09 June 2018

Being a rainbow when everything's black and white.

Recently, I had someone come to me and ask for advice on how to survive. Specifically, how to come ‘out’ to the family about their sexual orientation. This person has expressed concern about having been previously treated as a pariah, sending this person – not compassionately – to counseling as a way to ‘purge’ this information from this person.

This… is a delicate matter. There are a lot of people who don’t agree with this lifestyle, and there are a lot who do. It’s been a constant source of contention for many, many years, probably centuries. But, sticking with the modern era, and with some of the crusty old political types trying to force us back into the 1950s, well, I can see the concern as being quite valid.

Now, I’m going to tell you, in my own experience, I was fortunate. My Mom was rather accepting of the news. Not only that, she had long ago figured it out before I even said anything, myself. While, no, I don’t have a same-sex partner anymore, and doubt I ever will again (personal reasons), that attraction is still there. It wasn’t something I just woke up one day and decided, ‘Y’know? I’m bored. I think I’m going to see what it’s like to date women.’ No. Some would chalk my situation up to certain things from my past. I don’t necessarily agree, but I don’t outright disagree, either.

Some just get curious and decide to try it out. Experiment. Others,it seems may have been pre-disposed to have that predilection from birth. I don’t know what I do (or don’t) believe on that, having not seen any scientific evidence either direction, so jury’s out until such time.

But, we’re not here for me. We’re here to help the person who brought this up, and hopefully anyone else who may need to see this who may be facing the same situation, themselves.

Do I believe there’s such a thing as ‘praying the gay away’? No. While yes, I am Christian, and yes, I believe in the power of prayer (I’m quite firmly and staunchly unwilling to budge on that one), I don’t at all agree that this is something that can be prayed away like a headache or really bad acne.

This is something… far more … I don’t even know the word I’m looking for here.

The point is, I don’t believe it’s a condition that’s an affliction to be prayed off someone. As for how to approach uber-religious types about it… That’s not something that I have 100% the right things to say here, but I did check around and this is what I’ve been able to surmise on how to approach family who may not agree or be alright with this lifestyle.

Firstly, if you don’t feel at all comfortable to do so, please don’t feel obligated to say anything. There’s no law that says you have to have your entire life out on display. If this is a topic that’s really sensitive in your familial unit, it’s tricky the waters you’re trying to tread, as you know. Here are some hopefully helpful ways to approach this:

Figure out why you want to do this. Is it to further a relationship with your family, or is it something else? Do you feel secure in your sexuality and comfortable enough in your own skin that whether they agree with your lifestyle or no, you won’t feel like you’re going to crumple up and give up if they disagree? Or are you doing this out of spite and resentment for previously trying to let them further into your own life and they treated you horribly about this? If you’re feeling more of the latter, then I don’t advise, AT ALL, you go forward with this decision to open that door with your family. I promise you, it won’t go well. This isn’t a weapon you wield. It will only further drive a wedge between you and your family, and that’s counterproductive to the goal you’re trying to go for.

Think about the overall situation you’re in: Weigh the pros and cons. Living arrangements – where are you currently? Is it dependent on a potentially negative outcome for you? Are your family members supporting you financially and residentially? If so… That can be a difficult territory. I strongly do not advise ‘outing’ yourself if your entire financial situation hinges on their support. I’d say get yourself stable in a job and your own place FIRST, THEN come out, if this is the case.

Another thing to consider… Safety. Do you worry that your family may become violent toward you? If so, be sure to have a plan in place where you can run to if you need to get out in a hurry.

On the flipside, however, they may surprise you, and you should consider the benefits of opening that door. Maybe they don’t agree with the lifestyle as a whole and in general, but they don’t see you as ‘bisexual,’ ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian,’ but ‘this is my child who happens to be [lifestyle here]’. Not that it’s really ANYONE else’s business, honestly. Plus, too, you will have that emotional weight lifted and you won’t have to feel like you’re constantly looking over your shoulder, and like you’re living a double life. 

