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PARENTS

Coming out to parents can be difficult, especially if you are still living at home. The desire to come out to our parents is a measure of the growing self-esteem of gays. This wish is not only based upon the decision to be honest but also arises out of a need to communicate the good things that are happening in our lives. A few tips about coming out at home: First, practice by coming out to some of your straight friends; study their reactions and examine how you feel as an out gay man. You should also ask your gay friends about their experiences coming out.

If you feel you want to come out to your parents, it's best to choose a moment when you are alone with them, away from brothers and sisters, and unlikely to be interrupted. Also, make sure that you choose a time when they are relaxed. During this discussion do not confuse the issue of homosexuality with other matters ("No wonder I'm gay, Dad, you never paid attention to me"). No blame attaches to anyone for your being gay, so you should not allow your parents to accuse themselves or each other. Nor should you allow them to blame you. Homosexuality is not something that needs to be blamed on anyone.

Your parents may accept your coming-out easily, or they may need a lot of time to accept your homosexuality. Be sure to give them all the information they require; you may be surprised how little they know. Your disclosure, however, is likely to stimulate worries they may have. Two of the most common questions are 1) Won't you be lonely? and 2) What are you doing to prevent getting AIDS? Be prepared to answer them. It's smart to get your folks a couple of books about homosexuality, especially those written specifically for parents. If there isn't a gay bookstore near you, get free catalogs from A Different Light Bookstore (800-343-4002) and Lambda Rising Bookstores (202-462-6969). Don't expect your parents to read the books immediately; they'll need time to work up the courage even to open them. You might also tell them about the nearest branch of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a support group for parents. You can get a list of branches by writing to PFLAG, PO Box 27605, Washington, DC 20038. Since they're likely to feel shy about joining the group, you might offer to go with them. On the other hand, they might be uncomfortable if you accompany them, so don't feel resentful if they choose to go alone. Another dimension of coming out to parents is introducing your lover. More and more parents are accepting their sons' lovers, but one still finds some attacking the relationship, usually with the panicky rationalization that "he" made you gay, or if it weren't for "him" you'd marry that nice girl around the corner.

A visit to one's parents during a holiday is often the battleground for these skirmishes. "You're coming home alone, aren't you?" from a parent is not so much a question as it is a command, which usually means "Don't bring that bastard into my house!" Some gay men need their parents' approval so badly that they leave their lovers home. A different kind of gay man will say, "We're a couple, and we go places together. If that's not satisfactory, we won't visit you. Think it over and call me when you've decided what you want." Some gays find it helpful to invite recalcitrant parents to visit and meet a lover.

Often the difficulty comes from only one parent. Try to avoid playing one of them off the other, although naturally you'll want to enlist as much support as possible in helping you win acceptance from the recalcitrant parent. In some cases it's a sibling who reveals unsuspected depths of prejudice. this must be confronted. don't worry that one or both parents will be so shocked that they will have a heart attack. That's an absurd notion. Your homosexuality cannot kill anyone. Even though it's anxiety-provoking, coming out to parents has its rewards. Not coming out to them cheats you out of that support.

In the past decade, AIDS or one's HIV status has increased the pressure on gay men to divulge their homosexuality to their parents. A seropositive gay man may no longer want to hide his life-style, because he hears a clock ticking. There are also gay men who have come out to their parents only after being diagnosed with HIV Disease. The most conflict-laden scene occurs when a gay man lying mortally ill in a hospital tells his parents he is gay and simultaneously that he has contracted AIDS. This is a classic double whammy. As a son, recognize how difficult this will be for your parents to absorb, and help them by directing them to friends, social workers, or medical staff who can answer many of the questions they're sure to have.

The HIV crisis has confirmed what we know about parents and their capacity for love. The majority of parents respond with compassion for their sons. They support their sons emotionally, financially, and physically. So do siblings. These parents have also recognized the value of their sons' lovers and friends, who share the burden of caring for the ill son, cooking, washing, and crying with him. In these cases, parents, lovers, and friends also provide important support for each other.

Unfortunately, not all parents are loving people. In fact, a shocking number of them have turned out to be selfish and narcissistic in their reaction to the AIDS crisis. "How could he have done this to me? is a typical comment from such a parent. They totally abandon their sons. They refuse to visit sons who are dying; they refuse to phone or to write. Frantic calls from the son's lover or from other family members are ignored. If a sick son wants to visit them they refuse to see him.

After the son's death, these selfish parents swoop down and steal his body without informing the son's lover or friends, the very people who cared for him throughout his illness. They dispose of it in a private ceremony, so that they won't be embarrassed by a funeral. They certainly don't attend the memorial services held by the lover or the friends of the deceased. Often, their final revenge on their son for his homosexuality is to violate the terms of his will.

The HIV crisis has not created these monsters; they were there all the time. But AIDS had forced us to rethink our relationship to our parents. We are reminded that some parents do not love their children and possibly never loved them or anyone else, for that matter.

Some gay sons should not come out to their parents ever; they should refuse to have anything to do with them. This is not said lightly. Gay men who come from spiteful families must (and doubtless will) seek support and love elsewhere, because in their cases, love never has and never will come from their parents. It's hard enough to give up parents when they die; oddly, it appears to be even more painful emotionally to give up unloving parents. Perhaps it's terrifying to realize that you were right about them all the time....

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