For a lot of people, even with today’s increasing acceptance of gay men and women, declaring one’s ‘different’ sexuality or ‘coming out’ is difficult and complicated. Society doesn’t expect straight teenagers to stand up and declare they like the opposite sex (i.e. heterosexual) – it’s still normally assumed. But gay teenagers do have to make a public declaration.
So, accepting that you aren’t the same as your family, and most of your peers, can create emotional turmoil. It takes strength of character to be different. On top of that telling others about this very personal part of you can be uncomfortable.
As the actor, Ben Whishaw, recently said in an interview with the Sunday Times, “It’s hard to have a conversation with people you’ve known your whole life about a very intimate thing. It’s massively weighted with all sorts of stuff, whatever the wider world is saying… it’s an intimate and private and difficult conversation for most people.”
For most young adults, gay or straight, talking about sex to their parents is embarrassing. Having the added element of not being of the same sexual persuasion as them is even more challenging no matter what some may believe. Yes, there is an increased awareness and lots of gay soap opera characters and gay celebrities but, if your are heterosexual, finding out that your son or daughter is not of the same sexual inclination as you can take some adjusting.
Unfortunately, for family and friends, because of this increased awareness, there can be an attitude of ‘just get over it’ or parents should accept you for what you are – if they love you. There is a general expectation that the acceptance of people with different sexual attractions should be easy and almost immediate. But life is really not like that, and for quite a few parents, and family members and friends, a coming out announcement is a challenge.
A lot of focus, quite rightly, is placed on helping gay individuals who are confused about their feelings. In time most come to accept who they are. Little support, however, is given to parents, siblings and friends. They are expected, almost immediately, to accept a ‘different’ son or daughter to the one they thought they knew – a person that perhaps the coming-out individual has spent years learning to accept.
Acceptance usually takes time and mistakes are made. Because of this family and friends can suffer feelings of guilt, loss and shame. The fact that these feelings are understandable doesn’t make it easier. Sometimes, because of religious or cultural beliefs that have been part of a parent’s whole life, it can become almost impossible.
Learning that a child, sibling or friend is gay, lesbian or bisexual can feel like discovering that the person you knew is actually someone different. In fact, a person who has come out hasn’t changed; they are still the person that parents loved and cared for. But they, the parents, have to come to terms with new information about their child. And as they are heterosexual this is an area they have little experience in.
There may be a sense of mourning for the loss of what society still sees as the ideal – a wedding and grandchildren, or nephews and nieces. There may be guilt – “what did I do wrong and what will the extended family and neighbours think?”. Anger is also not unusual – “How could they deceive me and let me think of a future that wasn’t to be or do things behind my back?”.
All of these feelings are normal. Sometimes these feelings can be worked through by talking to the son or daughter who has ‘come out’; sometimes talking to others in the same situation can bring about a normality or even a realisation that the end of the world is not actually nigh. In some situations there may be a need to talk to a professional, such as a counsellor, so that one can explore one’s feelings without judgement.
Remember, few parents are lucky enough to be able to accept the coming-out announcement without confusion and maybe anger. For most it can take time and may be difficult to adjust; but you, as the person who has gone through your own acceptance, has the control. You actually have some idea of what they may be going through too.
You are the one to help them on the way forward. But you may have to be patient and remember the trip you have travelled to get where you are. Just don’t lose a father or mother, sibling or friend because they have not quite reacted the way you wanted them to. Give them time and remember your learning and acceptance about yourself also wasn’t instant.
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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.