Something to consider is how you want to do it. Try to consider all aspects of the situation you’re about to venture into: different scenarios of how it could possibly go. My mind, I used to tell my former significant other, is a never-ending flow chart of consequences. Partially because I’m a writer, but partially, too, because of other things I’ve been through that’ve basically dictated that I need to see life in such a way so as to protect myself effectively. So, try this:

‘If I get into this conversation with my family, and they get excited in a positive way of, ‘Well, shoot, kiddo, we already know this about you, it’s about time you spoke up!’ then great! We can all relax around each other, take a collective exhale, and just go about our lives.

‘If I get into this conversation with my family, and they get angry to the point of violence, screaming, shouting, and all manner of negativity ensues, then I need to have x, y, and z as fall backs in case I need to get out in a hurry and have a safe place to hide out and give them space, or if it comes down to it, rebuild my life without them in it.’

‘If I get into the conversation, and things start to tense up, then maybe I shouldn’t share too much, because there’s potential for anger to flare up, or worse.’

If this does not go well, be the bigger person and be respectful as best you can. No, this isn’t saying you need to allow yourself to endure harsh name-calling and other abuse, but it also doesn’t mean you need to stoop to their low, either.

Evaluate your support system. This is a big, big deal. It’s treacherous at best. This type of news, regardless if it’s a strict religious family or not, can be a bit much to take in all at once, and if you go into this alone, it can be devastating to you to absorb the fallout. That being said, find a trusted friend to go with you. Whether it’s someone from childhood who’s well aware, or a co-worker, someone you know will have your back and isn’t going to abandon you. Ask them to be there for you before and even (and especially) after your talk with your parents goes down. You’re going to need it, especially if it doesn’t bode well. There are resources out there for the LGBT community, as well, unbiased third party supporters who’ve likely been through what you’re about to venture into. DON’T HESITATE TO REACH OUT TO THEM, THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE THERE FOR!

Discuss your plans with your ally (-ies) on how you want to approach this topic with your parents. They can help you figure out how to do it, and when it’s all said and done, they can be there to lean on once that door has been opened, regardless if it went badly or well.

Think this entire thing through. Organize your thoughts, because you don’t want to venture into this ill-prepared. Tempers can flare in an instant, and that’s when the breakdown in communication can really go sideways, and there may not be anything left to salvage afterward. If necessary, make yourself little note cards and take them with you when you broach this topic with your family. There’s no shame in using some kind of aid in helping you open up! While trying to organize your thoughts and get your head cleared to do this, try practicing with someone you trust who’s well aware of what you’re going through (or someone you’ve previously came out to that knows how you’re feeling from before). Hell, if necessary, just start out with, ‘[FAMILY MEMBER(S)], I have something I need to say, and I need you to please listen to me with open hearts and minds,’ and just go from there.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING. So’s location. Trust me! I came out to my parents over the phone. In my situation, I’m a couple thousand miles from them. I went into it figuring, ehhh what’s the worst they could do, cuss me out and hang up on me, never wanting to speak to me again? Sure, it would’ve hurt a bit, but at the same time, I was also in my late-20s. Living on my own. And I’d reached a place in my life and mind where my give-a-damn had not only broken, but it was well and truly NUKED OFF THE MAP. I’ve learnt how to be self-reliant and survive as best I can, and I figured if the conversation went sideways, well, that wasn’t my problem. It’s theirs, entirely. But, not all situations are nearly as similar as mine. This isn’t exactly a one-size-fits-all type deal, and while scorn from family isn’t pleasant to deal with, it can be outright devastating to some who’re believing the closeness and solidity of their relationship with their family is good and they can open up about something this delicate only to be proven drastically wrong. Which is why you should be as considerate to them with this as you’d want them to be with you. Don’t drop this bombshell on them as they’re on their way to visit a sick friend, or work, or somewhere where they’d need their wits about them. Also, don’t be That Person and tell them in public, because that’s just rude. This isn’t something that you can say at a holiday gathering, ‘Soooo… I’m [lifestyle]! Can you please pass the asparagus?’ NO! WRONG! BAD IDEA! DON’T DO IT!

Now, if you’re concerned about safety, then by all means, do it in public, because generally people WON’T retaliate with violence if they’re aware there’s witnesses.

