Many people think that coming out these days is no big deal, that it’s not like the old days where young people went through paroxysms of terror at the thought of admitting their sexuality to their parents, lest they face a beating, guilt trip, or excommunication, that everything’s cool because people are no longer so hung up on the gender of your partner. And it’s true that, for a lot of people, they are able to come out to parents who have the intelligence or the understanding to accept them and not treat them any differently from how they did before. However, for a lot of young gays, lesbians and bisexuals, coming out to your own family is still incredibly tough. They don’t know what reaction they’ll get, good, bad or indifferent. At heart, they may know that it’ll probably be okay, but they keep putting off the announcement, finding excuses or rationales for not telling the parents.
One friend of mine did indeed get excommunicated, or at any rate thrown out of the family home, by his shamefully narrow-minded parents (or rather by his shamefully narrow-minded mother; his father is one of these people who just goes along with things in order to have a quiet life). All because he told them he was in a relationship with another man. And relations between them are still informed by underlying tensions, tensions that may arise again now that friend is very soon going to be moving in with his new boyfriend. Of course it doesn’t help that they’re fundamentalist Evangelical Christians; albeit fundamentalist Evangelical Christians who don’t seem to have a problem with watching shows like Never Mind the Buzzcocks with material and participants not exactly tailored with them in mind.
My own experience of coming out was much less painful. I only really had my mum to tell, family-wise, and I did this in 2002, after I returned from a week’s holiday in Edinburgh (I’d had my first meaningful experience of a gay scene whilst I was up there, and I believe that this is what spurred me on). It was whilst she was making me beans on toast for dinner after the long train journey back to Folkestone. When I told her, her response was “Well that’s nice darling – would you like a cup of tea?” She knew, she had that inkling that a lot of parents have, so my news didn’t come as a real shock to her. Everyone I’ve told since then hasn’t had a problem about it either, so my experiences have been positive.
Anyway, all this is leading, in a rather long-winded way, to the point of this blog post – and in a way, this long-winded preamble is probably how a lot of people present their coming out. The indirect approach is often a lot easier. Another friend of mine, who’s the same age as me, finally came out to his family this week. It’s something that, as he explained to me, he’s been intending to do for some time, but just kept finding excuses to put it off – he wanted to get his own place first, then get a good promotion – before finally doing it this week. Despite his concerns, everything was fine and they were all okay about it. It’s been an emotional experience for him, but he texted me this morning and seemed really happy and positive.
So my friend’s been lucky and I’ve been lucky. Paul Harfleet’s Pansy Project, which I blogged about a while back (the link, as a reminder, is http://thepansyproject.blogspot.com/), reminds us that a lot of young LGB people aren’t so fortunate. Furthermore, it really does have a lot to do, not just with background, but with individual circumstances. It would be too much of a generalisation to say that young people living on council estates are going to experience more homophobia than young people living in comfortable middle-class homes; that friend I mentioned earlier being an example of the latter (and make no mistake, he’s out and proud to the world and a passionate advocate of gay rights). Or indeed that coming out to religious parents is going to be harder than coming out to atheist parents (my newly-out friend’s parents are moderate Christians). It’s different for all of us, but for those who are fearful of breaking the news (and for some, tragically, it is too much and they choose to end their lives rather than face rejection or even worse repercussions), there’s a lot of support out there. We have grown up as a society in our attitudes towards sexuality, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.