Everyone’s family has a different reaction to a kid’s coming out, but they tend to fall loosely into a few different very general categories:
1. It goes really well. They love you no matter what! It’s OK, honey! They already knew, or they didn’t know but it’s fine with them! Do you want to march in the Pride Parade next year?
2. It goes OK. They’re not mad but they’re not thrilled. Of course they still love you, but they’re hoping this is “just a phase.”
3. It goes badly at first, but then it gets better. At first they’re all, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’RE GAY THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE YOU KNOW WHAT THIS FAMILY STANDS FOR AND THIS IS NOT IT” but then you leave them alone for a while (maybe a very long while) and maybe slip a booklet or a flier for a PFLAG meeting under their door, and after a while they come around and support you—or they never exactly support you, but at least they finally come to terms with it.
4. It goes really, really badly. As in, “Get out of my house, you are not my child.” This is the option I’m talking about when I say that letters like Danni’s terrify me. It’s thankfully not very common, but the consequences are dire. Among homeless teenagers, the percentage of LGBTQ kids is disproportionately high: While they make up between 5 and 10 percent of the general population, they account for some 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth. There is a reason for that statistic. These are kids who have been kicked out of the house for coming out or being discovered to be queer or trans.
My own coming out was of the third variety: terrible at first, then gradually better. I came out to my parents when I was 20 or 21, already living in another state and paying for my own schooling. My mother FREAKED OUT and told me not to tell my father. “He will love you less,” she said. My father ended up guessing anyway; he seemed disappointed but not surprised. My mother barraged me daily with hurtful emails and phone calls until I stopped speaking to her altogether. Ten years later, we’re only beginning to repair the rift my coming out created between us. Or, no—the rift that my parents’ intolerance and general rudeness about my gayness has created between us. We’ve lost an entire decade together. I still haven’t totally forgiven them.
But I know that in the scheme of things, I’m lucky. I wasn’t in a position to be cut off from my only source of shelter and financial support, and all I had to do to avoid my mother’s verbal abuse was ignore her phone calls and delete her emails.
Danni is not as lucky—but she will be if she just waits a couple years, till she lives on her own and is supporting herself. When I wrote back to her, I strongly urged her not to tell her parents that she’s gay right now, and told her why I felt that way. And now I’m saying the same thing to any of you who are in a similar situation.
Queer/trans Rookies, listen to me: If you suspect your parents will be violent towards you in any way, kick you out of the house, yell at you, be hurtfully angry with you for a long time, threaten to send you to a “treatment center,” force you into religious activity/“therapy” for being queer, cut you out of their lives, shun you, or just generally make your life hell until you move out, please, please, DO NOT COME OUT. Not now. Not yet. Wait until you have ceased living with them. Your safety is more important than your gay pride or your allegiance to the LGBTQ community at this point. It’s really OK not to tell them. Protect yourself first.
Then: Leave home after high school. Move away. Tell your family then, if you want to. And if you don’t want to tell them, if you never want to tell them, then that’s fine, too. You are not obligated by your queerness to tell anyone, ever, that you’re queer. It’s not a law. You get to decide who knows what about you, forever, amen.
Please don’t misunderstand me—it’s awesome if you know you’re queer, or think you might be, and want to come out to your family. If you’re sure your parents won’t be horrible to you, then by all means, come out whenever you’re ready! Being honest about who you are can bring you closer to your family, and it can be a huge relief not to have to worry anymore how they might react. Your parents may become your biggest supporters. And you could help others around you feel more comfortable with themselves, too.
But if you think coming out will place you in any kind of risk, there is NO shame in waiting. National Coming Out Day is about honoring who you are, and making a decision to live a freer future. That means keeping yourself well today, so that your future self can join the queer family that is waiting for you out here when you’re ready. We’re counting on you to take care of yourself, until we can take care of you.
Stay safe, Rookies. ♦
* Danni’s name has been changed.