I told my mum I was gay when I was 16 and her reaction was “Don’t tell your dad”. I was really surprised; I honestly thought she might already suspect and be fine with it. I told Dad a year later and, not knowing I’d already told Mum, he said ‘It’ll kill her”. For me; it was a relief to get things in the open, but for months afterwards, it was as if someone had died. I felt really guilty – no one wants to hurt their parents. But the worst reaction was my sister’s. She said it was disgusting.
I am now 33 and living with my partner, I assume my parents are okay with this and like him, but we’ve not had a single conversation about it. My sister’s getting married this year, and there’s been no mention of my partner of three years being invited. My parents haven’t protested or even mentioned this. I don’t want to not go, but I feel disloyal to him, and to myself in a way, if I go without him. In the long term I think ‘what does it matter?’ But on the other hand I also think the tension between me and my family may never go. Calum, Borough
There is an anti-homophobia poster in many public places saying, “Some people are gay, get over it”. And, while attitudes have changed enormously since homosexuality was legalised in 1967, it seems some people can’t get over it. In a way, the very fact of having “to come out” is a proof of inequality because you only have to come out about something you think isn’t allowed, you don’t have to have “come out” with your heterosexuality. And it is still the case that people are assumed to be heterosexual until they tell you otherwise, and children still experience bullying at school for being different.
Sadly, and for many reasons, some families find it hard to adjust to a child or sibling coming out. So, again, sadly, what you say about the possibility that the tension between you and your family never going might be true. But, I guess, the question is: how do you regulate your emotions around this? Is there a way for you to be your true self and have the relationship you would like with them? The only way forwards is to talk to them. Whatever you can find out about this tension and what is behind it will be helpful. It might not be a clear-cut case of homophobia, but more that they have deeply ingrained cultural views, and perhaps fear that your life will be difficult because of how “difference” is handled by others. It could also be that they feel that to talk to you about it would be intrusive, so put them at ease about that. And ask them questions about how they feel, and enable them to ask questions about you and your life so that you can all get a better understanding of what the tension actually is and how it might be eased.
There is almost certainly not enough time to shift this before your sister’s wedding, but perhaps it could be the catalyst to introducing the idea that you would like them to be able to accept you, and you with your partner into the family. Or consider having some LGBT counselling where you can talk openly with someone without the fear of being seen as an outcast.
Good luck, and if this is affecting your self-esteem or mood, then consider looking up some LGBT+ support groups in your area. Contacting Switchboard, the LGBT+ Helpline (0300 330 0630) or MindOut (01273 234839; [email protected]) would be a good start. Or consider having some LGBT+ specific counselling. At The Awareness Centre (020 8673 4545; [email protected] ) we have a team of therapists specialising in LGBT+ issues.