and distrusting towards a group of people that they never have to interact with. It suddenly all becomes different when it's someone they know and love. The world is full of stories about families who came to terms with their family member's homosexuality.

Anecdotally, do you think Mary Cheney had it easy coming out to her big-shot senator uber-conservative dad? If they can have a loving family, there's hope for anyone, I'd say.

Give them time. Remember, it took you six years to be ready to tell them. It may take them as long to get used to it.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:57 PM on October 16, 2007

My decent, rational, generous, cherished sister, clinging to such uncharitable, irrational, bileful dogma in the face of all reason and loyalty and love.

Religious belief is a powerful, powerful thing.

Something fundamental has soured in our relationship, even if things get better between us.

She's just found out you're gay, and you've just found out she's delusional. It's just going to take some time for both of you to get used to your new views of each other. Don't mistake that difficulty for anything fundamental. The actors haven't changed - only the drama.

The fact that each of you now knows the other a little better can strengthen your relationship rather than undercut it, if you remain open to that possibility.
posted by flabdablet at 9:59 PM on October 16, 2007

Time, time, time, time, time.
posted by Miko at 10:00 PM on October 16, 2007

Man, I hate to even try to offer anything. Not being gay, I can't imagine where you are, but my compassion won't let me pass without comment. I can try to approach it from the other side, having a lifetime of experience in conservative churches, and having closeted gay friends within those churches. So take anything you can glean, and forgive me for the rest.

-Remind yourself that you did something difficult, and give yourself kudos for that. I'm sure there is somewhat of a relief that it's done. You knew it was inevitable, it just didn't turn out the way you wanted. Take time to feel that the burden is lifted.

-Keep in mind that the same way you are thinking "How can me sister be this way?" she is thinking "How can my brother be this way?" Just as she seems like a different person to you, you seem like a different person to her. She is confused, concerned, and feels she trying to protect your eternal soul. To her, it's not irrational dogma. She is probably afraid for you, and embarked on a spontaneous "scared straight" mission.

-Give everyone time and space, without cutting them off. Make it clear that you came out in order to be honest with them about who you are, not to get advice or sermons from them. Let them know that in the same way you accept them even if you don't agree with them, you would appreciate the same thing from them. If necessary, you might want to tell them that you understand it's a lot to take in, and you realize they may not understand it, and may even be disappointed, so you will give them all the time they need.

-Don't try to convince them that their actions are unchristian or lacking in compassion. They just won't see it that way, and trying to change them will only be an unwinnable argument that may result in hurtful things said in anger and frustration by all of you. In my 30 years in churches, I have never seen a "scriptural" argument end in anything but a stalemate, even on minor matters. This is pretty major, so the idea of making some kind of case that changes their minds is futile.

-Be as patient and loving with them as you want them to be with you.
posted by The Deej at 10:06 PM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

A small consolation may be to consider your coming out in light of its intrinsic merit, rather than the reactions it produced, which were outside your control. You have done something rather momentous: you've identified who you are, and made the decision to embody and become this person, to yourself as well as to others, despite enormous pressure to try and be otherwise or disguise yourself. That is not only courageous, but also wise: it makes you a more fully realized human being.
posted by limon at 10:14 PM on October 16, 2007 [7 favorites]

When it's out on DVD buy/rent this documentary for your family: For The Bible Tells Me So.

Just yesterday Dick and Chrissy Gephardt were "on air" talking about the documentary.

An interview with the director (Daniel Karslake) is here.
posted by ericb at 10:15 PM on October 16, 2007

Please get in touch with PFLAG, too.
posted by brujita at 10:17 PM on October 16, 2007

'For The Bible Tells Me So' - Trailer.
posted by ericb at 10:19 PM on October 16, 2007

I don't believe your family will just "come around" if you continue to put up with their intolerant behavior. Their preaching to you is completely inappropriate and you should tell them to cease immediately.

You should prepare yourself to withdraw from them. If they truly love you, they will realize they are losing you (as they should for their bigotry) and then they will reevaluate their relationship. It seems harsh, but when they realize their belief system is in conflict with the very essence of who their son/daughter/sibling is - well then their beliefs can change, because you never will.

I speak from my direct, personal experience when I was in the nearly identical situation. I don't have a inspirational reading for you, but this process takes a lot of time and cannot be forced.
posted by dendrite at 10:54 PM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Honey, you've been preparing yourself mentally and emotionally for years to deal with these conversations, while your family had no preparation at all, and are just sort of flailing in response. I'm guessing that you, yourself, when first coming to terms with your sexual identity suffered from a bit, or perhaps a lot, of early pain and confusion, and I think that what you are seeing in them, and your sister, specifically, is just a correlation of that early adjustment period.

