Last month, I talked about my experience with the 2010 Ragnar Relay – when I spent a day and a half with 11 men. Well, I got to know each of the men in the van with me and my son Jay. It’s easy to get personal when you are in a van for over 30 hours. During our time together, I asked each one at what point did he tell his parents he was gay. One by one, each said he told his parents he was gay when he was out of college or had moved out of his parents’ home and was living on his own.
Charles told me that when he was a teenager, he saw a close friend who was gay be thrown out of his home and was living on the streets. Charles knew he needed a college education and his parents support to get that education. One of his brothers had overheard Charles in a conversation with his boyfriend and told Charles to tell his other brothers or he would. They agreed not to tell his parents until after college.
One by one, I heard versions of the same story, “If I tell my parents I am gay, they might kick me out.”
That fear is justified by the number of homeless gay youths living on the streets because the parents could not handle it. This pisses me off: The “parents” can’t handle it! What about their children coming to them for support, acceptance and understanding, and instead being kicked out of the home they need?
Jay told me he was gay when he was in college; however, he knew he was gay when he was 8 years old. His plans were to graduate from college, move out of town and then just disappear. He feared being rejected; we had a great relationship, but he didn’t feel safe telling me he’s gay.
While having breakfast with a friend, she told me she thinks her grandson is gay, but he hasn’t said anything to her. They too have a great relationship. She asked, “Do I go to my grandson and say I think you’re gay? Or not say anything?” She can feel a distance between them and wants him to know how proud she is of him; that it doesn’t change their relationship if he is, or isn’t, gay. I did not have an answer for her. In my case, I had to ask my son what was going on with him that he was pulling away from the family; otherwise I am sure he wouldn’t have told me then.
There is no right or wrong time to tell parents; it has to be the child’s time. Society has made it hard and shameful to be gay. I have no clue what Jay went through, when couldn’t be himself and be safe in his own home or around his family. As parents, I believe if we show our support and acceptance of the gay community before our children say they are gay, we create a pathway for communication with them.