When I was 14 my dad took me on a father and son snowboarding trip. The drive from my home to the mountains was over 7 hours and during that time our conversations touched on various topics. I had always had a great relationship with my parents and talked openly with my dad about sex, his sexual experiences and girls. We had never spoken about homosexuality; until that point I hadn’t considered that I might be gay. A few months before my 14th birthday I had started thinking about boys and an older kid at my school had asked me if I was gay. Not knowing what any of this really meant I decided to broach the topic with my dad during our extended car trip. I loved asking my dad questions about sex and dating and being a reformed playboy, he had a lot of tantalising stories to share.
“Dad, how do I know if I’m gay?” I curiously asked. Taken aback, he answered with a very involved and convoluted explanation, using analogies and metaphors that were somewhat confusing for a 14 year old to decipher. He finished his explanation with the statement “although I’ll be disappointed if you’re gay, I will always love and support you”.
I realised two things from our conversation 1. by my fathers explanation and reasoning, I was definitely not gay and 2. that if I ever was to be gay then I would be a disappointment to my father. The latter realisation was particularly troubling as I had always been taught that family was the most important thing and therefore disappointing the family was for me, an unimaginable act of disrespect.
Looking back on that formative conversation I’ve realised that my father was simply handling the situation in the best manner that he knew how. While his explanation would have been understood much better had he just said that being gay meant that a boy liked a boy in the same way that other boys likes girls, he was obviously trying to protect to me.
Although I’m fortunate to have parents who now support and love me regardless of my sexuality, I understand that other people have had much more trying experiences with their families. Whether your parents have dealt well with your coming out or have responded negatively, it’s important to understand that their response is based on their own experiences and their own capability to deal with the situation. Their opinions and values may be based on religious or cultural beliefs or they may not understand what it means to be gay. Whatever their response, one must realise that we cannot change the perspectives of others. What we can do is try empathise with them and see things from their perspective in the hope that they will learn to empathise with us too.
The thought of disappointing my parents prevented me from coming out to them for much longer than I would have anticipated. When I realised what that disappointment actually meant, I found the confidence to finally tell them. They weren’t disappointed in me as a person, they were disappointed that the life that they had imagined for me wasn’t going to be, and that was OK. They were entitled to that disappointment and even then, those feelings were dealt with and forgotten faster than I anticipated. Once we come out, no matter how our family responds, we must give them space to come to terms with the situation. This may take days, months or even years.
Often I wondered, to the point of resentment why my parents had never asked me if I was gay. It would have been so much easier had they just approached me at 15 and asked me the question rather than waiting for me to come out. This resentment was intensified one evening at a restaurant when my dad pointed out to me a table of good looking men who were clearly gay and jokingly said “there’s some boys for you”. I responded with “if your gaydar is so good then how come you never asked me if I was gay”? to which he responded that he had always known but wasn’t sure how to approach the topic without upsetting me.
Obviously the past cannot be undone but I now see that my parents dealt with the situation the best way that they knew how and with that realisation comes a sense of peace.