Your description of her is very loving, and she seems like the sort of person who will be there for you, but I think she needs some time. If I were you, I think I'd just apply a get-out-of-jail-free card to her responses for a lengthy initial period - maybe even a year. Try to force yourself to adopt a super-patient, no-blame attitude in order to clear a space for her to work it out, with your help. It's completely human to feel hurt and disappointed, but you are so close to the goal you imagined for such a long time! Try to hang in there while she goes through the steps. If she is who you believe she is, she will arrive there, and you two will be even closer.

Best of luck to you!
posted by taz at 11:17 PM on October 16, 2007 [8 favorites]

I have 3 fundamentalist Christian siblings. While I'm not gay, I still live a lifestyle that they find unChristian (I sing jazz in BARS! I have committed adultery! I've lived in Los Angeles - the Devil's city!) so no matter how good of a sister I've tried to be, I've still been informed many a time about how they're praying that they can save me from my imminent path to eternal damnation for being a pagan. Yeah, that conversation never goes well. The only solution I could find was to start keeping distance from them so that everyone could live in peace. I'm not going to be converted and there's no way I could possibly talk them out of their zealotry, they don't want to be changed.

So all I can really say is that I feel your pain and know intimately just how difficult, frustrating, exhausting and heartbreaking it can be to deal with. Sometimes it feels like you're the only sane person around. And you probably are. So please hang in there.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:24 PM on October 16, 2007

How have you been dealing with your sister these past ten months since you first came out to her? Have you been on the defensive? Have you told her that she has dissappointed *you*? That you feel abandoned and forsaken?
posted by Good Brain at 11:35 PM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Your sister loves you and believes that if you don't change you will go to hell. She does not want you to go to hell. Her misguided efforts to save you are driven by the same love that would cause her to set up an intervention if you were an alcoholic.

Your job is to convince her either that there is no hell, or that you are not going there. And no, I don't know how either.

Good luck to you.
posted by happyturtle at 11:37 PM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Please remember that your sister's reaction is not in her mind a betrayal of you, but an expression of concern and an attempt to "save" you because she loves you. However, you can let her know that when she treats you as if you are damned and unrepentant that you feel that as betrayal, and you can only put up with it maybe one in every five conversations. Good luck, and I earnestly hope your family comes around.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:47 PM on October 16, 2007

You might want to lovingly remind them of the whole "hate the sin, love the sinner" thing and give her time. She will come around.
posted by craniac at 11:51 PM on October 16, 2007

Interesting, I'll have to get a copy of that movie for my own folks.

My brother (B) is gay. My parents, especially my mother, are semi-conservative Christians. They weren't happy when he "came out" (although he was never exactly "in") - wailing, gnashing of teeth, my father retreated to his room to fret and blame himself, my mother tried to argue him out of it, my sister and I and our other brother shrugged and thought "so what else is new". In other words, everyone reacted as he'd expected.

B'd moved out of home a couple of years before, which probably helped him get himself sorted out, meet people, make friends, and be ready to do it. I know he'd been dating, he brought a boyfriend around to my house once for a copy of some computer program I had. Fairly soon after he got a permanent full-time job, he met a much older gay man (D) and started spending a lot of time with him, and they moved in together at least ten years ago. I think it helps a hell of a lot that my brother's boyfriend is the nicest man alive. It also helps a lot that they're a very respectable, wealthy, successful upper-middle-class couple, whose social values--apart from the gay thing--are almost entirely compatible with my parents'. (Actually they're more conservative, in some ways - a lot more concerned with social status and appearances, for instance.)

After a bit of overreaction and soul-searching, the religious elements of our family reverted back to the same sort of reserved kindness that they show each other and the rest of us. B and D are invited to family events together, our relatives (some a lot more conservatively religious than our parents) have all been friendly and polite to both B and D at family funerals and weddings. Some might mutter a bit to each other, but frankly, they mutter more about the cousins' drinking and my thrice-divorced aunt. B and D both get Christmas presents from our mother. Etc etc. D doesn't get treated any differently, really, to our sister's husband and our other brother's wife. If B was to die suddenly, our family has agreed (independently of discussing it with B and D) that the funeral arrangements would be in D's hands. The biggest bone of contention is this: B has a real estate franchise, and works stupid hours a week, and isn't available to visit anywhere near as often as the rest of the family would like.

