On June 19, 2013, Exodus International announced it was closing its doors, and I decided to come out to my parents.
I spent the next two months writing a four page letter explaining how I realized I liked women, what the process of coming to terms with that had been like for me, and how I currently feel about same sex relationships. (Spoiler: Conflicted. Because of reasons.) I tried to think of the objections or concerns they might have and addressed those as well. Parts of that letter became posts on this blog. Other parts will probably never see the light of day. It is probably the most honest and vulnerable I have been with my parents since I told them I was afraid I was going to kill myself in 2009.
In retrospect, it might have been better to go with my plan of sending them “Proud Parent of a Lesbian” shirts and laughing maniacally while they freaked out. That would have at least been a funnier story.
I sent my four page letter (FOUR PAGES) by email around midnight on Saturday, August 24th. In the first paragraph, I asked them to read the entire letter, discuss it, process a little, and call me when they were ready to talk. Since my father rarely leaves the house without checking his email, I assumed that they would get my letter first thing, spend several hours processing, and call me by early afternoon. I had asked one of my friends to be on emergency standby, and she was planning on feeding me dinner that evening and listening to me cry about how badly it went. (I was pretty much 100% sure it was going to suck.)
Unfortunately, my plan failed to take into account the fact that my father was teaching a Saturday parenting seminar that week, which meant that he rushed out of the house early that morning without checking his email and then proceeded to check it on his phone during one of his co-presenter’s sections.
SOOOOO . . . at 10:30am, I get a call from my father, who is standing outside the parenting class, trying to keep his voice down but also freaking completely out. Our conversation:
Dad: Did you send your mother the same email you sent me.
Me: Umm . . . yes.
Dad: Well . . . I hope she doesn’t get it while she’s home alone today. This is going to kill your mother. I don’t think she’ll ever recover.
Me: *awkward silence*
Dad: We’ll call you tonight when I get home. DON’T TALK TO YOUR MOTHER UNTIL I GET HOME.
Me: *awkward silence*
Dad: *hangs up*
And so, I waited. And waited. And threw up the lunch I forced myself to eat. And waited some more.
I got a call from my parent’s house around 4:30. I was pretty sure my dad’s seminar was over at 2, so I assumed it was them. It was my Mom. She hadn’t checked her email. We talked about laundry and the sales she found at the grocery store that morning. She kept asking if I was okay. Apparently I sounded odd.
Then I waited some more.
Finally, just after 7 that evening, they called. The conversation only lasted 30 minutes, and there was a lot of awkward silence. I think they were waiting for me to apologize or fix it or explain myself, but I sent them a four page letter that I spent two months writing. I’d said all I had to say.
Almost the first thing my mother said was, “You’re our daughter, and we will always love you, but we cannot accept your choice.”
There was a lot of pointed use of the word choice. There was a lot of “we love you, but we don’t like this.” They were unhappy that I had not chosen to come out in person, especially since they had seen me in person just a week and a half before. They weren’t willing to discuss it over the phone, so we’re apparently waiting for Christmas to “really” talk about it.
It wasn’t as bad as thought it was going to be. There was no yelling. No one got disowned. I was not called any ugly names. I was not accused of being demon possessed. They seem to believe me when I say I have not become promiscuous or a partier. (Actual things conservative parents assume/worry about in the context of homosexuality.) They didn’t tell me I’m going to hell, but they did tell me I should be grateful they weren’t telling me I’m going to hell, so I’m not actually putting that one in the “win” column.
I didn’t realize how physically hard coming out to my parents would be. For about five days on either side of the day I came out, everything I ate made me sick. After my stomach calmed down, I had a migraine that lasted four days. I stopped sleeping. I was exhausted all the time. It’s really only in the last few days that I’ve felt mostly normally again, at least on a physical level.
I knew that this would be emotionally difficult, and I spent some time in therapy processing and preparing for that this summer. It turns out I worried about the wrong things, though. I was not prepared for how angry my parents would be that I was coming out to them. Not even that I was gay. That was a whole different issue (about which they were still very angry). One of them actually said that this (my coming out) would “just make things awkward.” They seemed to feel that I was throwing this horrible, rebellious thing that I had done in their faces. My mother told me she felt like I must hate them. They didn’t understand or acknowledge at all that I was afraid of their response or that this was emotionally difficult for me. One of them actually asked me at one point, “Why are you crying?”
I was also not really prepared to deal with this strange, subtle subtext of rejection in the wake of my coming out. (Probably because I expected blatant, violent rejection.) My father and I didn’t speak for a little over a week after I came out. I’m still not sure if it was intentional or if he just happened not to be around at all every single time my mother called me. My mother and I have continued to check in every day, as has been our habit for years now, but it’s not the same. We sound cheerful. We talk about the same things. But it’s obvious she can’t wait to get off the phone.
My mother has asked me every Sunday since I left home for college whether I went to church that day. If she doesn’t remember to ask on Sunday for some reason, she always brings it up on Monday. The last two weeks, she hasn’t asked at all.
And I have no idea what to do.
It’s hard to hear someone say “I love you,” when you know that they find such an incredibly important part of your personality and identity disgusting and sinful. It’s hard to know that my parents don’t trust my experiences and perceptions enough to even consider questioning their own beliefs on this issue. I’ve asked myself so many hard questions this year, and I am still living in the tension of some of those. It’s hard to know that my own family is unwilling to climb down with me and sit with the uncomfortableness of all this.
I’ve told this story half a dozen times now. I still haven’t been able to look anyone in the eye as I tell it. Part of me is ashamed. Part of me feels like my parents unwillingness or intransigence indicates some unworthiness on my part, as though maybe if I were a better daughter or a better person or a better Christian, they would trust me more. They would love me in the ways I need them to love me.
And the strange, complicated truth is that my parents do love me, despite everything, and loving me is a very real sacrifice for them. I am not the daughter they expected, not the daughter they thought would be the outcome of their parenting, not the daughter they prayed for and hoped for and dreamed of. Despite the fact that they followed the vanilla cake recipe and somehow ended up with funfetti anyway, they love me in the best way they know how. Sometimes that’s painful for me, and I regularly debate with myself how much their good intentions should excuse. But I have to keep that love and those good intentions in the forefront of my mind because it’s what allows me to keep trying.