By: Randy Fredlund
There used to be parties. Young debutantes would reach a state of readiness such that their parents would stage a coming out party to introduce them to society. Perhaps these functions are still going on in communities stuck in the past.
Since those times, the phrase “coming out” has gained a different meaning, and the connotations are somewhat different. Someone, somewhere, at some time must have thrown a party for such a revealing event, but the issues associated with the current version of “coming out” usually don’t engender a party atmosphere. The intense emotions associated with the realization and communication of the fact that one is incapable of conforming to society’s “norm” is anything but celebratory.
In retrospect, a party may be appropriate, because the act is a major positive step toward becoming who one must be. But at the time of the announcement to those who matter? The arrangements seem difficult. Maybe a “Remembering Coming Out” party is more appropriate.
But what of the reaction to the announcement? Though secondary to the turmoil the announcing person is feeling, those on the receiving end are also affected. A slew of misconceptions are instantly dashed, provided denial does not kick in. For those who can’t handle the truth, the transition to a new understanding is made oh-so-much more difficult or even impossible. Denial serves no one.
But even for those parents who accept the information and the modified roles, the fact of the matter is often spoken in hushed tones. That one’s son or daughter is not of the traditional sexual orientation is often treated as if it is a dirty little secret. No one needs to know. The family “accepts” the situation, but keeps it quiet. The information is communicated on a need-to-know basis. And only if that need-to-know is urgent and held confidential.
Well, that ain’t right. That’s not really acceptance. No billboards are necessary, and skywriting is contraindicated, but hushed tones and diversionary tactics are unacceptable.
In reality, there is more than one coming out day.
Acknowledgement in the course of normal conversation is the bellwether. One can only claim true acceptance when the fact of sexual orientation is delivered with the same tone and lack of forethought as the fact he lives in Brooklyn, or that she is an accountant.
It’s quite unlikely it’s the same day. These things take time. The fact that part of his world is completely foreign and maybe even repulsive to you is irrelevant. It’s a brave new world.
A parent’s coming out day happens when he or she willingly tells someone who has a need to know, however slight, that your son is gay. When asked, “Who is your son is bringing to the wedding,” let them know it’s Juan and not Juanita. “I don’t know,” is not allowed when you damn well do. No hedging. Coming out day happens when you admit to yourself and your friends that none of those handsome young men your daughter hangs around with will ever be your son-in-law.
But it goes beyond that.
It’s quite probable that your child needs your support at least as much as his or her hetero friends need that of their hetero fathers and mothers. He or she can’t hetero, ro, ro the same boat. His voyage will not be easy in a world that usually distrusts and often hates differences. She must find her way in less well-charted waters. Anything you can do to calm the waters will be welcomed, even if it’s only expressing your faith that, “You’ll be OK,” which coincidentally is something than every child needs.
But don’t stop there. OK is just, well, OK. Don’t settle for that. You have to let him know that you are proud of him, not in spite of the reality of his existence, but proud of the whole. That she is someone you’re glad to know. That those among us who do great things are rarely the result of completely average and uncontroversial situations.
And you need support, too. From him or her. There is a new culture for you to learn and even enjoy. And you’ll have the best guide you could possibly have.
Sexuality is just a part of each of us. It does not define a person. Hugh Hefner, of all people, noted that his magazine was about 10% related to sex, because that’s about the percentage that sex plays in life. We can argue the percentages, but the fact is that even the Crown Prince of Debauchery realized that sex and sexual orientation is a small portion of the whole. It does not define one’s entire existence, regardless of the oversimplified notions of society.
Nor does it define our relationships with those we love.