Don’t beat around the bush about what you want to say. Be direct. When you’re nervous or scared, it’s tempting to just kind of hem and haw about the subject, causing the person(s) you’re speaking with to grow confused or even frustrated and impatient. Some possible openers that’re great to lead the conversation with are:

"Do you two have time to talk? I have something important to tell you about my sexuality."

You might also choose to wait until you are actually sitting down to talk and say, "I want to let you know that I am gay. I hope that you can support me in being who I am."

This information can be a lot to work the courage up to say out loud (of course, that’s the whole point of this article), but on the reciprocal side of things, it’s equally a lot for the receiving person to hear it. Be empathetic. If tears are shed as a reaction, don’t take that immediately to be a sign of rejection. This may not be necessarily the case. The person you’re coming out to, they need time to process the information, so allow for some space and time for them to come to grips with what you’ve just shared.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s a vast and obvious difference between showing empathy and allowing people to stomp all over you. If insults or other abuse is their response to your news, then it’s best to walk away. It sounds way easier than it may be for you, but it’s best to just let the dust settle and NOT stoop down to their low level of behaviour. Be the bigger person. You’ve done your part, you were honest and shared a piece of you that they didn’t receive well. This is entirely their problem to sort out. If they insist on sending you off somewhere to ‘Pray the Gay Away,’ well, it’s they who have the problem that needs prayed over, not you.

As previously stated, make sure you’ve got someone you trust that you can reach out to, to help you through this difficult situation. Remember, THEIR issues are NOT your problem. Bigotry is NOT alright in ANY capacity.

Now… If insults and other abuse AREN’T part of the reaction, then sit and listen to them, I’m sure there’s a lot of questions will be asked by them, and there’s likely going to be a lot you’re going to want to say, as well. They gave you the floor, so to speak, to spill your beans. Now do the same for them, give them the floor and thus a chance to speak and process through what’s been stated. If there’s questions, answer them. If there’s insults, as stated, just walk away.

Body language is important. Make eye contact to show that you’re actively listening, but don’t use defensive posturing whilst doing so, such as folding your arms across yourself. Maintain a relaxed posture.

In a lot of ways, this is going to be emotional for BOTH sides of this conversation, so (not to sound cliche’) keep calm. Heated tempers and raised voices will not serve any purpose other than hurtful thing being slung about. However, as the saying goes, ‘You catch more flies with honey than you do with piss and vinegar.’

It’s perfectly fine to show your emotions, but don’t be rude and defensive. If they’re shouting and having a go at you, don’t match them temper for temper by screaming, ‘Why aren’t you listening to me!’ because that’s only going to serve to make things worse. Again, be the bigger person. Again, keep calm. Say something else, like, ‘Hey, this really hurts me that I’m wanting to have this serious discussion with you, and I don’t feel like we’re getting anywhere because you’re making me feel really small right now, and I’ve done nothing to cause this.’

DON’T OWN THEIR BULLSHIT FOR THEM. The more you match their negativity with calm and poise, sure it might piss them off even more, but you’re better than that, and you DESERVE TO BE HEARD. If they can’t give you that, and they claim to love you, then that’s not love. That’s them trying to put on some sort of front, and that’s not at all alright. Loving people do NOT do that type of mess to their children. PERIOD.

Something like this can be super tricky to venture into, because it’s never certain which direction it will go for you or the receiving party of the news. Keep the conversation on YOUR terms. If they can’t show that they do, in fact, love you FOR YOU, the way they SHOULD, and that INCLUDES ACCEPTING ALL PARTS OF YOU AND YOUR LIFE, then that’s not love. Not unconditionally, anyway. This is YOUR life and YOUR news, and therefore, YOU deserve to be the one in control here, not them. Remember, they don’t have any rights to abuse you – verbally or otherwise. You have EVERY right to feel safe and comfortable. If you feel you’re being backed into some sort of difficult corner, you have every right to calmly exit the conversation. They cannot force you otherwise.

