Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Different Kind of Coming Out Story, Pt. 2

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.


  1. Hey Evan!
    I found your blog thru Amar's blog where you may have seen my comments. Since you asked for some feedback, here is my opinion:
    You noticed that most coming out stories show accepting parents and you wonder where this fear of coming out comes from? Maybe it's because people that had a bad coming out experience don't want to write about their devastating experience. Who wants to write about being rejected by their parents?
    And it's sad to say but the love of many parents is linked to conditions. Cos many parents expect their kids to follow them in their footsteps or even having a better life. They expect their kids to have a good job, to have a family with kids and so on, not caring if this is what will make the kids happy. I personally think that parents have no right to expect anything from their kids. Parents should look for their kids happiness, whatever that means for them. They should wait or maybe ask their kids to reveal their orientations, not only the sexual, to support them to find their personal happiness. But that's not the case way too often.
    And about the whole coming out concept, I think it is totally stupid. Neither my parents nor anyone else has the right to know about my sexuality, except the persons I share my sexuality. And I never heard about a straight boy coming out to his parents as straight. But this again comes from parents expectations. I myself will never tell my parents about my orientation as long as I can avoid it. Not just because I expect them to react negative and because I think they will never 'overcome that shock' but also because they have no right to know and don't deserve to know since they showed so little love and interest in me.
    And it's quite understandable that people hesitate to come out to their parents as they have to fear to be thrown out by their them, ending up being homeless, maybe uneducated and without money, probably not even having other relatives or at least friends taking care of them.
    I'm glad that you had so much luck with your parents but many people don't have this luck. So as long as parents have expectation on how their kids will live their lives, there will always be a reason to be scared to come out, not thinking of all the hate and prejudices toward gay people.

    And about this fad of our society becoming more and more voyeuristic, well this seems to be part of human nature for whatever reason. Magazines always sell good when there is a story about a celebrity in it. And I always have a good laugh when I again catch my mom spying out of the window to get to know everything about our neighbours. And young people feed this trend by sharing personal info with strangers because they seem unable to share their personality with their family and friends.

    Okay enough for now, I hope this is the kind of feedback you expected.
    Hugs to you

  2. Hi KC, thank you for your comments. This is certainly the sort of comment I welcome, as it stimulates additional thought and conversation. I suppose I did not consider many of the negative consequences you mentioned because in my own situation, such reactions would be unfathomable. I guess I am quite fortunate to have the family situation I do and am sorry that your parents seem not to have given you the love and care than you needed.

    You made a really good point about parents living through their children. This is something I have seen among people I know and you are right that this could factor into a child's decision about coming out.

    Thank you and Hugs!


  3. Hey Evan, Interesting start to your new blog! KC has stated many of my concerns, but I would like to offer a point of view being that I am older, oh okay an old guy who doesn't have modern parents. I have heard my Dad say he doesn't like gays, so there is no way that I can tell him about being gay. Well not unless I want to lose any son/dad relationship. My Mom could not even accept the change when I was a vegetarian, so coming out to her cannot happen either. She would make my life a living hell every time I would see her. It is better to live a lie in somewhat peace then come out. I do not believe telling my brothers, sisters, and close friends would result in any more positive results then with the parents. It would be great if things were different but that is what life I was dealt.

    Take care, JR