But, in summary - yes, conservatively religious people, even the sort that think TV is inherently evil and any moment now Jesus is going to be back to clean house - can be accepting of gay family members. Hang in there. Maybe take a break from them for a bit, and call a bit before Christmas, and see them for Christmas on the understanding that "the gay thing" won't be mentioned by either side. Let them see that you haven't really changed. I wish you all the best.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:02 AM on October 17, 2007

I can't offer much advice in this situation, but I do have to say that I'm adamantly against you withdrawing yourself from your family with the expectation that they'll come around. It's actually closer to the hope that they'll come around.

It's fine to give them some space and time for them to reconcile their beliefs with the fact that they have a gay son. But a permanent withdrawal seems like the wrong way out, a means of "testing" their love. Because they won't necessarily come around, and you could become he-who-is-not-talked-about to them. That a parent's love in unending and unconditional is a nice fiction we tell ourselves, but I've talked with enough gay guys who aren't on speaking terms with their family (in progressive California!) to know that a parent-child relationship is, like any relationship, an act of will on the part of everyone involved. And it can break.

So let them come to terms with everything—this is still new to them—but make sure you keep yourself in their lives once they've had time to process this. Confront them when you think they're wrong, but be as gentle as you can when you do (Do not construe that to mean roll over, and if you need to be uncivil, don't stop yourself.) They need to stop viewing you as this strange creature they only thought existed on the coasts and see that, essentially, you haven't changed. The only reason—the only decent reason, in fact—to withdraw from your family is if you truly do not want to speak with them again.

As for your sister: my read of the situation is that she's upset that you upset your parents, and may be throwing the worst of it at you as a retaliatory tactic. It's the same instinct that brings families together in times of crisis; the problem is you're the crisis.

Here's the little advice I can give: Bury any resentment and forgive her. Do it sooner rather than later. It's easier to say than to do, but you are going to have to rebuild your trust with her (and vice-versa,) and it's better to start sooner than to let these feelings of betrayal linger. If she's unwilling to come around, the onus isn't on you; you'll have done everything in your power to maintain your relationship with her. It's up to her where she wants to go at that point.
posted by Weebot at 12:10 AM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

"What I'm left with is my disbelief and disappointment that this was my sister. My decent, rational, generous, cherished sister, clinging to such uncharitable, irrational, bileful dogma in the face of all reason and loyalty and love. "

Well, you're probably not going to like reading this, but here's my honest opinion.

Your sister's not rational. She's (from what you've written) rational until it conflicts with her dogma.

To be perfectly frank, there's stuff in the Bible for more irrational -- demonstrably in conflict with the evidence of our senses, in a way that homo-hate isn't -- than Leviticus's command to kill gays. Like the sun standing still for a day, water covering the entire surface of the Earth, pairs of all species of animals living on a boat for 40 days, men living inside whales. Like separate creation. And people rising from the dead.

As a good Leviticus-literalist believing Christian, your sister presumably believes all of that.

And there's stuff that's frankly as or more disgusting and immoral than killing gays (disgusting as that is), like racism and slavery, and genocide and rape sanctioned by God as a means to gain territory.

And, as a good Leviticus-literalist believing Christian, your sister presumably thinks those things are moral right and just, because God said to do them.

Your sister is in a way a better Christian than most, because she's (apparently) not cherry-picking only the most palatable parts of her creed, but swallowing the bitter with the sweet. As happyturtle points out, that means she must believe that you're at least a sinner, and (depending on what she thinks is required for forgiveness) possibly damned to eternal torment.

Until you accept that your "decent, rational, generous, cherished sister", is clinging to many "uncharitable, irrational, bileful" beliefs, you're not really understanding the situation. She doesn't just believe that you should be killed for being gay; she believes God morally commanded and Moses rightfully carried out, (with the exception of virgins to be kept as sex slaves) the genocide of the Midianites: "Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves." (Numbers 31:17-18)
posted by orthogonality at 12:25 AM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

That really sucks but you've got company. I've been there too. Same scenario: cherished older sister, extreme fundamentalist family, and very similar reactions along with the Bible quotations and a wailing and screaming mother and the idea that my father had to have something to do with it.

Argh. The people who say "they'll come around" may or may not be right. I think that most of the people who say these things either didn't grow up fundamentalist, or had kinder, saner relatives in general.

