The Gamble of Words
How I Came to Regret Coming Out to My Parents, and How Their Reactions Damaged Our Relationship
When I first came out, it was to my friend Jane, who was my closest friend at the time and still is. A couple of months before, she had been talking to me about how bisexuality felt and what it was, and I realised after a long period of time that I felt the same way about men and women that she did. Well, not exactly the same, but very similarly. I came out to her through Facebook Messenger and explained to her that I had been having dreams about one of my close friends. She helped me come to terms with it and I was so relieved that I could finally understand these feelings that I had been having for years.
The second person I came out to was my friend Gemma, the person I had a crush on. When I confessed that I was bisexual on the couch in my room, she slammed her hand down and shouted "I knew it!" She didn’t hate me or shy away from hugging me, and openly supported me, making me love being her friend even more than I had before. She asked me questions about how it felt and how I knew. I didn’t tell her that it was her that I had a crush on, but still said it was dreams. She still slept in the same bed as me comfortably and never saw me as predatory in any way.
The third, fourth, fifth and sixth people I came out to, well, I can’t quite remember how it went after that. I just knew that after a year of me knowing and understanding whom I was, I had come out to my entire friend group. They were all comfortable with it and every one of them made sure to be kind to me about it. There were a couple of memorable coming outs, such as to my other bisexual friend Ella, on a post it note in psychology whilst studying sexuality; and one of my friends Sophie, also bisexual, and who turned out to have a massive crush on me later on. The point was, every single person in my friend group accepted me for what I was, and never made me feel wrong for being whom I was. The girls still hugged me without being disgusted, the guys never asked if they would see some girl on girl, all was good in the world.
In the summer holidays of 2016, I asked one of my female friends (Jane) out on a date. I had recently developed a crush on her, and we were fairly close. I was ecstatic when she said yes. I planned to take her to the movies to see whatever was playing at the time (I’m sure I had a specific movie in mind) and wanted to take her out to dinner afterwards. I had confided in my brother about it, smiling from ear to ear and completely elated about my first real date.
What I hadn’t expected was for him to try to convince me to come out.
He told me that it was necessary, and that my parents had a right to know as much as anyone else, and that if my friends knew, my parents should too.
Though my coming out went quite wrong, I don't blame him in any way for that.
I blame my parents, and shock, and the country we lived in at the time.
When I came out to my family, we lived in the an Arab country, though we were on holiday in France at the time. The country in question is a country famous for its Arab heritage combined with an integration of the modern. It boasts many popular tourists attractions.
Another thing to note: freedom of speech, homosexuality, and transgender rights are nonexistent there, and all of the three above are crimes.
One thing I want to draw to light before I pour into the details of my parents' reaction to me coming out, is that when I was 12, they pledged to my entire gaggle of three siblings (myself included) that they would love and accept us no matter our sexuality, and at the time we were in the Arab country. They had told us all, looking at both my siblings and myself, that they would love us unconditionally and would never see us differently simply because of whom we were attracted to. Looking back, it seemed to be more theatrics than anything. If I had foresight, I might have laughed at their words, but then again, if I had foresight I wouldn't have come out in the first place.
The way I told my mum was in the car, about an hour away from our destination. We were driving to our grandparents mountain lodge, in the Massif Central of France, and the thoughts of coming out had been weighing heavily on me at the time. This was only about three days after my brother had told me I needed to come out. And so, instead of coming out when I was 18, as I had intended to, as I was flying away to uni and texting them the confession, I tentatively told my mother that me having a crush on a boy was a lie, and that I instead had a crush on a girl. All she said was a loud "What?!" And then silence for the next hour.
When we got to the cabin, I was terrified to have some "quality alone time" with my mum. There were a lot of things I was afraid she would say, and a lot of things I didn’t want to hear. I had been trying to think of the best way to do this for the past two years, and so it had probably surprised both her and myself.
When she did eventually call me down, she was standing by the stove, stirring whatever pasta was in the pot that she had bought earlier for dinner. My brother and sister were in the next room over watching TV, and I vividly remember them turning down the volume when mum started to talk.
The basic run down of it was: I don’t believe that this is actually something that you are. I don’t trust your feelings about yourself and I know you better than you know you, so I know this isn’t real. This is because this boy ghosted you and now you’re "attracted" to your best friend just because of that. She told me I should have never said anything in front of my little sister, because I would "influence" her in some way. But the lines remember best was when she started to say the words I heavily feared, and that I had been having nightmares about. Before she could say anything, I cut my mother off and said:
“It’s not a phase.”
She tutted and clenched her jaw.
“I’m not convinced.”
In that moment, I wanted to scream at her. To shout so loud that the surrounding houses would head. I wanted to cry out, “What do you want me to do? Make out with a girl right here right now? To stick my tongue down a woman's throat right in front of you!?” The fact that it seemed that I had to convince someone that I was indeed bisexual was frustrating enough, but when it was my mother, who had claimed to love and support every decision i would make and to help me through hard times was too much. I wanted to hate her because of how demeaning those words were. How condescending and disbelieving they were. It was as if she were an atheist, trying to be told that god existed. Not convinced without absolute proof and divine intervention. I thought she hated me in every way, to try and demean a part of me which I found so hard to love, that I wanted her to love, and to understand. It was a part of me that I had fought hard to understand, and fought hard to believe in. And she took it to the ground and crushed every belief I had in it right in front of me. All whilst standing in the same spot.
