In my last post I talked about coming out as a blogger and not being so interested in coming out as gay. In this post I would like to go back to that topic but view it in a somewhat different light. My recent experience with this process raises the question: Why is there so much mental stress associated with coming out and what makes other people’s coming out stories so popular?
The answer to the first question might seem obvious. There is still a social stigma associated with homosexuality and there is the fear that one’s parents will be disappointed with the news, or even reject their child. I do not dispute the impact of social stigma but the fear of parental reactions intrigues me. I would hazard to guess however, that most modern parents would not reject or shun their gay child, whatever their opinions may be about homosexuality. One would hope they love their children, and this kind of love comes entirely without conditions. Disappointment is perhaps a more plausible fear. Most parents eagerly await grandchildren once their children are grown, and knowing their child is gay may put an end to this dream. Also, some people, particularly in previous generations, still have homophobic attitudes and make disparaging remarks towards gays. Still, when reading a variety of posted stories, it strikes me that most stories have as a common element that the parents are generally accepting, even if some might need a little time. So, where is all this fear coming from? To illustrate this I will briefly mention something from my experience. I know my parents very well and was about 99% sure that they would have no problem with me being gay, but I was still very nervous about it and second-guessed everything my parents have said about the subject. Of course as it turned out there were no problems whatsoever - they were very understanding. They even pointed out that they had wondered and questioned me about my orientation years earlier but I had told them I was straight (I was not even able to admit it to myself at that time). So I knew there would be no problem and there was no problem, so why was I so afraid?
A clue may be that I was more concerned about my father’s reaction than my mother’s (the forthcoming comments primarily apply more to gay boys and men rather than to lesbians - I just don’t know enough about the experiences of gay girls and women to discuss the issues). Other stories I have read reveal more negative reactions and more fear about telling fathers than mothers. So perhaps the difficulty lies in the nature of the father-son relationship. In general, a father serves as a role model for their sons and fathers see in their sons an image of themselves. Sexual identity is certainly a part of one’s self image. Furthermore, many men further associate sexual orientation with masculinity or even self-worth. Therefore, if a son tells a father that he is gay, this chain of associations can be upset. It is quite likely that now it will be a little harder to see your son as being in your image (assuming the father is straight) and if you hold the aforementioned associations of sexual orientation and masculinity or self-worth, you might see your son as less of a “man” or even as less valued to you. Please note that I am not in any way supporting or validating this view - I think it is unconscionable and distressing - I am merely explaining how supposedly loving parents can react negatively to a child telling his parents something very personal and important to them. If you have other interpretations or believe that I am in error you are welcome to leave RESPECTFUL comments to explain your views. I welcome debate on this or any other topics I may raise on this blog. I simply request that you do not make any abusive or overtly insulting comments.
I think there is also another source of fear involved. Some may be afraid of admitting to themselves that they are gay. While they may look at other guys, view gay porn and even have gay relationships, there is a certain barrier to be crossed when making an open declaration that they are gay that can be surprisingly difficult to cross. This is harder for me to explain. One possible reason may be related to the social stigma of being gay. Another possibility, less likely, may be that by stating they are gay they may be closing themselves off to future experiences (ie. If things change and they happen to find someone of the opposite sex they are attracted to).
Moving on to the second question, why coming out stories are popular. One reason is simply that many youth that are questioning their sexuality want to know how other people in their situation dealt with the problem of coming out and accepting themselves. Another possibility relates to modern trends in media. In recent years media has become intensely voyeuristic. When reality TV shows first became popular about a decade ago it seemed to be another fad that would pass in time. Ten years later, there is even more of this stuff not only on TV but on the internet in the form of blogs, chatrooms and social networks (ie. Facebook). People seem to be enthralled with mundane details about the lives of strangers and if the story happens to be not quite so mundane, it becomes even more desired. In some ways I am fed up and annoyed with this trend but, at the same time, I am getting more involved in this practice (I mean I am writing a blog after all). My guess is that the reason this fad has not gone away is that we have permanently become more voyeuristic as a society. Why has this happened? Frankly, I have no clue. If anyone has a theory about this please leave a comment and give me your ideas. And yes I did appreciate and enjoy the irony involved in writing this last paragraph.