I didn’t realize I was queer until I was in 7th grade. As someone who thought I was straight up until that point, it was extremely difficult grasping my sexuality and understanding what being queer meant. It took me years to finally accept myself and embrace my identity. I went out of my way to show to people that I was a ‘normal’ straight guy when I was closeted. Nobody except my twin knew, and I only felt ready to come out to my parents at the end of my freshman year of highschool.
As someone with divorced parents, my coming out story was separated into two parts: one with each of my parents. Each is distinctively different. My mother raised me to be open and affirming of the LGBTIQ community, taking me to Pride marches and festivals throughout my childhood. Since we were closer than me and my father, I decided to come out to her first. We were in the car driving to our favorite vegan sandwich shop. I finally mustered up the courage to tell her just as she was driving over a bridge...my mother is terrified of bridges. I remember turning to her and saying “Mom, I think I like guys. I think I am bisexual.” She stared straight ahead with a relaxed but contemplative look on her face, like she was trying to figure out the best response to say to me in that moment. I was shaking; I was extremely nervous, though I had no reason to be. She told me that she loved me no matter what and that my sexuality does not affect her feelings towards me. “You’ll always be my little boy,” she exclaimed with a smile. I cried, not because she upset me, but because the love and acceptance that she showed me was overwhelming. I am extremely grateful to have her as a mother.
My father, on the other hand, was a different story. He and his side of my family are devout catholics. The conservatism that often comes with practicing catholicism, specifically in regards to views on sexuality, was a point of fear for me. On top of that, my father fit the stereotype of a man’s man–a macho Harley Davidson riding badass with a mustache to fit the part. He grew up building cars and fixing trucks with my grandfather. The relationship I had with my father up until that point was built on proving to him I had the masculinity that was required for being admired as his son. I don’t think he had an inkling that I was anything but heterosexual. I hid any mannerisms or interests that he would perceive as effeminate around him and a lot of the men in my life. I was shaking again–the nerves from coming out to my mom returned with a vengeance. I had to remind myself to take a deep breath and relax. I had told myself that I would come out to my parents before living authentically as my true self and coming out of the closet to everyone else. I craved the freedom of not having to worry about fitting a heterosexual stereotype and being able to date men openly.
My dad was the last barrier to this freedom. He was smoking a cigarette on the patio listening to the radio. I joined with hesitance–“Dad, I need to talk to you about something.” He turned to look at me with immense perplexion and hesitance. My dad and I never talked about our emotions or sensitive issues with one another. That was a role relegated to my mother. He was silent, glaring at me with confusion and apprehension. My heart was beating so fast I thought it was going to burst out of my chest; this was not the coming out experience I had imagined.
Finally, I told my father that I liked girls, but I also thought I liked guys. “I think I am bisexual, and I hope you can understand that.” Silence...for what seemed like 5 minutes we were staring at each other in silence. When he finally spoke, he said: “I don’t understand.” I asked what he didn’t understand and he just kept repeating the phrase over and over again. “I just don’t understand.” Clearly he was struggling; his vision of me as his son was tainted. In that moment, I felt like a failure in his eyes. All I wanted was my father’s love and acceptance. his was not like my coming out to my mother. This was the opposite. Tears were welling up in my eyes and I walked away. There was nothing that I could say or do that would change his mind in that moment.
I fled his house and returned home to my mother. She knew it would be difficult coming out to him. I was sad for the next couple days. I felt like I had lost my relationship with my father. Yet, I reminded myself that I had overcome the last hurdle to fully living out of the closet as my true self. I was sad that he couldn’t accept me for who I was, but I realized that all of his negative feelings surrounding my sexuality were HIS problem, not mine. I decided after that there was nobody stopping me from being who I am and loving myself unapologetically. Emotions of sadness were replaced with excitement and relief.
For the next year, my father and I did not speak. Eventually, he texted me: “Son. I want you to know that I miss you and have thought a lot about our last conversation. I never want to lose you in my life. I love you no matter what.” I was overjoyed hearing those words from my dad. Today, my father is a changed person. He understands that my sexuality does not influence who I am at the core, which is the son he raised. He accepts me for who I am, and he has grown to be comfortable with me bringing guys home to meet my family. I love him so much.
Yet, the most important lesson I learned from coming out to my father was that other people’s issues with your sexuality should not be YOUR problem! I was lucky and privileged enough to have one parent who was accepting of my sexuality. So many people in the LGBTIQ community do not have this type of support. I want people to understand that for me, living in the closet was not worth it, and coming out to my parents was hard but necessary for me to live happily. For those who experience push back from their loved ones, it is essential that you don’t internalize their problems with your sexuality as your own. The rejection from your family is terrifying and extremely hard to digest, but loving yourself unapologetically and being proud of who you are is the best way to persevere.
Published on September 16, 2021 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization