Emily Rizzo

June 1997

Fourteen and gay

Q. I'm 14 and I know I'm gay. The city I live in has a lesbian and gay center and my high school has a gay-straight alliance but my parents are very homophobic. If I join the alliance they will want to know why and I don't know how I could sneak out to the center without their finding out. What do I do?

A. As Linnea Due wrote in her excellent book "Joining the Tribe: Growing Up Gay in the 90's" it's not easy being gay these days. Oh, in some ways it's much better than it was 30 years ago: at least there are gay role models and homosexuality is talked about with more and more people realizing that it is natural and normal for a certain percentage of the population. It's also harder because more and more young people your age are realizing they are gay, when they are still too young to do much about it. But that doesn't answer your question.

First of all, think about coming out to your parents, are they really deeply homophobic to the point that they would kick you out of the house or make your life totally miserable? Often parents say homophobic things without really thinking that their own child might be gay; there is so much free-floating homophobia in our society it's hard to tell what's surface and what is deep-seated.

If you really don't think it is safe to tell them, then don't. And don't feel guilty about it either -- after all, the cards are stacked against you in this world. While we all publicly talk about how our youth should be honest and tell the truth, many parents don't want to hear about their own children being gay. It's a real contradiction!

Even if you have to stay in the closet there are things you can do. Since you have a computer, try to reach out to other people. There's an excellent, moderated e-mail list just for teenagers; for more information go to http://www.critpath.org/youth/ At this stage in your life, you don't need dates so much as good friends -- sometimes it's easier to bare your soul in an Internet friend who is many miles away.

Since you know you are gay even though your parents don't, there are some things you can do to try to prepare them for the day when you do come out to them. Try to raise the topic with them in a general fashion; try discussing "Ellen" for instance. Sometimes closeted gay people are terrified of raising the "g" or "l" words because they assume people will guess their secret.

You can also prepare yourself by learning as much as you can about homosexuality and other gay people. Even if your high school library doesn't have much on the subject, try the public library. Reading will not only give you ammunition to deal with parents (nothing like the facts!) but also you may learn a thing or two; being gay doesn't make you an automatic expert on the subject!

Finally, be patient. Someday you will be on your own and able to lead the life you want, independent of your parents, meanwhile concentrate on doing well in school and prepare for that day when you will be able to truly be yourself.

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