Eric Leven

I'm Not Out. But, Ya know, They Know

Filed By Eric Leven | May 08, 2008 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: closet cases, coming out of the closet, parents

Yes, we've all heard it many, many times before. "I'm not out to my parents but they know." Or- "Yeah, they know but we don't talk about it."

Listen, ok. I get it. I really do. Not everyone is blessed with liberal open-minded parents who don't have a problem with homosexuality and/or have the ability to accept the fact that their son or daughter is gay. I also understand that to realize or accept that one's son or daughter is gay is a huge and life changing event for a parent.

But for a modern gay person to withhold these very simple and basic details of their life from their parents only closets the child further and prevents the parent from truly getting to know their child for who they really are. If a parent is homophobic or judgmental or believes the stereotypes about gay people, then not coming out only perpetuates the parent to carry on with these beliefs.

I have a friend who has been gay since we were in college. He hasn't brought a girlfriend home since he was at most, 20 years old. His parents are southern, religious conservatives who have preconceived Christian views as to what and who gay people are. My friend is now approaching thirty and has had a committed boyfriend for over two years. However, my friend is not out to either of his parents and he continually uses the excuse, "They know, they have to, but we don't talk about it," and thus he lives the existence with his parents with this huge pink elephant in the room.

I beg him, "How much longer are you going to continue doing this? What way is this to have a relationship? Yeah it will be a blow to them at first but coming out will only let them get to know who you are- who you really are, and further, it will challenge and potentially break their views on gay people and homosexuality!" To this, as always, he shrugs and changes the conversation.

Now I certainly wouldn't stress this to him if he had desperate financial connections to his parents, if they were drunks, violent or gun owners. But they're not- they're simple people living in simple America and he's an adult with the power to take ownership over his life and change his parents' perspective. Why, in this day and age are we so afraid to be real with our parents?

Of course there are reasons to remain closeted. If you live under your parents' roof or finances and risk being cut off or thrown out- then by all means, stay in the closet. Never put yourself in harm's way just to come out but if you're an adult living a full-on gay life and your parents "know but kinda don't know" then come the fuck out of the closet and put an end to this nonsense.

You're not only hurting yourself and your relationship with your parents but, moreover, you're hurting the gay community as a whole by not changing the way your parents think. To be able to change even one uneducated or homophobic mind is so utterly and completely necessary. Education and change of opinion only spreads to positive outcomes.

In talking with gay men in their 20's, 30's, 40's and up I've often heard the excuse, "Why do my parents need to know? They don't need to know about my sex life." Or- "My brother and his wife don't talk about their sex life, why should I?" Well, at least your parents know your brother has a wife!

Here's the thing- this isn't about your sex life. I'm not asking you to say, "Gosh, Mom, you won't believe the guy I had sex with last night, what a stud-monster!" What I am asking is that you talk about your life, what you do, who your friends are, what your hobbies are because all of them include you and your gay friends. It is essential that uncomfortable parents realize and understand entirely that your life is just the same as theirs (although probably a lot more fun and exciting.)

Ask yourself, what benefits do you have by remaining in the closet to your parents? If you're afraid coming out to your parents will hurt your relationship, ask what relationship you're currently having? Is having a status-quo relationship where you repeatedly sputter out the "life's good- work's good" mantra than you never had much of a relationship from the start.

Grab your courage. Grab your voice. Deal with the fact that the gasps might come out, that the fork and knife might drop and clatter on the plates, but understand that by this Thanksgiving or next or the Thanksgiving years from now, your parents will know the child they are sitting next to at the table.


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Your iteration of this old charge, while more passionate than most, is not entirely convincing to me. I've always shied away from demanding any course of action from my friends. If they see what I have and find my circumstances irresistible, I'm glad to share the recipe and help in the kitchen, but I have found the hearts of those friends to be complicated and often indecipherable places despite my mastery of their dialects. In short, there are many valid reasons why my "noble" choices would not be right for them. I've learned to "back off" before they have had to say the words. I've learned not to judge and not to prescribe. Be careful here, Eric. Think some more about this, and fuse your opinion to what I have observed to be your natural sense of empathy, and wrap your conclusions around the fact that it is not always a matter of courage, but more often a matter of love (which trumps it).

