On the day I decided to come out as a gay man to my mom, I asked my friend Mike to accompany me on the long drive to my parents’ house to what I imagined would be a turbulent confrontation. I was feeling exceptionally vulnerable at the time, between dealing with the (sometimes inhuman) demands my job imposed on me, moving out of the apartment my ex-boyfriend and I shared, finding a place to live, and coming to terms with the disintegration of my 5-year relationship. I wasn’t getting enough sleep (partly because I had no time, and partly because I couldn’t sleep even if I wanted to) so my nerves were pretty much shot. At that point, I just needed a friendly face.
To his great credit, Mike simply agreed. "When are we leaving?" he asked.
Think of a gas burner.
Now, imagine that each section of that gas burner represents an aspect of your life that you consider important or essential. In most cases, it will include these four: work, health, family, and friends.
There’s a popular idea going around that, for a person to achieve a measure of success in any of these aspects, he will need to “turn off” some sections in order to focus on the others. Basically, the idea is that you cannot have everything, and that, at some point, you will need to sacrifice some of these aspects for the sake of the others.
In my case, when I was younger, I made a subconscious decision to turn off the family section of my burner. Partly, it was because I needed to find out who I was as a person separate from my identity as the offspring of my parents, but mostly it was because I’ve always been a misfit in my own family and I felt that if I showed them who I was, they would have rejected me.
Worse, they might have tried to change me.
So I became secretive and distant. It was at this point that I started focusing on work and developing close friendships with some of the best human beings I’ve ever met. Though I suffered through the motions of performing familial obligations, the idea that I might have to interact with any of them and open myself up on a purely human and personal level actually terrified me.
We arrived at my parents’ house when the sun was close to setting. My mom was expecting me. I asked Mike to stay in the living room while my mom and I spoke in the kitchen.
Here’s the funny thing: the emotional turbulence I was expecting didn’t happen because I told my mom I was gay. While I was in the middle of my (admittedly long-winded) confession, my mom started crying, not out of disappointment, but out of relief. As soon as I was finished, my mom admitted that she had always known, but that she did not want to confront me until I was ready to tell her myself. The relief she felt was borne out of the fact that I was now comfortable enough with her to tell her the truth.
To be honest, I’m not sure if my mom would have been this open if I came out to her when I was younger. I think her mindset was also a lot influenced by the changes our society has undergone towards its acceptance of gay people. But, still, it was a pleasant reminder that, just because I turned off the family section of my burner, it didn’t mean my mom turned off hers, at least with respect to her relationship with me.
And, while I was sitting there listening to my mom talk and cry at the same, I realized how difficult it must have been for her to keep up this illusion of not knowing. I guess she understood, intuitively, that coming out is a personal choice that she couldn’t force on me.
Which is true. I think if she forced the issue before I was prepared to deal with it, I would probably have rejected her overtures, in the same way I was so afraid she would have rejected me. And, in the same way I was grateful for her acceptance, I loved that she also understood why I needed to be so secretive and distant in the first place.
After the initial drama, and as soon as she got back her composure, my mom asked me if I was dating anyone. For the first time in my life, I answered her question honestly.
It was a little past nine when my mom and I finished our conversation. Mike was still waiting in the living room, suffering through an interrogation conducted by my nephew who was wondering why there was a stranger in the house.
On the drive back home, my friend asked me how I was. I told him I felt tired, but also that I was okay. Actually, more than okay. Good even. And, as the words were coming out of my mouth, to my surprise, I realized I truly meant them.
Photo taken here.