An Unconventional Coming Out
Cover image: Kaz Komatsu | @_kazkom_
“If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts.”
This is one part of an excellent Kurt Vonnegut quote, of which I have met not one, but both of the “parent-hurting” criteria.
Let me give you some background. My parents are both immigrants. My sister and I were born here. This isn’t an unfamiliar narrative yet, is it? Whilst they don’t exactly fulfil the stereotypes of immigrant parents (I wasn’t reprimanded when I decided to drop law to study arts), my coming out to them as bisexual a number of years ago was tricky, to say the least.
I think I’ve known that I liked both boys and girls for about as long as I can remember. Growing up in conservative South Sydney as a person of colour already branded me as the designated outcast, and being attracted to both boys and girls exacerbated this feeling.
However, I didn’t exactly have a word to identify my feelings, as the term ‘bisexual’ was unbeknownst to me until about early high school. Even then it wasn’t something I really identified with (I regarded my crushes on girls as VERY INTENSE FRIENDSHIPS). I think I understood what being gay meant, but queerness in general wasn’t something I’d ever really heard discussed, nor had I ever – to my knowledge – met a queer person. My first love, at around fifteen, was a boy. So I assumed, by default I guess, that I was straight like everyone else I knew.
I suppose as I grew up I gained a deeper understanding of the sexuality spectrum through osmosis – through the Internet, films and the books I read (I have a distinct memory of reading Joanne Horniman’s “About a Girl” in school which proved to be a sort of game changer). I guess I came to the conclusion that I fit the “Bi/ Pansexual” label, and so it stuck. Of course, at this point, no one in my life knew, and as far as I understood it wasn’t something I could blatantly go around announcing either.
This is when the story becomes unconventional, as I have a rather odd coming out story. Sometime during my schooling, I transferred to an arts high school to pursue theatre (a dream that crashed and burned, mind you). My parents were loving and supportive so no real issues arose from my chosen studies. The issue however, did lie in one small detail.
My mother was a teacher at my school.
I’m not joking. I’m sure by now you are realising where this may be going.
We worked out a system in which when we were at school we would behave as if in a professional environment. We really just kept to ourselves, aside from the car rides to and from school I received, much to the jealously and annoyance of my classmates. Everyone knew that I was her kid but thankfully no one really drew much attention to it.
Someway during this time, I met a someone, who later became my girlfriend. It was more or less a quintessential high school romance, one which I look back on fondly.
The problem? She happened to be one of the top students in my mother’s class. Even writing this now is making me beyond nervous.
Perhaps a month into us being together my mother confronted me. She said, “I know what is happening and I don’t like it”. The sentiment was not anger, more so confusion and sadness. I’m very close with her so it upset me immensely to think that such a large part of my life and identity was something that caused her discomfort. On multiple occasions I can recall approaching her to talk about it, only for her to change the subject. If I persisted, she would become distant, sometimes even cold. Once she even told me, “I feel numb thinking about this.”
Her reaction undeniably saddened me. Mostly because when I was dating a boy, she was happy for me and considered it a legitimate relationship. Dating a girl, however, was something of a phase in her eyes, or something to hide. My girlfriend felt awkward and ashamed, so we resorted to dating in secret. Being together at school became a source of anxiety. We were riddled with fear of a friend finding out, or worse a teacher, and word somehow getting back to Mum.
My father, on the other hand, had reacted quite differently. To this day we have not ever discussed my sexuality. I’m aware he has spoken to my mum about the “issue” on multiple occasions, and for the duration of the relationship he referred to my then partner as my “friend”, which drove my teenage self-up the wall, but he never overtly confronted me. I know that initially it was something which concerned him deeply, but he’s come to some kind of passive acceptance. I suppose now, some years later, they both have. Coming from conservative backgrounds, it’s tough for them both. The last thing I want for my parents, after all they’ve done for me, is to be a source of pain or embarrassment. And for a long while I considered exclusively dating men, for their benefit, which now in hindsight seems ridiculous.
I’ve realised that coming out is a process. It takes time, and yes, sometimes it doesn’t go as well as you’d like it to, but ultimately you love who you love. For me, it took a long time for my parents to realise that a relationship with a woman for me was just as genuine and loving as one with a man. I hope, over time, that they continue to grow and understand. Us queer folk have the hard task of cutting those around us some slack and giving them space to realise that our love is just as true, and beautiful as anyone else’s.
I say this, and yet I still struggle to identify openly as queer. When I have been in relationships with women, I shamefully dread the inevitable question of “so are you seeing anyone?” and have on multiple occasions referred to my partner as my close friend. I find myself consistently questioning why I continue to do this. Who am I trying to protect? Why should I fear that my relationship offends others? It’s a constant internal struggle, despite being technically out for a number of years now. I’m hoping that I get over it someday.
So that’s my two cents. I wish you luck if you are yet to come out, and if are already out, I applaud you. Evidently, it’s no easy feat.