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Emily Rizzo

January 1999

After The Holidays

If you're reading this, you've survived the holidays and perhaps even enjoyed them. Since I'm writing this in mid-December in the midst of the usual family and in-law wrangling over who's eating where and who is/isn't invited, I'm well aware that survival is not necessarily guaranteed.

You might have decided that the holidays were a good time to finally come out to your family (let's hope you didn't do it just as dad was poised to carve the turkey). If so, there's still some work ahead of you. Coming out isn't just a one time process, especially to parents who always seem to take the news harder than anyone else (after all, it's ALL their fault you're gay, right?). No matter what their initial reaction, you can be sure that your parents are going through a certain amount of turmoil.

You can make things easier for them (and yourself) by not letting the matter drop. It's easy for parents to slip into denial and simply "forget" that you came out to them. I know one young woman who's come out to her mother five different times; each time her mother is totally surprised by the news, gets a migraine, and has to stay in bed for two days. So when you talk to them again, keep the subject alive. You don't have to rub their noses in it, but it wouldn't hurt to casually refer to some of the gay stuff going on in your life. If you're used to censoring what you tell them, that might take some conscious effort on your part.

Make sure too that they have information on the closest PFLAG chapter. There's a complete list of chapters (including e-mail and phone contacts) at www.pflag.org. Keep after them to attend a meeting or at least phone -- often just talking to another parent can do wonders. Also, make sure they have on hand some literature to help them understand homosexuality and sexual orientation. PFLAG has some wonderful pamphlets and there are a number of books written by or for parents. Most straight people (and a lot of gay ones too) are really quite ignorant about homosexuality -- there's so much misinformation out there!

Now perhaps you were thinking about coming out but just couldn't find a quiet moment with the holiday rush and a houseful of relations. Why not consider making your move now? Things are quiet and your parents can give you their full attention. Remember, there's no one right way to come out (although there are some wrong ones): some do it by letter, others over the phone or in person; you've got to decide what's right for you and your family. You should do your homework though: practice, practice, practice! Even if you plan to come out over the phone or in person, write a letter to them so you can work out everything you plan to say -- you don't even have to give it to them, but it will help you organize your thoughts. Get that information about PFLAG and keep it handy; contact their local chapter and find out the time and place of the next meeting. Have on hand some pamphlets or books. The more prepared you are the more seriously they will take you and the more they will treat you like an adult.

Whatever the outcome, remember it takes parents time to get used to it, just the way it took you time to adjust to your sexual orientation. Don't expect them to feel great about it over night but you can expect to see some reasonable progress in six months to a year. That may seem like a long time now but you've got the rest of their lives ahead of you for your relationship to develop. You might be surprised to find that coming out brings you closer to your parents in the end.

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Emily Rizzo can be contacted at emily.rizzo@nyu.edu. She will be happy to answer all questions confidentially.


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