Emily Rizzo

December 1997

Parent in the Closet

Q. I'm the parent of a gay child and have never discussed this with anyone outside the immediate family. I just read Bob Bernstein's book "Straight Parents Gay Children: Keeping Families Together" and realized that I've been in the closet myself all these years and now I want to come out. But I'm terrified of telling anyone especially other family members!

A. All of us parents at PFLAG have gone through what you describe. Even when we think of ourselves as accepting we may be too embarrassed or ashamed to speak freely with others about our child.

First of all, you shouldn't discuss your child's sexual orientation without his or her permission. Ultimately, it's your child's business who knows and who doesn't since he or she will feel the consequences of your telling.

Assuming that your child has given you permission to tell, you can start small and work your way up to the difficult ones. Try as an exercise telling a causal stranger sitting next to you on a bus or waiting near you at a store. Then try telling people you don't care much about -- perhaps some co-workers or neighbors. I suspect that most people will give you a ho-hum reaction; you'll be surprised how much they really don't care.

Once you feel comfortable telling others, then you can think about telling people who are closer to you. Of course one way to get the word out is to tell the biggest gossip and let him or her do the rest.

One thing to keep in mind: people will base their reaction to your "news" on how you present it. If you appear to be unhappy or upset, then they will offer you sympathy. If you can get to the point where you can say matter-of-factly "my son/daughter is gay" then they will understand that you are happy with your child just the way he or she is.

You may be surprised once you do start telling people how many people tell you in turn about their gay relatives. Sometimes you may be the first person they have ever told!

Parents sometimes wonder how they will bring up the subject but once you get the hang of it it's easy! Next time someone asks you if your child is married, you can say "no, he (or she) is gay and isn't allowed to marry but I'm hoping that the law will change some day." Or if someone tells an anti-gay joke or makes a disparaging comment you can say "you know my child is gay and I don't find that joke funny."

Believe me, it does take a lot of practice to be able to speak up but it will become easier over time. Eventually, you won't care who knows and so you no longer have to worry about telling or not telling. Then you will truly be free of your closet.

Please send your questions to Emily Rizzo at er5@nyu.edu. Also check out the PFLAG-TALK web page at www.critpath.org./pflag-talk/

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