Coming out is a process for most people, myself included. I tried to write about it and realized that to do so in one post would be possible but not ideal. For me, it was an evolution. A collection of starts, stops, and pauses. I will write it as such.
Read previous installments in the Coming Out series.
Using my own interpretation of the word ‘immediate,’ I have a relatively large immediate family now. What started as just me, Mom, and Dad, became me, Mom, Dad, and Matt. Then, when I was six, we all got hit by the big D. Divorce. This was not an easy time, but it passed.
Mom never remarried but my dad met someone relatively quickly and got hitched again when I was eight and Matt was five. Sharon, my stepmother, brought Hillary (17) and Nick (12) into my life.
Thus, my immediate family rapidly grew when I was in elementary school. It later doubled again because of siblings finding partners and having kids and, all said and done, there are thirteen of us now. But, when I was 19 and still in the closet, there were seven of us. That is to say, there were six very important people standing between me and my coming out party.
I can’t stress enough how scary it can be to come out to family. Many of the common reasons that cause people to be discriminated against are shared by family: skin color, religion, weight. But, sexual preference is something that can cause your family to turn on you, too. Most people think that family will stick by you through anything but I know at least five people who’ve been disowned by family members, one who was disinherited, and several others who are routinely berated by family even though years have passed since they came out.
I thought that I had a pretty good handle on how my various family members would react and was confident that being disowned was not in my future. However, there was still this terrible fear. The fear of disappointing them, having to justify myself to them, and the (slightly laughable) fear of discussing my sex life with them.
For my first reveal, I ended up choosing the person that I believed would handle it the best: my older brother, Nick.
Nick is three years older than me and, at times in my life, he’s been the sibling that I was closest to. I think that it’s because we met when I was seven and he was ten. My little brother, Matt, was four and our sister, Hillary, was sixteen. I was always pretty mature for my age which meant that Nick and I were able to develop more of a friendship with each other than we were with our other siblings. Nick handed me my first drink and first joint. In return, I introduced him to several girls who were two or three years younger than him and thought older boys were sexy. Our friendship only got stronger as we got older and, when I decided to come out to him, our relationship was tighter than it had ever been.
We were driving somewhere and discussing his girlfriend trouble on the day when I chose to go ahead and tell him about what was going on in my life. As I confessed that I was attracted to women, he went completely silent and, though this is a natural state for him, it made me very nervous.
Generally, Nick is so easygoing that it can be insufferable at times. When I was a kid, I was rarely able to get a rise out of him, no matter how hard I tried. Finally, instead of commenting on my admission, Nick asked if he could smoke in my car. I waited while he lit his cigarette then sat, perplexed, when he took a big drag and suggested that we go to the mall instead of continuing to drive home.
“The mall? Um, okay,” I said. “Why?”
“I think we should sit in the food court and watch the chicks. I want to see what kind of girls you’re into.”
It was so typically him that I can’t believe that he surprised me with it. My brother is such a pig. Also, why on earth would I think that he’d give a damn about this? It’s only one of the most important things I’ve ever said to him in my life.
Jokes aside, Nick’s nonchalant acceptance meant the world to me. His treatment of me never changed at all. Just like usual, he was nosy about the details of my love life and couldn’t care less about what I was doing as long as I was happy. He gave me the confidence that I needed to carry on and was in a position to help me think about my other family members and how they might react.
We agreed that my dad was probably going to be the hardest: we knew that he was uncomfortable with gayness and that his expectations for my behavior were always pretty far off from the reality of me. But, we agreed that Sharon would probably be okay even though she’s a bit religious. Our sister has never really been very interested in either of our comings and goings (another product of the age gap), so we figured that she wouldn’t care either way. And, we both knew that my little brother was probably going to be obnoxious and mean about it no matter what (at 16, Matt didn’t seem to think much of anyone but Matt and he’s never pulled punches with me).
Nick suggested that I tell our parents (my dad and Sharon) at the same time so that she could help buffer and that I wait on Matt and Hillary so that they weren’t in a position to tell my parents before I could. He didn’t have much of an opinion about my mom, Becky, because he doesn’t know her very well but I told him that I thought she would take it okay.
My mom is very liberal and had always seemed pretty accepting. She goes out of her way to be vocally against bigotry in all forms. And, even better, she was never really bothered about what I was doing as long as I was happy and not bothering anyone else. My mother had never seemed to care if I was dating anyone, one way or the other. That’s actually part of the reason that I had yet to tell her. We weren’t overly close at the time and don’t tend to talk about heavy stuff.
After thinking about it, Nick said, “if she’s a sure thing, you should tell Becky. That way, if Bill [my dad] and my mom are upset, your mom can help you through it.”
And, that was that. I had my next VIP in my sights. The next conversation would be with my mom.
* I promise not to drag out the family stuff too much more. It’s been a bit of a challenge to chunk this story into separate pieces and I decided to use this post to give a bit of background before moving on.