The problem was, her words cut deep. I couldn't hate her because everything she had said was caused by my coming out. So instead of hating her, I blamed myself in any way I possibly could. I blamed myself for coming out early. I blamed myself for my sexuality. I blamed myself so that I could still pretend that it wasn't the fault of my mother.
I won’t deny that I cried.
I cried in a room I shared with my brother and sister, who were still downstairs watching TV. I sat and I cried into my pillow and tried to muffle the tears. I had no wifi connection, so I couldn’t talk to my friends and ask them for guidance. For the first time in my life, I felt completely and utterly alone, whilst surrounded by other people.
The most devastating part came when my dad came into the conversation, when we were back in the country we lived in.
I was called downstairs by the both of them, and they sat me down. It felt more like an intervention than anything else to be honest. I felt like what I was was wrong. And that they wanted to stop it by any means necessary. Though there are some decisions I agree with due to our location, and the strict illegality of homosexuality where we lived, I would also like to say that there are better ways to phrase a lack of acceptance to your children. A better way to deal with what I was. There were parents of my queer friends whom I met who were completely supportive of their children. Parents that lived in the same place my parents did. Parents who would have suffered the same consequences as mine should their child ever be found out. Parents who were supportive in the face of that. Now that I look back on my parents' decisions, I see fear of consequences, rather than love and support for their daughter.
My dad said that he thought it was a phase. And whilst he did think that, he couldn’t stop me from feeling the way I felt. That was the only supportive thing he said.
He went on to tell me that I was to keep my door open at all times to my bedroom. That I was never to talk to the girl I had a crush on in private. That I was to have my wifi monitored by them to make sure that I wasn’t searching anything "suspect." Overall, it felt like I was being convicted for a crime that I had yet to commit. It felt like every ounce of privacy I had was being stripped away. I didn't deserve privacy or trust. I was being monitored, as if I wasn’t trustworthy, as if I was a vagabond or a problem. It made me feel like my sexuality was a problem. I was a problem.
He told me I was to never sleep over at my friend's house, in case I was to force myself on her.
I must confess, dear reader, that in this moment I still feel a lump in my throat as I write down my parents' distrust for my sexuality. I remember thinking about how, just a month before I had come out, I had been completely trustworthy, and now I was a supposed predator and a potential rapist, all because my crush was female. How to tell your parents that their words made me hate touching my friends, that their words made me avoid them for months, and made me isolate myself in my own mind? How to tell the people that raised you, and claimed they would support you no matter what, that their words were the most damaging to me, when they claimed it was for my wellbeing?
They forbade me to come out to my family, and stripped me of my right to talk about my sexuality with anyone.
The funny thing is, when they forbade me from coming out to my friends (for fear of my friends outing me to the government because "you never know") I wanted to scream at them that I had already told all of them. That I trusted people, some whom I had barely known for two years, with the knowledge of my sexuality sooner than I trusted the people who raised me, for fear of the exact reaction I was getting from them.
Though they were supportive about my goals in terms of a career, and though they supported the subjects I chose for my A-levels (Highschool Juniors and Seniors for American readers), I still felt that I was always on the outside of their trust and their support, because of the fear they had of being found out. I wasn't their daughter anymore, I was a liability.
This state of coming out is rarely portrayed in the media. It would take too much time to explain how degrading it is to the relationship with the family, however what I tend to call limbo is something commonly experienced by the LGBTQ+ community, and often ends in conditional support when the sexuality is not rejected, so long as it isn’t talked about, so long as none of the "guidlines" set down are broken. Guidelines such as “never act upon your sexuality” and “never tell anyone.” It is better than being kicked out and left homeless—hell you get a roof over your head and a meal, but the relationship parents may have put 16 years into with their child will forever be compromised, and as such, most trust your child has in you after this is gone permanently.
My very sexuality was put into question, simply because of one phrase from my mother. I call myself a predator and am disgusted with myself and my attraction to the "fairer sex" because of how my father thought I would force myself on a friend. There are moments when I try to convince myself that I am lying, and that I am straight. But I am not, but their words hurt me, and made me wish I was.
I never told my parents anything after that. I thought that anything I said would be invalidated by them. When my studies hurt me so much I would stay up 'til 1 AM having panic attacks, I stayed quiet. I never told them about how badly I was being stretched between subjects. If something was hurting me, I kept it inside. I avoid talking about queer politics with them now, because most times it just hurts me to hear how much they disagree with things that I find very comforting. I never insult the God my mother worships, for fear of insulting them, and yet when another celebrity comes out, strengthening the community, they scoff and tear them down, regardless of if I am in the room or not.
The point of this story is simply; think of the child whose world was created by your words, and how badly those words can damage someone forever. Think of how your reaction can make or break your relationship, and make sure to think long and hard about not just the moment when you utter those words, but the long scale scar it can leave.
We are no longer in the Arab country we lived in, and have vacated to England, and though we are now living in a much more liberal country, I'm still afraid to be me.
Disclaimer: All names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.