Coming-out stories are a significant part of being gay. I am lucky to have so many people share their coming-out stories with me. I love hearing them, and I'm always ready to hear another. Some of them are tales filled with understanding and love, and some are overwhelmed by sadness, disappointment and pain. But underneath all the different details they are stories of strength. I think that's why I like them so much. There is power in the story of someone finding the courage to stand up and say, "This is who I am."Despite the countless variations, most coming-out stories roughly follow a particular narrative:
- The gay person goes through the process of figuring out he or she is gay.
- The gay person takes some time to come to terms with this fact.
- The gay person comes out to close friends.
- They gay person comes out to family.
- Finally, the gay person comes out to the world, over and over again throughout his or her life.
And that's the basic story. But that's not my son's story.
My son first told me he liked a boy when he was 6 years old. For him, there was no coming to terms with anything. It was simply a fact. It wasn't something he stressed over or needed to deal with. It just was.
Then, when he told me he was gay at 7 years old, it wasn't some big announcement for him. He had heard me say that his father and I weren't labeling him as gay or straight, so he felt the need to correct me. And it really was a correction. The "duh, Mom, didn't you know this?" sentiment was more than apparent in his face and voice, and his no-big-deal attitude was evident in the fact that he ran off to do more interesting things only moments later.
The trepidation generally present in a gay person's coming out just wasn't part of his. Indeed, even though I refer to it as his coming-out story, I have to wonder whether it really was a coming out at all. My son never lived in the proverbial closet. He's never thought of himself any other way or pretended that he did. He's always seen himself as totally normal, just being who he is. So what do I think he was coming out of? His narrative is so different from the ones that came before that I don't really even have the terminology to talk about it appropriately.
Last week I had the privilege of going to my first PFLAG (Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays) meeting, and this time I heard coming-out stories from the parents' point of view. While listening, I was struck by how similar their experiences were to the stages of dealing with loss and grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I was most moved by the story of mother who, in anger, had said hurtful things to her child. I watched the tears well up in her eyes, even years later, as she told a story that she is so ashamed of now and explain how hard she has worked to turn things around. The stories were all amazing and so powerful... but they were not my story.
When my son announced to me that he is gay, I was shocked, but by the fact that he was only 7 years old, not by the fact that he is gay. I never denied what he was telling me or got angry. And I like to think that I not only accept my son but celebrate who he is. My story is just as different from those parents' stories as my son's story is from those of other gay people.
Now, I am not saying that I am any better than the countless parents who came before me. The fight for gay rights has progressed in leaps and bounds in the past few decades, and it has opened up the possibility for the typical story to change. Our family stands on the shoulders of all those who came before us, all those who struggled and hurt to live honest lives and make it possible for others to do the same. Their hard work and determination made our family possible.
We are not the only open and accepting family out there that is ready to love and embrace a gay child. My son isn't the only gay child born into a family like ours. All over this country there are young kids who are knowingly gay and have supportive parents. And as those families open themselves up and speak honestly, maybe we'll get a new narrative, one of being out instead of coming out. As this new narrative grows, we'll find the terminology to fit.
Because things are changing. And it's awesome.