My family hasn't come around and if anything, have gotten worse over the last then years. But hey, I live my own life. I haven't given up. I tell them little tidbits constantly that I think they need to hear, reminding them through my presence that queers are human, that we have hopes and needs too. They keep trying to convert me, and I keep trying to convert them. So it goes.

I just want you to know that I get it. I hope you'll be one of the lucky ones, that they'll mellow with time. But if not, cherish your friends, build family elsewhere, and *live* your life. Try to focus too on what you enjoy with your sister--do things together. Don't always talk about things (I should take my own advice, no?) and try to keep what you do enjoy. Yes, your relationship is changed, but there's still room to be close, possibly in a different way, and hope for change.

You have my respect and admiration for being brave enough to take the risk with your family.
posted by tejolote at 12:28 AM on October 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

A little extra perspective (I have no idea how it is for you; I'm describing my situation). For a very long time I idealized my oldest sister and never realized *exactly* how much I did so. Her attitude hurt worse because I saw her as more than she actually was. It took a long time for me to reconcile my images with reality, and her attitude about queers was no small part of that. I look back on it as a form of growing up. Hard, painful, and necessary. I still love both my sisters, but my view of them is now more realistic. Growing up hurts, but I wouldn't have changed it for anything.
posted by tejolote at 12:38 AM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

My best friend in high school came out (accidentally, long story) to her fundamentalist family. It became tolerable for a handful of years, then exploded again last year when she wanted to bring home her girlfriend for Christmas. I don't know if they're speaking again or not. t may get better, it may get worse, but in the end it's really not going to be up to you. All you can do is lead a safe, happy, fulfilling life.

This is a hard situation and both sides are absolutely convinced they're right. I of course side with you, but realize that if your family admits this is okay for you, they're effectively questioning their entire faith? Just as it was probably shocking for them to find out you're gay, there's a whole separate thing to deal with that is their faith, and the way they've been living their life. I don't condone their opinions, but this is a serious issue for them. Are they any moderate to liberal pastors in the area who they might be able to talk to?
posted by olinerd at 4:44 AM on October 17, 2007

OP, my heart goes out to you. Here is a link to a "letter" (it's more of an essay) that helped a Christian friend of mine come out to his parents, and also helped my Catholic parents when my sister came out. It's long, but the basic message is that the whole "judge not" and "love thy neighbor" things apply to gay people too. (I'm simplifying, though; it's quite detailed and makes several convincing arguments.)

Also, here is an essay from the perspective of a Christian parent whose son came out to him. My friend said his mom told him it helped her a lot.

I don't think you'll find any shortage of people here who will offer you their support and good wishes, and I'd just like to add my voice to that chorus. Give your family some time, and take care of yourself.
posted by AV at 5:48 AM on October 17, 2007 [3 favorites]

Right now they are feeling the same loneliness you are, and that's the only thing that will really make a difference, because it will eat at them like acid.

It just takes time. Be prepared for it to take a very long time. In the meantime, all you can do is take care of yourself. Keep working toward becoming a person they would have continued to love and be proud of if this was not a factor.

And this situation is precisely the reason why gay people have alway referred to each other as family. At times like these you need to hold on to whatever adopted family you've found where you are, learn about their lives, take advantage of the comfort they offer, and wait this out.

If they never do come around, the price you'll have paid for telling them is nothing compared to the price they'll have paid for not accepting you.
posted by hermitosis at 6:17 AM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Could you potentially argue that the Old Testament (Leviticus etc.) was rendered obsolete by the new covenant, and that by appealing to the old covenant, they're not being Good Christians?

...I mean, I'm not a christian, but it always seemed to me that the New Testament was pretty clear on the whole "new covenant" thing.

Not that this would help a whole lot, but it might at least deflect their religious fervor.
posted by aramaic at 6:25 AM on October 17, 2007

Let me give you some perspective from their viewpoint.

They think they have lost you in a very real and eternal sense. Their reaction to you is also a function of their deep love for you as a sibling and a child. And in a very deep sense this is a real shock to them.

FWIW one of our church's pastors has a grown son who is gay. Theologically he and his wife feel as your relatives do but they still love him, he still visits, and he even visits the church when he is in town. No one says anything to him at church afaik. (I mean, about the gayness; of course they speak to him and are friendly, etc.)

You want them to accept you as you are. You will most probably have to accept them as they are as well. I think it is too much for you to expect them to embrace your being gay, but I do think there is hope that they can and will continue to embrace YOU as a family member.