My brother chose not to come out to us, his family, for fear of what the reaction would be. He chose to live as though we had already rejected him. He found out only in the last two months of his life that we loved him for who he was and didn't care whom he loved. What a waste of precious time we could have had together. Instead, his infrequent visits were short and full of tension. And we all had figured out he was gay a few years after high school.

There is the element of risk, of that there is no doubt. I can't help but think that the risk for some people who are gay may not be as high as they fear. And only they can make that assessment. But if there is a chance that you may discover the love that you hope for, please consider opening yourself to it. You're not the only one who loses when you stay hidden in the closet.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 9, 2008 6:35 AM

When I was 19 I was a founding member of the GLF at Purdue.(1972)The following Thanksgiving I told my parents. There were worries on their part, and my mother's tears, and at her request a visit to the priest I had been a lector to.

As my dad was a good Lutheran he never suggested I go to a priest for any reason. It never became an argument between my parents and I. They already knew who I was, and what I had done up to that point in my life, and my father made a point of telling me that I was certainly "man enough" to make my own decisions. (or mistakes)

My mother was first to shake off her tears and became totally accepting of myself and my friends who I brought home from school. My dad liked my friends as well and came to love and live with I and my partner at the end of his life.

The Priest, who got a talking to from his former lector, was Fr. Dittmer

"Robert, what does Paul's letter to the Romans have to say about homosexuality?"

"Was Paul at the Last Supper?" I asked

"Well of course, he was not among the twelve, but he worked with them and..."

"Was it not Peter who was the rock upon which Christ wanted his church built?"

"Those are Christ's words, but it is assumed that..."

"Was Paul not a Greek Roman citizen who persecuted early Christians before becoming one?"

"Paul was a Roman citizen..."

"So who cares what he said?" I interrupted, "What did Jesus Christ say about homosexuals?"

"Well.... nothing." Dittmer finally allowed, "but surely you are not using the Bible to justify your lifestyle!"

"Why not?" I responded, "You use it to justify yours!"

Not everyones path can or should be identical, but there comes a time when truth must be told. A life not led openly, fiercely and honestly is a life at least marginalized and at worst wasted. (snaps Birdie) What kind of quality can you have in your relationship if your parents only know an edited version of you?

Eric, thank you very much for this post. Fr Tony, you are a man of greater patience than I, but it does not mean I don't love you. (Perhaps now you know why all I want to save is the 23rd psalm)

Agreed, Eric. Wholeheartedly.

Great article, Eric, and a good one for right before mother's day.

As a mom I think it was a real gift that our son came out to us when he was fourteen.

I appreciate that you discussed the reasons it might not be a good idea to come out to parents

Never put yourself in harm's way just to come out
and unfortunately there are some very real ones even beyond that of being young and dependent. I've heard some real horror stories. Some young people living with parents can be at great risk - physical and emotional - in their own homes. While that is abuse - or should be - it is a safety issue that must be taken seriously.

The one thing you wrote that I would suggest thinking about changing is:

I have a friend who has been gay since we were in college.
Your friend may have come out to himself or his friends at that time, but you clearly aren't defining gay as just about having sex - and he was gay before you knew him in college.

Great article on how to or not to approach parents on a sensitive issue.

For myself, the journey of coming out began with my parents and continues to this day as I define for myself what I believe it is to be a man, and the many choices I make along the way. I prefer not to seek approval from my parents but instead define a relationship that is built on my spiritual core and allow that core to take me on a journey of discovery that doesn't seek to answer any question, especially , "does mommy and daddy love me even though I am gay?"

Lao Tze teaches, 'the path that can be followed is not the path', and just as much as we want our parents' and societies affirmation that we are 'okay', 'saved', 'loved', 'valued', and so on, self-love is a journey that like the American natives of centuries ago, must be made by oneself when a person is ready.

For some like you, Eric, it is a journey that perhaps was made at 18, defined by parental approval.

But I never doubted my parents' approval, in as much as I used it conveniently as an excuse to not write music, to not apply myself in school, and to justify why I don't have the perfect boyfriend.

To offer advice on when it is right for a person -- gay or otherwise on when it is time to 'come out to another' is to define success in a person's life by a very narrow field, far too limited for this reader's viewpoint.