Much of our attention in this society is about the “me” that is coming out to the world around the individual who is LGBTQ. The entire coming-out process is a journey that lasts an entire life. This is due, in large part, because in this society, where being “straight” is still the norm and being LGBTQ is considered the “abnorm,” we are called to be consistently, patiently and lovingly explaining to those around us and strangers: “Yep, I’m gay. It’s part of who I am. And, if you don’t mind my asking, you are…?”
I was recently reminded of the uniqueness of coming out to my parents. While many stories I’ve read and heard over the years are of young people coming out to loved ones, friends and society, I am one of those who came out later in life. And that, in part, makes a world of difference. It is a major shift in other people’s minds, let alone our own minds, when a person comes out when they are in their late 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond. And, what is especially wonderfully thick and complicated about coming out in our 30s and beyond is the issue of what is our family. For example, young people struggle and , hopefully, celebrate in their courageous act of telling their parents who they are. This very process of coming out as a young person was one of the reasons that PFLAG (Parents of Lesbians and Gays) came into being.
This column is about coming out as a parent of two beautiful children, who are now young adults, as well as one’s parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. The entire family system experienced a shock wave, if not tsunami-like wave, when I, as an older, more established-in-life parent, finally had the courage, love and desire to live authentically in every aspect of life with those whom I love and who raised me. It all took place over a two-week period around Christmastide (both the day of and the following 12 days of the season). My parents flew in from Oregon and were staying with my former wife and me. I sat them all down in our living room, fire in the fireplace, wine glasses filled with a nice Pinot Noir from Oregon in our hands, snacking on a tray of cheese, crackers and vegetables.
“Mom, Dad, I’m gay.” What made this more complex and thick was I had to also say to my former wife, “Honey, I’m gay,” as well as to my children, “Your Dad is gay.” Three generations in one fell swoop.
One of the parts of this story that I am remembering is my Dad’s reaction. Like everyone else, he took a sip of wine, but his glass down and looked in his lap. He was silent for a moment as he took it all in. My Mom spoke up quickly, emotionally, trying to find words to comfort her as she took in everything that could possibly change in her relationship with my former wife, my children and me. But, my Dad is, and was, forever the pragmatist. He asked me, “Will this affect your job?” I said “Most likely” (I was working for a church-related institution of higher education at the time who are unkind toward LGBTQ people on their staff, administration and faculty). Moving forward with the nuts-and-bolts of the situation: “But you still have your healthcare and the family is covered and retirement is all right.” I assured him it was. “Well then, why shouldn’t you go on living? Seems to me you thought this through carefully,” he said matter of factly.
The reason I am remembering all this is because my Dad passed away during the week of Jan. 9. He was 88 years young. He simply fell asleep one night and never woke up. He told us he didn’t want any fuss when he was dying. He was being practical…again. I remember well that there was no drama that he loved me and was proud of all my accomplishments as his son but he just wanted to be sure that all would be well on a practical basis. It is what we parents do, gay and straight alike. : :