I think it is fair if you ask them not to talk to you about your sexuality. But it is also fair for them to continue to pray for you.
posted by konolia at 6:37 AM on October 17, 2007

You don't say much about your own beliefs except that it sounds like you have your head on straight about how what your family is saying is a distortion of Christianity. If you still feel you are a Christian, a good support group could be other Christians who have been where you are, whether a Metropolitan Community Church or a welcoming congregation of another denomination.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:35 AM on October 17, 2007

I went through a similar situation - came out to my folks quite a while ago - the awkwardness has remained in my case. It's fine, for me, it was something I was prepared for (just like you). I'm still a little angry with them, and in a lot of ways I haven't forgiven them for not getting over it. It is what it is, we really can't change things sometimes. What helped me for the other stuff (sense of loss? support system?) was spending time with my gay friends. It wasn't really something that I talked about with all of them, but spending time with other gay people really helped get me through it. It was important for me to see that even though my biological family wasn't there to support me emotionally - I was able to patch together another family that accepted me whole-heartedly. Of course you can do this with straight people too - but with other gays you don't have to explain why it hurts.

Good luck, it's tough, but you'll make it through - trust your friends.
posted by Craig at 9:30 AM on October 17, 2007

I have a couple close friends in exactly this situation and it's definitely not been easy for them to say the least, but their relationships have slowly gotten better as their families have come to grips with the fact -- which would strike the non-religious person as a simple fact of life -- that some people are gay. There's a book that was recommended to them to recommend to their families, which I've read and of which I think extremely highly: "The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart". Its author is Peter Gomes, who is a Harvard prof, an ordained Baptist minister, until very recently a Republican, somewhat theologically conservative, and . . . gay. There's an excellent chapter in the book about homosexuality. So if your sister and family are willing to delve a bit into some intellectual and theological hard work, they might get a lot from this book and Gomes' take on things. Good luck.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 9:49 AM on October 17, 2007

Only tangentally related, but you might get something out of watching One Punk Under God, a Sundance Channel 6-part series. It's on DVD.
posted by The Deej at 9:51 AM on October 17, 2007

I'm sorry you're going through all this. I can only imagine how emotionally wrenching you must be finding this process of coming out.

Of course, it is a process. And, as you say, you have had years to prepare for this moment.

You want your sister to show more sensitivity. After all, you know she loves you. But she is probably feeling resentful. From her point of view, you have been lying to her all this time. She is probably wondering how you really reacted to things she said and did in the past, and feeling embarrassed over her actions, wishing she could take them back. The vitriole you are hearing from her is likely a self-defense mechanism kicking in.

Similarly, your mother, who doesn't understand the reality of homosexuality, very likely feels that your sexual orientation is a reflection on the way she raised you, the result of some mistake(s) she made. That sounds awful, and it is, but it isn't really surprising given what you know of her beliefs. You want her to rise above them for the sake of you, her son, and she may well do that.

Give them both time. It took you a long time to get to this point, and it is going to take them a while to accept that this is who you are, and it is a part of who you have always been, and to come to terms with that reality. That's before the religious issues and their fundamentalist view of homosexuality even come into play. This is not going to get better overnight.

What you can do, besides giving them time to adjust, is find support through your gay friends, as Craig said above, so that you can deal with your life in the meantime.
posted by misha at 10:42 AM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Speaking from personal experience I think you have to decide what is most important for you in this situation. Is it having a relationship with your parents? A relationship with your sister? Not feeling horrible about yourself constantly because your family makes you feel horrible about yourself?

For me I decided that not feeling horrible was most important to me. For one set of relatives I made it clear that they absolutely could choose to not acknowledge/deal with in a respectful way who I am and who is important to me but if they did that then they wouldn't have me in their lives any more. I was completely willing to walk away from them because their religious beliefs and the way they tried to share them with me constantly made me feel horrible. I didn't want to feel horrible because I knew I had done nothing to feel horrible about. So we had a break for a while. They eventually came around. Sort of. I'm pretty sure they still think I'm going to hell but they don't say such things to me and they are very nice to my partner.

Truthfully though I never expected them to come around. I expected to never have anything to do with these people again. There was a huge amount of sadness over that and I had to think a good while before I came to the conclusion that "yes, I really can cut these people out of my life because they're hurtful to me. It doesn't matter if they think they're hurtfulness is fueled by love or some deep religious belief. Hurt is hurt."

