This guest post was written by one of my former high school students.
I am a queer teenage girl, and I want to talk a little about what my experience has been coming out to people and why it is that I am out to almost everyone I know, except for my family. First, I want to acknowledge that I grew up in a very liberal, accepting community, and I am a privileged white cisgender queer girl, so my experience is not representative of the struggles most queer people face.
Coming out is not something that you can do just once. It’s not even something that you can do just 10 times. It’s something that you have to do over and over with every new person you meet. Most of the time, people you meet assume that you are straight (unless, like my best friend, you had a pin made that says “Too Gay to Function”), so you have to come out to correct them. For your entire life. So yes, I am “out,” but really, I’m still coming out.
I have been coming out to people for a couple of years now, so you would think that I would get used to it, but so far, it’s scary every time. Every time I do it, I’m holding out a vulnerable part of me, and I have to just hope that the other person wasn’t raised to believe that I’m disgusting. That I deserve to burn in hell forever. That me loving someone of the same sex or marrying someone of the same sex wouldn’t be authentic. Because there are still a lot of people who think these things in varying degrees, and it’s really hard to pick them out of a crowd. And even if they don’t believe that being queer is bad, a lot of people are still uncomfortable with it.
This fear is a part of why I can’t tell my parents yet, because as much as I know that they will be okay with it, I’m still worried they will be uncomfortable and not know how to deal with it. They don’t have gay friends, so it would be new for them. And of course telling my parents means my extended family will have to know eventually, and I’m worried some of them might not be as supportive as I think my parents will be. It will all probably be okay, but if it isn’t, I’m not ready to handle it from people I love. Because every time I see a homophobic comment on the internet, I feel like I’m being punched in the stomach. And that’s from people I don’t even know.
I almost want to have my sexuality all figured out and squared away and be completely secure so that when I tell them I won’t get emotional, and if they react badly I will be able to handle it. Which, I’m aware, is kind of an irrational way to think about this. Because I know that I may never have everything figured out, and I know that my parents will be supportive. But I’m still scared.
There are some things I will need from my parents when I come out. Here are two things I wish all parents would do when their child comes out to them:
- Believe them, no matter what. Trust me, it isn’t a phase. If they are telling you, your child has probably known for a long time, thought about it a lot, and done research, so the worst thing you can do is tell them you think they are straight or that the gender you raised them with is their correct gender. Whatever they’re experiencing, it’s real. Even if you don’t understand, even if you have never felt that way, it’s real.
- Ask questions if you are confused about something, or you don’t understand the terms they are using. It’s okay. It’s new ground for you and maybe for them too, and it’s okay to figure it out together. Google can be good, but it’s better to just ask them directly because everyone feels differently about their own sexuality and gender.
Remember, if your child doesn’t fit under a specific umbrella term, or they don’t quite have their sexuality or gender figured out for themselves yet, that doesn’t make their coming out any less legitimate or their queerness any less real. This is a big concern for me because I’m almost-but-not-quite-a-lesbian-and-still-kind-of-a-bisexual, and a lot of people don’t really get it.
But there is another, brighter, reason why I’m not out to my parents. And it’s that I just don’t want it to be a big deal. It’s not that being gay isn’t a big part of my life, but it hasn’t been this huge, sad struggle for me. For the most part, it’s been pretty awesome. In my friend group, most people are queer, and we’re comfortable enough that we can joke around about it, and I can talk about cute girls, and no one is judging. I’ve even been able to find other queer girls to go on dates with, and that’s been pretty cool too.
But I’ve come out to a couple of friends who have said things like “you’re so brave,” which is nice but also makes me feel weird. Because in my mind, firefighters are brave. Police officers are brave. But me? I just . . . like boobs. I’m not brave. I haven’t struggled. I’ve had uncomfortable encounters with bigots, but I’ve never experienced serious discrimination. A lot of queer people still experience discrimination, and they are probably braver than me. But I’ve had a really easy life, and I just want people to treat me like all of their straight friends.
So when I do tell my parents, I want them to take what I’m saying seriously but also not treat me like a brave soldier who’s just come out of battle. I just want us to go on with our lives, and have no one be surprised when I bring home a girlfriend for dinner or talk about how much I’d like to date Cosima from Orphan Black.