Be willing to provide information about the LGBT lifestyle. Oftimes, people react to news out of fear. They internalize and self-blame, ‘What did I do to you that you chose this for yourself?’ They want to make it somehow about THEM. This is, largely, because of the generational gap, and the emotionally crippled way they were brought up. ‘OH, we don’t do that. That’s disgusting.’ But it’s easier to dismiss what a person finds strange as ‘disgusting’ or ‘ugly’ or something of those lines. Be willing to provide some sort of resources for them to try to understand where you’re coming from. There’s plenty of things out there for them to explore, be willing to guide them along on that journey. Just because you’re coming out doesn’t mean that it’s an affront to how you were raised. Just because you have a same-sex attraction doesn’t mean it’s a slight against their parental ability. Remember, they’re confused, they’re likely thinking to themselves about how ‘wrong’ and ‘disturbing’ this lifestyle has been taught them and they don’t know how to take the news that it’s come to their doorstep with one of their own children and they don’t know how to respond.

Again, this does NOT make abuse of ANY kind (homophobic slurs or physical assaults or anything of the sort) in ANYWAY alright. PERIOD.

I cannot stress that enough.

Offer credible sources of information. In my city, we have Stonewall, it’s a community resource centre of sorts for the LGBT community. I am almost certain every municipality has something just like it, and if that’s not feasible, then print off some information that’s credible, and go over it together, and if they have questions, be willing to answer them. If you can’t, then let them know that you can’t, but are willing to help them find a means toward the answers they seek. Most college campuses have a Rainbow Coalition-type organization that’s great for information.

Another thing to remember, too, is while yes, it would be amazing if the recipient of your news would accept it with grace and acceptance right away, this may not always be the case. In such cases, realize that there’s going to be stages to their reactions. As I’ve mentioned time and again, it cannot be stressed enough, not everyone is receptive to this type of news. This is quite unfortunate, but it’s the truth. This is an emotional thing for ALL parties, and you must keep in mind that there’s going to be some serious emotions that will need to be worked through.

Your news may be grieved. THIS IS NORMAL. DON’T take this personally. When a child comes into the world, you have all these big, big dreams for them as they grow, mature, and come into their own. I, myself, am a parent. Each child I’ve given birth to, even before they were born, I had big dreams for them. Visions of them being really successful, admired, accepted by their peers for their entirety. Understand that your parents have had these same visions for you. These same dreams. This is pretty typical of parents to want big things for their children. News like this can come as a huge blow, and as I said earlier, it can be taken and internalized as a slight against THEM somehow (which, I’m not even sorry for saying so, is completely fatuous). Grief is tricky. There are, as we know, five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and eventually acceptance, but they don't have to happen in any particular order. Understand that grief is not one-size-fits-all, and that the stages happen in this specific order. It’s different for everyone, as we all have our own ways of processing information, no matter how big or small, and it’s not linear, and there’s no real timetable for each stage. Things can happen to send a person bouncing from one stage to another, and sometimes back-and-forth. THIS IS ALSO NORMAL. Realize, too, that you, yourself, might be facing grief, too, and your own process is also perfectly normal.

On the flipside of the grief process, we need to remember that keeping the lines of communication OPEN IS A NECESSITY. However that conversation ends, try to leave the door open for the chance that they might come and try to talk to you in a calm, rational way later on. Let your parents (or whomever) know that you understand that you all are needing time to process through your emotions, and you hope that there will be opportunity to talk again in the future.

Now, if your parents were abusive, don’t at all feel bad about closing the conversation down. Hell, if they want to act nasty toward you, that’s on them. Don’t let them make you feel worse for wanting to protect yourself! You have a right to NOT be treated like garbage by ANYONE because they disagree with who you are.

While wrapping up the conversation, present the idea of possibly doing family counseling together so you can work together as a familial unit to try to find some common footing and work through everything together. If they say yes, look for someone who’s familiar with the LGBT culture and has the experience to work through these kinds of issues in order to best help you and your loved ones. A mediator sometimes is the best route to go, because they can help keep the situation calm, respectful.

Remember what I said earlier in this article: BUILD A SUPPORT SYSTEM. Trust me, it’s always good to have a small group of people you can turn to when your world is flipped onto its ear, to help you make it right again and regain your footing. :)

Know, too, if you need someone to talk to, I’m here and only an e-mail away. I hope that this helps you feel a bit more comfortable about opening up to your loved ones about you and I hope, with all my heart, that your conversations go well! If not, know that you tried and you are not alone.

Best of luck!

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