Last night I was on an Eshel Parent call and I noticed that several parents used the phrase “coming out” not in terms of what their LGBT children have done or will do, but in terms of themselves and how they tell loved ones and friends that their child is LGBT. It struck me as interesting and it made me think about this subject. Is what we, as parents, go through at all similar to what an actual LGBT person goes through when they reveal to the world who they really are? On one hand I want to laugh this off and say that it is unfair to compare what an actual LGBT person goes through in his or her coming out process to that of a secondary person in their life. On the other hand, I got to thinking about something that I read last year in Haaretz:
“We didn’t realize the irony of that,” says Miryam Kabakov, the co-founder and executive director of Eshel, an organization that supports members of the Orthodox LGBT community. “When you come out, you let the secret go and the parent takes on the secret…. And what they do is go into the closet with it.”
When my son came out to us, I definitely felt like I went into a closet. Our family had recently moved to a new community and I actually felt like all of the strides I had made making new friends were put on hold by the revelation that our son was gay. I was in the process of introducing a new community to our family yet all of a sudden I felt like I couldn’t continue because there was something so big that I couldn’t reveal about us. It was isolating and depressing. As time went on and as our son became more comfortable with who he is, we decided that we could start telling people outside our immediate family. Each time we did, there was a process we went through. A cost benefit analysis almost. How do we frame it this time? What do we think this person’s reaction will be? Have we gotten any hints about how this person feels about this topic already? Can we trust this person to support us?
In some ways we are very lucky. Our son had no intention to stay closeted for a long time so we almost had no choice. If we weren’t going to “come out of the closet” ourselves, the public knowledge that he was gay would forcibly pull us out. So with the exception of a few people, we’ve come out to many of the people who matter to us.
I don’t think that as parents, we can ever fully comprehend what our children go through when they are living a closeted life (even if they come out at a young age) but I like to think that those of us who embrace our LGBT children realize that our children aren’t alone in this. And that we are coming out of the closet not just for ourselves but for our children as well. When I told many of the people I told about our son, one of the first things I said was “I’m telling you this because I know you will give our family the support we need.” And people have given us support. All of us. And that means that our son is supported as well.
As Ash Beckham said,
At some point in our lives, we all live in closets, and they may feel safe, or at least safer than what lies on the other side of that door. But I am here to tell you, no matter what your walls are made of, a closet is no place for a person to live.