For nearly every gay teenager in the world, coming out of the closet — to anyone — can be a source of anxiety, an anxiety colored with far too many lunches alone at school, or far too much self-hatred, or far too much self-harm. When I was in school I was always called faggot or gay. In general I was left alone and I was never subject to any physical harm, but even still, being called derogatory names has a way of impacting your self-esteem. All anybody wants is to be liked.
Even though I’m in my 30s now, meaning high school was so long ago, all the torment and teasing sticks with you. But the hardest part about being called “gay” or “faggot” when you’re that young is that sometimes your peers tell you you’re gay before you have even accepted it for yourself.
In some ways it’s a lot easier to come out to people in your age-bracket: your friends, coworkers, cousins, your brothers and sisters. But it’s the people older than you — your parents — who stage the most coming out anxiety. Nobody wants to let their parents down, not that being gay in itself is a let down. But the cultural narrative around coming out is always predicated on the idea that being gay or telling someone you are gay is bad news.
Two videos making the internet rounds offer opposing coming out stories. One video shows the dramatic and violent response to Daniel Ashley Pierce, a 19 year old male from Georgia whose parents confiscated his college text books when he told them he was gay. They threw the Bible at him and called him a “queer,” demanding he get out of the house with no further financial support. “I have friends who are gay,” one woman says in the video. “But that’s different. They’re friends, not family.” But what is the difference?
In a disturbing turn of events, the video ends with some pretty violent screaming and hitting, though the violence is only heard, not seen. This is the scenario that most gay people fear happening to them, too. What do you do when the most homophobic violence comes not from an anonymous blow as you’re walking down the street, but in the house you grew up in and from people who are supposed to love you?
All is not lost for Daniel, though. A GoFund Me page was set up to help Daniel relocate and it has received more than $93,000 in donations since August 27th. It says a lot about your parents and their state of mind when you receive more love and support from thousands of people you don’t know than you do from the people who raised you.
Realize it’s definitely them, not you.
But not all coming out stories end horribly. When YouTube personalities The Monastero Twins (they are fraternal twins) came out to their parents in the kitchen with a hidden camera, Mom and Dad didn’t freak out or toss obscenities or try to harm their children. They just listened and tried to understand. “Are you dating anybody? Have you had sex with a girl before? I knew something was wrong.” At the end, both parents agreed that “It’s your life,” and what other people think about their sons being gay shouldn’t concern them.
This is a soft handed touch, though no less difficult. It’s the coming out story everyone wants.
Making the choice to come out of the closet to your parents is a tough one. When you hold something inside that weighs on you so heavily, the only thing it can produce is anxiety. Be sure to have a support group of people before you come out of the closet, and keep them on call before and after. Have a place to stay and some money saved up in case you get kicked out. And if you’re going away to college or are already in college and your financial aid depends on your parent’s income, you can easily reregister as an “Independent” student so that your financial aid status depends on you, not your parents.
And for the parents in the world, when your child tells you he or she is gay, know that they are probably taking one of their biggest risks in life. If you react by throwing the Bible at them, or kicking them out of the house, or by insulting them, own up to the fact that you have probably given them their first taste of homophobic violence.
When your child comes out, try to imagine how difficult it is for them to tell you this secret that is weighing them down. It’s a secret that’s been negatively impacting their self-esteem and performance in school. Realize the choice they’re making is not to be gay but to tell you they are gay. That’s the choice.