I am a 22 year old gay man. I live with my parents when I am not at school, and I am a fairly model son. I attend the top university in my state and get a fair GPA. However I have been told many times that I am basically not allowed to express myself as I would like many times. I have been forced to tone down my already pretty tame lifestyle. I have been asked to not “act” gay many times in my life. I have also heard many bigoted and racist slurs inside my home. I feel like my parents are just ashamed of me and will never truly support me. I guess the biggest question is do you think I should try to distance myself from them and just move on with my life.
Well, that depends. As we’ve said before, when you come out, you begin the process of what we call “trimming the fat”. If there’s anyone in your life who values their prejudice more than their relationship with you, then they’re not worth keeping around. Close family is always different, though, since they are your flesh and blood. And you parents? That’s about as flesh and blood as you can get. Like it or not, it’s difficult to write off your parents. There are biological imperatives at play. You are hard wired to feel something for your biological parents.
Here’s the thing, though. Your parents are also hard-wired to love and care for you. I’ve seen instances where parents have eventually come around and accepted their gay kids. As much as you may want their love and acceptance, there’s a definite possibility that they also carry a love for you that can make it possible for them to come around. But you’ll never be able to find that out if you continue to follow orders. Right now, they know that they have control over you. At present, they don’t have to worry about choosing between their beliefs and their relationship with their son. They are currently eating their cake and having it too. To them, your gayness could still be just a phase, and the fact that you’re “toning it down” might seem to them like they’re successfully disciplining the gay out of you (that might be the case, I don’t know your situation).
Point is, you’re going to have to stand your ground and assert yourself. You need to make it clear to them that, one, this is a part of who you are and not just a phase or a lifestyle choice, and two, if they want to continue having a relationship with you, they need to learn to accept you somehow. Once you call their bluff, so to speak, they start to experience what psychology-types call “cognitive dissonance”, which is the kind of discomfort a person feels when their beliefs and their actions don’t align. I’m sure you’ve experienced moments like that. They may not have been as profound, but everyone experiences it. So what happens? More often than not, a person’s beliefs alter to accommodate a new behavior or new circumstances. After all, it’s easier to change your beliefs than it is to change your behaviors or your circumstances. Many bigots are able to hold their beliefs because they are insulated from the people that they judge. As soon as the problem shows up on their doorstep, they often behave differently. This is why coming out and being visible is so important. How many straight allies rally for our cause because they’re close to someone who is LGBT?
Now, I must caution you, your parents are not guaranteed to come around. There is a possibility that, once confronted, they will hold fast to their bigoted beliefs. There’s even a slight risk of violence. If that does happen, then I defer to what I said in my first paragraph. Life is too short to associate with people who bring you down. Therefore, in that scenario, it unfortunately does become necessary to distance yourself from them. Keep in mind, though, that just because they don’t come around at first does not mean that they won’t in the future. Perhaps it will take them several months or even a few years for them to realize their mistake. It may become necessary for them to see you make something of yourself on your own for them to realize that being open is a vital part to your happiness. Also, when asked by a teenager how to deal with parents, I always encourage them to proceed with caution, since they may still depend on the parental unit for support. However, you’re 22, which means that you’re reaching that point where it’s time to start thinking about flying the nest anyway.
Nevertheless, the bottom line is this: this is your life to live, not theirs. Thus, you need to do something with your life that makes you happy first and foremost. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care about anyone else’s happiness at all, but you need to put yours first and foremost. If you allow yourself to bend to the will of others, then your happiness will depend on those other people. Since there’s no way for you to fully control other people, that would mean that you are not in control of your own happiness, which is a dangerous way to live. You deserve to be out and have a social life and even find a boy whom you love and who loves you back. Better yet, you have the right to dictate what you do with your life. So exercise that right. Take that leap. I guarantee, whether you have your family’s support or not, you’ll find a way to land on your feet.