Sometimes coming out doesn’t have to be an uphill battle.
by Blake Hayes
Photo by William Denson
“Oh cool… I heard that was good.” Okay, so maybe giving my parents the Brokeback Mountain DVD for Christmas wasn’t the best way (or time) to start a coming-out conversation.
I guess my hope was that they’d ask me something like “Is there something you want to tell us?”
Duh, I’m gay! Or maybe, “Oh, have you seen this movie?” Yes, with my boyfriend!
But nope, all I got was, “It played at the Arts Cinema downtown. Heath Ledger is supposed to be great. Here, open this one from Grandma!”
Well, crap. So much for the subtle approach. “Oh, she sent another extra-large pair of pajama pants from Maine. How. . . sweet!”
So another Christmas went by without telling my family I am gay.
What was I waiting for? Why couldn’t I just bring it up on my own? Why did I need Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger to start the conversation? (And now that I think about it, why couldn’t they be there in person?!)
Turned out I never had to start the conversation anyway. The next year I was 22 and living in New York City with my boyfriend at the time. Oh, and we were living with my aunt, all in the same small apartment. (Yes, I was obviously out to her, but still hadn’t told my parents.) My dad had even helped us move in, so he had met Brendan. Yet somehow he still hadn’t figured out what was going on. (Why didn’t we have two beds?) I was just gonna have to grow the balls to come out with it myself.
Two months after the move-in I was home for Thanksgiving, and as my mom was driving me to the train station to head back to New York, we got to talking about my younger brother’s girl troubles.
“So, what about you?” she prodded. I rolled my eyes, “Mom… what do you think?”
“I think you and Brendan are an item!”
“Yesss!! Duh!” I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally!
“Yeah, I’ve known for a while,” she said.
“I’m sorry I never told you; I didn’t want to make a big deal about it. I knew it would be fine.”
“Of course, we love you no matter what.”
The train ended up being 45 minutes late, so we got some unexpected extra time to talk. No, the high school girlfriend and I never had sex. Yes, I absolutely had a crush on Michael White in kindergarten. (I ran home after the first day of school and told my mom I thought he was “really cool.”) And yes, Brendan is a good guy.
Unlike many other folks who have to tell each family member their “secret” individually, once my mom knew, I was out to the entire family. I think even my distant cousins in Italy knew within a week.
A month later, instead of bringing them a gay cowboy DVD, I brought Brendan home for Christmas. (Why wait?) My family—including my construction worker dad, grandma from Maine, and my 88-year-old great aunt—embraced him warmly.
And since that Black Friday drive with my mom, my family and their friends and neighbors have embraced equality. Coming out makes a difference.
Now, is coming out during the holidays the best plan? I guess that depends on your family. If it’s going to cause more stress and “ruin” their Christmas, probably not. Save it for a secular day. But if you’re from an open-minded bunch like my family, not strictly religious or socially conservative, it is a time when a lot of folks who care about you are together and happy, and perhaps more receptive to embracing the honest and true “you.”
An open, honest, out person is a beautiful gift for any family, regardless of how long some relatives might take to cherish it. And it’s also a gift to the LGBT community. The more we come out, the more personal the struggle for equality becomes. And the more we win.
After I came out, my grandmother in Maine—the one who sends the XL PJs—made sure to go out and vote in support of marriage equality when it first came up in 2009. We lost that round, but knowing that my 80-something-year-old grandma marked a ballot in support of me—and my community—was a personal win.
And last month she did it again—and this time marriage equality won in Maine and three other states. I have no doubt there were other grandmas, or aunts or uncles or brothers or sisters or parents, who wanted it to pass for their own gay family member. That’s the power of coming out.
Whether it’s during the holidays this year or sometime in the near future, I encourage you to have that conversation. Give your family the gift of the open, honest you. It never goes as badly as you think it will. And if you need my old Brokeback Mountain DVD, let me know.
With this article, Blake Hayes starts a monthly column for OutSmart magazine.