Your family may not ever come around and you may not be willing to cut them out of your life but it's something you at least have to consider, in my opinion. It's not your job to educate them and it's not your job to accept their abuse while they figure things out. If you decide you want to do those things then great but know that you don't have to. You deserve to be loved and respected right now for who you are.
posted by mjones at 11:36 AM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your encouragement, your advice, and for sharing your own stories. I can't tell you how therapeutic it's been to read this thread.

After writing this post, as the original responses came in, I began drafting my sister an e-mail. I went to bed, and when I woke up, I read over the e-mail, made revisions and sent it. I won't quote the full thing, but here's an excerpt:
Whenever we speak in our veiled way about my sexuality, my head is so clouded with my own thoughts and responses that I find it difficult to do what I've been urging myself to do since I first came out to you -- to put myself in your shoes. To remember how foreign and awful and new this must feel to you. For me, it's been almost 14 years of knowing. For you, it hasn't yet been one.

In more reflective, less emotional moments, I can remember what it's like to grapple with this knowledge, and I know it's anything but easy. I know it takes time. I was brought up being told all my life that homosexuality is unequivocally wrong, contrary to God's law. Even as my dawning understanding of my sexuality progressed, that sense of wrongness directed all my responses to it, all while that sense was being affirmed daily by my teachers, my friends, and my family. ...

I'd always envisioned that when the time came for Mom and Dad to learn about my sexuality, you'd be there to help me cope with their fear and anger. I've known for the better part of a decade that when I started coming out to my family, you'd be the person I came out to first, because it's you I'm closest to. But I realize that's a selfish thought. Nine years ago, I finally began coping with my own fear and anger, and found love. I hope Mom and Dad will do the same, in their own time. And you need your own time to grope with this. It's not you I should be depending on, it's God.

I have always considered you to be the single most decent and generous person I know in all the world. And I appeal to that decency and generosity in asking you to remember only this: I bore the cross of my sexuality for five years. It has been nine years since I realized that cross was a blessing. For me, the truth of my sexuality has been (so far) 14 years in the making. Please respect that journey.

No matter what, I will always love you.
I'm going to be OK, whatever happens. Again, thanks for your responses. I'd consider going through and marking every one as best answer, but suffice it to know that each of you has helped.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 1:31 PM on October 17, 2007 [3 favorites]

I see two major things:

1. You assumed your sister would be okay with it, on some level. You "knew she'd understand and assuage my fears in a way no one else would or could. If I could depend on no one else in life, I could depend on my sister."

Okay, so that's not really helpful to you now.

2. (Some) Christians have their own kind of neuroses. They (sometimes) preach tolerance and peace but can (occasionally) be extremely intolerant and emotionally violent. They can (some of them) give you massive amounts of guilt without you even knowing it.

Your sexuality is your business, or between you and God if you still believe in God/accept God. I knew a Christian lesbian once... when judgemental people struck, she made it a point to let them know it was between her and God and that we shouldn't judge.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:07 PM on October 17, 2007

Makes me wish I just once could read a 'happy' coming out story. Yup, came out to my very Catholic family. Got the book (specifically the Bible) thrown at me. I have 3 siblings all of which think I'm going to hell in a handbasket. 2 won't allow me near their children. Mom has relaxed somewhat and Dad tolerates my girlfriend in the same room now. That's after TWO YEARS. They may not come around unfortunately. For some people, their religion is paramount and if that means they abandon you, then that's what they choose. Good luck. You're not alone.
posted by CwgrlUp at 4:11 PM on October 17, 2007

I'm very sorry that this has happened to you. This hurts so badly, and unfortunately, it's going to hurt for a while. Talk to your rational friends and accept their offers of help, taking you out for a drink, shoulders, etc. Distract yourself and be prepared to pull away from them, as someone else already said. There are hundreds of things your mother and sister can do to help themselves, but there's not much you can so to help them - except for giving them time. Let them take the initiative in contacting you, and make it clear every time that you're not doing this to hurt them, but you cannot change. They have to want to accept you in order to be able to change their minds. They will probably get to that point eventually - most parents do. I have hope that mine will one day.

Write about it. I got a good ten songs out of my foster mother's (and her church's) rejection and fear and how angry they all were. Also, I'm found that lesbians love a sad story and are willing to do their best to cheer up a fresh-out-of-the-closet girl, but YMMV.

Best of luck. You've done a very, very brave thing.
posted by honeydew at 6:14 PM on October 17, 2007

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