Coming Out: The Parent’s Process of Acceptance
Much has been written and spoken about the “coming out” experience. There is literature for people embracing their sexuality, support groups as people learn to celebrate this part of their identity, and even academic courses on what it means to be LGBT in a heteronormative society.
What isn’t spoken about as much is the process that our parents, families, and loved ones go through as they learn to accept our orientation. I had the opportunity to speak to my mother about what it was like for her to have not just one gay daughter but two.
Aleia: So, Mommy, tell the truth. What was it like for you to have both of your eldest daughters come out to you on the same day?
Mom: Honestly, my first thought was that I didn’t want you to feel bad or ashamed. I wanted to affirm that I loved you and that no matter what, that wouldn’t change. There were other feelings that came up later, but I could never stop loving you two.
Aleia: Was there a part of you that wondered if you had done something wrong?
Mom: I don’t know if I saw it as me doing something “wrong,” and I know some people in our family attributed you guys being gay to your biological father not being around, but I knew that couldn’t be the case. Your step-father had been in the picture since you were two, and each of you had very different relationships with him. So that couldn’t have been the case. Actually, having the two of you be gay helped it seem “normal” in my eyes. I didn’t know anything else.
Aleia: I remember you being surprised that my sister was gay, but not shocked at all about me. I was so sure that I was incognito since I was super feminine and Angela was into sports.
Mom: True, but Angela also had boyfriends around and was more social. I didn’t see her being a tomboy as a sign of her sexuality. But you, you were quite vocal about not wanting to be married or have kids. No, I wasn’t shocked at all about you coming out.
Aleia: Wow, and there I was, stressed about what you would think.
Mom: A mother knows her kids!
Aleia: Yes! I should have known considering how many times you caught me at things when I was little. It always seemed like you just knew exactly how I was lying.
Mom: I had my ways.
Aleia: Okay, back on the subject. You said earlier that other feelings came up after the initial coming out event. Can you describe that?
Mom: Sure. I wrote a paper about this for my Religion class. I compared my acceptance to the Kübler-Ross Stages of Grief model: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, then acceptance.
Aleia: I can definitely attest to you going through those stages. I remember that first summer before college, you seemed to be okay with me being gay, though we didn’t talk about it much. Later that fall, you seemed frustrated that I didn’t want to participate in certain activities with my peers that I felt were too heterosexist. I will never forget you asking, “How do you know you don’t like chocolate ice-cream if you’ve never tried it?”
Mom: I think that was a legitimate question. Besides, parents want to protect their kids. I didn’t want you to be hurt, and I wanted to make sure that you had given this real thought because this is a heterosexual world and you’d have to adapt to that.
Aleia: I see what you’re saying, but at the time it felt like something that I should be suppressing somehow.
Mom: That’s not what I was saying. Like I said, I wanted to make sure you were safe, and I was going through my own acceptance myself.
Aleia: I see what you mean. How else do you remember adapting to us being gay?
Mom: Well there are things that mothers of girls just expect will happen in life. I was looking forward to you wearing my wedding dress, having kids, and all of that.
Aleia: It’s not like I couldn’t have done those things.
Mom: Yes, but there weren’t a lot of public gay marriage back in the 90s, and I didn’t see then how it would play out for you.
Aleia: I don’t think I did either. One of my own struggles with accepting my sexuality was thinking that I’d have to give those things up.
Mom: See, it was a process for all of us.
Aleia: I am thankful that you have always accepted us and are vocal about your daughters, daughter-in-laws, and grandkids. So many other people’s parents don’t celebrate their gay kids in the same way.
Mom: How could I not? You are my girls! For the longest, it was just us three, and I feel like I grew up with you guys.
Aleia: Growth is such a blessing! Before we end, what advice would you give to people whose parents are less than accepting?
Mom: I would tell people to be patient with their parents. Just like you had time to accept yourself, they need time to accept that the life they envisioned for you will be different. Also, you don’t know what is in store for them. They just might surprise you one day.
Aleia: True, indeed! What advice would you offer to parents struggling with accepting their kids?
Mom: The same thing. To be patient and understanding. Make sure that your children know that you love them and are there for them. That they have to trust that they raised you right and will make good decisions.
Aleia: Thank you so much, Mommy for taking the time to talk about this. It’s funny to think that this was so long ago that this process started for us, considering how different things are now.
Mom: Yes, and now look how our family has grown since then.
Aleia Mims is a wife, mother, daughter, and sister for whom writing is a form of liberation. She shares her journey so that others may name their own experiences and realize their higher truths. Her commitment to self-empowerment was a key feature of her eleven years as a classroom teacher, and remain as such with her current work at an education non-profit in New York City. Follow more of her journey at liberationtheory.wordpress.com and on Twitter @liber8ntheory.