I wrote a few times about when I came out and what it was like. As a short recap, it was the summer of 95 and my mother wasn’t surprised. My father found out a couple years later, more by accident and stupidity than anything. We had gotten a desktop computer and as most young gay men do, started searching for porn. Without much thought I had made a screensaver that scrolled through the thousands of photos I had downloaded. My father had come into my room when I wasn’t home and bumped the computer and the screensaver came up. It’s safe to say that it didn’t take him long to piece together that it was me who had put it on the computer, even though he was not very tech savvy. It only added to the shame that my father had felt over me for years. Later, when I had introduced Shawn, my boyfriend at the time, to the family, he made it a point to extricate himself from the event and not return until we had left.
I moved to Cleveland three years ago due to a HUGE falling out he and I had over my sexuality. In one short anger fueled outburst he made it perfectly clear how he viewed me and my worth to him. I quickly and quietly planned my leaving of Virginia. When I told him, I lied and said I was leaving for a job opportunity. With anger in my heart and tears in my eyes, I packed a little of my life into my car and my sister’s vehicle and high tailed it out of Virginia and away from him. For the better part of these three years I have had no interest in making up with him, but as the anger has lessened and I look back on him and his past I wonder if the way I handled it had been the best. Or was it just a way to end it and make me feel in control. Many factors, being almost 46, Pride month, and that most of my family is gone makes me rethink if there should be a reconciliation or should I maintain my stalwart separation from him.
This is something that so many of us face after coming out. When I came out, I was taught a valuable lesson from Shawn. As LGBTQ people, we have the ability to choose our own family and surround ourselves with those that love us and would lift us up. And while my circle is small, this is exactly what I have done, and I have seen so many more of our people do the same. It is far better for our sanity and well-being to be around those that accept us and not reject us because we choose to love differently than they do. But having the love of the very family from which you come is also important. So, the question comes, if we have rocky relationships with our family, should we try to reconcile them? The true answer is that we shouldn’t have to make this kind of decision. In fact, the families we come from should be more understanding of our differences and be supportive. Yes, I know what you are going to say, that isn’t how it happens. That is true, many parents grew up with outdated models of discrimination as well as societal and familial beliefs. This is why having LGBTQ education in schools can be so pivotal.
According to LGBTQ Nation, up until the early 1990s any education for LGBTQ youth was about risk management and not how they could develop into positive and healthy adults. Dr Caitlin Ryan “was a leader in developing the first appropriate, supportive clinical care guidelines for working with lesbian and gay adolescents.” Also, during this time, LGBTQ youth were coming out at younger ages and the families they were coming from had little understanding of how to deal with these issues. Ryan who decided that it needed to be changed. She started developing a family-based initiative to combine research, education, intervention and public policy as a means to change how families interact. Along with a social worker Dr. Rafeal Diaz, they created the Family Acceptance Project in 2002. They started interviewing white and latinx LGBTQ youth and their families to categorize behaviors of acceptance and rejection. Any prior research had only dealt with the youth and the not the family dynamic. Their research has also went on to help stop the use of conversion therapy on LGBTQ youth.
Advances like these have helped so many families and LGBTQ youth, but sadly it is not offered everywhere nor do people seek it out as a means to better their family dynamic. So, the mindsets continue. In this country, as acceptance has started to increase, many families are rethinking how they interacted with their kids both during and after coming out. Two years ago, there were a host of videos that circulated through YouTube where LGBTQ youth called their families to come out. Many of them filmed the calls in case anything really bad happened like verbal abuse that could later be denied. Many of them went really well, as evidenced below. But there were also some that did not go as well. It’s hard when the people you have known your entire life reject you for one part of who you are.
This past year Verizon did a different take and had families calling their LGBTQ children/relatives and explaining that they were loved and welcome them back. This shows the better case scenarios that happen and largely you will not find many where the parents or person they were coming out to went badly. And of course, for Verizon, they won’t show the families who refuse to have positive interactions. They are inspiring that times are changing, nonetheless.
The choice of reconciliation, ultimately, comes down to you. If you do not feel that your family will still accept you, after they have had time to process your coming out, then you do not have to make that choice. If they reach out, give them at least the chance to hear what they have to say with an open mind. How you react will be based on the words and intentions from where they come. I, myself, am still working through what I think I should do with my father. However, know this as truth, if you ever need a family because yours had turned their backs on you, I am here and will do my best to be the support that you need. I will listen to you and not judge based on who you are. You have someone that will cry with you when you need it, offer support and strength when you feel you cannot find it, and laugh with you when your heart needs lifting. You only have to reach out. That’s what Pride is about.