by: Aran Yoo
I clearly remember discussing this with my sister as a 16-year-old sophomore in high school. I told her, “I think that I want to change my wardrobe to only having polos and button-downs.” She nodded pensively and replied, “That sounds cool.”
Later she told me, “Of course I knew you were gay. You walked like a dude in your prom dress.”
Although I had a gigantic heart-breaking crush on a teammate playing high school basketball, I didn’t actually come out until years later during the middle of my college career. I had written an email to a friend explaining something — I don’t remember what it was about — and asked my mom to read it and tell me what she thought. The next day she came up to me and, in a surprisingly shy way, asked, “What confusion about your sexuality are you talking about?” I didn’t know what she was talking about at first, but the rush of fear came quickly and suddenly from my chest traveling quickly to my neck, ears and through my closeted gay brain. After I asked “What?” for the second time, I decided to tell her, even though I had never thought I would. By that time, my sister had quickly walked out of the room.
While my coming out was first taken as a joke and with an understanding attitude of She’s just confused, the situation eventually turned out to be a whirlwind of accusations and ongoing fights between my mother and me. Reflecting on it now, I remember it from the beginning with my mom getting increasingly nervous, confused and scared. She told me that it would be hard for me to get a job and that it was a sin. (Weirdly, even though my mom was an adamant believer in God, the you’re-going-to-hell argument came last and as a weak, last-resort attempt.) Of course, comments on my dark clothes and phone calls asking where I was started sprouting up.
The thing is: my response to her reactions from the very beginning to the end was the same as hers. I was nervous, confused and scared. I was angry and defensive — my emotions were all over the place and inconsistent. Most of the time I would avoid her as much as possible. My responses to anything would be hostile, and I often stayed out as late as I could. Once in a while, I’d try to be “nice” and try to explain to her how I felt. But most of the time, I didn’t trust her and dismissed any attempts to sit down and talk. Her emotions were on just as much of a roller coaster as mine.
Because my mom recently passed away, I’ve been particularly insistent in reflecting about the past. One of the things I would tell her is how I wish things could have been different after I came out to her. It’s true that I was forced out of my apartment for a summer, that she was over-bearing, and that her accusations were both untrue and hurtful.
However, I now realize how much of a surprise my coming out to her was. Despite the fact that my being a huge dyke could be spotted 10 miles away by most homos and homo-friends, she had no idea. I know that she read several books on how to be a good parent before I was born: how to avoid spoiling your child, how to get your child into an Ivy League school, etc. But never did she take the how-to-react-when-your-child-tells-you-she’s-flaming class. I realize she was genuinely scared for me and my future but being drenched in my own insecurities and fear, I ignored any questions of how she might be feeling. I intentionally did things that would piss her off. I didn’t think about what she would going through and didn’t even consider the cultural and generational differences between us that might have exasperated the gulf of communication in the middle of us.
Right now, a year later, I’m at a point in which I can collect my thoughts. I’m much more comfortable with not only my sexuality, but myself as an individual. My mom’s understanding of my sexuality improved a little before she passed away, and I also have a great support system of friends and family that I didn’t have at that time.
Coming out is a trying time emotionally, physically and even financially. Thinking straight (no pun intended) is hard during that time period. But in my case, the situation turned out better than we often expect, and I believe there needs to be a change of perspective. Of course, coming out has a different context for every person, and I don’t want to be insensitive when situations may be really hard at home. However, instead building walls in between ourselves and our loved ones, we need to communicate with those around us.
A friend of mine recently came out to me and she’s been really stressed out over the idea of letting her parents know. Being from an extremely religious family, she knows that she may receive severe consequences – not only for herself but for her siblings and her family’s reputation as well. She told me a couple of months ago that she’s easing her family into it. She’d attempt conversations with her dad about her “gay friend” and question her religion’s rules about homosexuality. One time, she simply and jokingly said, “I don’t really like boys.”
And her parents are getting the point.
They’re having late night conversations about their “lost” daughter and they’re dropping hints back like also simply, but not jokingly, saying, “I won’t have a lesbian daughter.”
Even before she comes out, my friend is angrily engaging in a silent argument with her parents. The key word here is silent. Both sides are preparing for what’s to come and stocking up. My friend already has plans for when she will have to become financially independent. Neither side seems to even consider having a conversation with the goal of trying to understand one another. For my friend’s parents, they see that the walls are being built and preparations are being made and they, in turn, react quickly, defensively and with fear.
Maybe it is best to do things like allow some time away from each other. I know that it helped the situation between me and my mom. But it’s so important to remember that this time apart isn’t to “get away” from the other, but time to reflect, calm down and prepare for a conversation that will bring people back together.
People want to come out to their friends and family because they not only want to be honest about who they are but also want to have a more authentic relationship. A goal of coming out is to maintain relationships with others and that’s often forgotten in the midst of the confusion and anger of the coming out process. I admit that it’s frustrating to see that queers seem to always be the ones constantly tip toeing around others’ feelings. Time and time again we’re subjected to being the “bigger person.” But isn’t it worth it for the people we care about? It takes both peoples’ patience, humility and empathy to maintain a relationship.
Aran Yoo is a student at University of Illinois at Chicago studying Biology and English. Being fortunate to have the same dream as her Asian parents, eventually she will be a doctor. Aran has spent most of her Undergraduate career in a Molecular Biology and Genetics Lab; however, she is more interested in melding her interests in the humanities with her medical career. She is particularly interested in mental health, mental health services and health of immigrants.