I’m long past being a child, and my parents are both deceased, so it’s a bit odd that I’ve found myself so drawn recently to postings about children coming out to their parents. First there was Just because he breathes, in which Linda Robinson shares the heart-rending story of how she and her husband responded to their son’s coming out (summary: don’t tell your children they have to choose between God and sexuality). Now I’ve run across Susan Cottrell’s advice to Christian Parents of Gay Children (summary: love them as they are, and embrace an exciting, though unknown, future with them).
I remember being out to my parents, but I don’t remember coming out to them. I’ve never known exactly what to think of that little tidbit, though I’m sure a psychologist would have something to say. Do I wish that my parents had read advice like Robinson’s and Cottrell’s before I came out to them? I don’t think that’s it – I don’t really find myself wishing that they had done something different. It’s not like I came out to them and they responded poorly, rejecting me or demanding that I change. Maybe I wish that I had done things differently.
I didn’t like conflict as a child and I tried hard to avoid causing conflict or grief. I think I might have predigested the message for them, thinking it through until I came up with a way to present it that would already match what they wanted me to say.
We DIDN’T have this conversation (version 1, aka “bad parent” version)
Mom, dad… I’m gay.
That’s terrible! You can’t be! It’s a sin!
But I am. I know what the church says, but I’m gay.
Are you sure? How do you know?
I just do. I’ve known for a while.
You’re still young. Maybe it’s a phase. These things can change.
How? What am I supposed to do?
You can get help. See a counselor. Pray. God can change you!
We also didn’t have THIS conversation (version 2, aka “good parent” version)
Mom, dad… I’m gay.
Really? Tell us more. How long have you known?
I’ve known for a while. It’s confusing and upsetting. In church they seem to say that it’s a sin to be gay.
We love you just as you are. And God does too. Sometimes the church doesn’t get things right, but God can continue to work through us to change the church.
So what am I supposed to do?
Just be yourself! God made you the way you are for a reason, and even if we don’t know what that will mean for the future, we love and support you.
Instead we had THIS conversation:
Mom, dad… I’ve been struggling with ‘homosexual temptation.’ But I’m not gay, because I’m choosing not to act on it. Just like someone who is tempted to murder, but doesn’t do it, isn’t a murderer, right? So I’m not really gay, I’m just tempted. And I’ll just keep fighting it, and praying, and I know God can change me…
Um, OK. That’s nice dear. We respect your wisdom. Keep it up.
See the difference? They didn’t reject me for being gay; and they didn’t accept me for it. They never had the chance to do either, since I never accepted it myself, and I never really confronted them with anything they had to respond to. Instead what they got from me was the pre-digested standard evangelical party line on same-sex attraction (in essence, “Don’t worry, I’ll turn straight or be celibate” – see bullet points under the third paragraph of Not chipper).
And now that they’re gone, I don’t have the chance to know whether they would have accepted me or not. Maybe that’s the source of my recent fascination with “coming out to parents” posts.