This has been a #SpillSesh I have been meaning to do for a very long time. Ever since creating my page and blog, I regularly receive a stream of private messages, particularly from young and international followers, struggling with anti-LGBTQ families. They often ask me how to deal with the fear of retribution for coming out, or for those who already have, how to pick up the pieces and (quite literally) survive. While I can offer my best advice, I think it is crucial to hear from members of the community who have gone through these exact circumstances and how they are dealing. In Part 3, we hear from Joe…
- How old are you and where are you from? I’m 23 years old, born in Arkansas and raised mostly in Missouri. Currently living in Rexburg, Idaho.
- Are you currently out as LGBTQ+? If so, for how long and to whom? I came out to my parents and couple of religious leaders in 2014. Over the next two years I came out to maybe 3 people in total, and then at the end of 2016 I started coming out to my friends and 2 of my 7 siblings. In 2017, one of my brothers noticed that a lot of my friends on social media had pride flags on their profiles in June. He started spreading the rumor among my family that I was gay, and was later surprised when it turned out to be true (I don’t talk to him much, for obvious reasons. This isn’t even the worst thing he’s done to me). It went badly, to say the least, and I spent a couple of months staying with another one of my brothers and his family, mostly to show the family that I was still a part of it and wasn’t distancing myself on purpose (even though I am).
- If you did come out to your family, how did they react? Not great. They’ve spent most of their energy trying to convince me that it’s not a big deal (after 18+ years of telling me that who I marry is literally the most important decision of my life, in those actual words). They believe that it’s sinful and that I’m throwing away my chance at true happiness to embrace my sexuality, completely ignoring that living the way they want me to was causing severe depression and anxiety.
- What do you think your family’s main issue is with your sexuality? They’re all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons). They believe that God gives commandments as indications of how to live fuller, more joyous lives, and that one of his commandments is to only have sexual relations with a lawfully wedded partner, and that marriage should only be permitted between one man and one woman. They believe that by betraying these commandments, you are losing opportunities for greater happiness, greater blessings from God, and greater opportunities to become more like God. They believe that the only options are to be eternally married (even after death) to a partner of the opposite sex, or to be alone after death. Except that I was increasingly more depressed and anxious the longer I tried to force myself to fit a mold that didn’t work for me, and I’ve never felt more free than the moment I allowed myself to be me.
- Do you think anything will ever change how they feel about your sexuality? Not in major ways, but subtly. My parents have taken a more hands-off approach as of late, largely because they realized that the more they push the more I’ve actually grown a backbone and will push them right back. They still want me to be a part of the family, and so they’ve had to accept that there are aspects of my life that they can’t control and won’t agree with, and that the less they talk about it, the more smoothly things will go.
- Do you have any pro-LGBTQ+ allies in your family that can help the situation? If so, did you try to use them and what happened? Sort of. There are a couple of cousins I don’t really keep close contact with who are gay, transgender, bisexual, or genderfluid, but the only one I really used to help was my cousin who is also gay. All I really did was ask for advice on coming out to our family in particular and dealing with their reactions. It really helped, because his advice was to be patient with them. I’ve been getting used to the idea that I’m gay since I was 11. They’ve only had since I was 18, and I’ve been dealing with it every second of every day. They only deal with it when I force the issue. They make progress much, much slower than I do, and it took me 7 years before I breathed a word and another 4 years before I actually started dating guys (as opposed to having half-baked random hookups and feeling horribly about it later). I did stay with one of my brothers for a while as I was doing damage control when my family all found out. He’s always been something of a problem child for my parents, mostly because my parents can be overbearing and he doesn’t put up with it. So he got it, and said it doesn’t really make a difference. I go to him when I need to complain about the rest of my family.
- How does your family’s perception of your sexuality impact you day to day? It’s made it so that I’m still afraid to expose too much of myself except in face-to-face interactions with people I trust. I’m a fiction writer, and I’m still scared whenever I’m writing about LGBTQ+ characters; I’m afraid of being attacked for it, disowned for it, or even just that people will hate it and my career will be over before it begins. A lot of my own insecurities about my personality and so on have stemmed from that upbringing.
- Has your family’s reaction to your sexuality resulted in you creating an alternate family for support? It has, especially while I’m in college. I tend to cultivate small groups of very close friends who I share everything with. It’s served to make me much more stable, much more confident, and much less codependent on others for approval. With a lot of my friends graduating from college and moving away soon, I’m extremely grateful to have had them with me for the past couple of years, they’ve been absolutely essential in overcoming my more destructive mental health issues, and everywhere I go now, I find myself finding a few new confidants to rely on.
- Do you care anymore about how your family feels about your sexuality? Yes, but not much. I’ve tried to help them understand it from my point of view, and gotten essentially nowhere. I’m satisfied living my life on my terms.
- What advice would you give yourself on how to deal with this situation based on what you know now? Start working on accepting yourself. Realize that parents are just people who had sex, and that they aren’t going to be perfect raising you. Stop trying to become perfect and start accepting that you can just be yourself.
- What advice would you give another LGBTQ+ person struggling with an unaccepting family? Be patient. If you can find an outlet, there’s not really a need to stir up trouble and put yourself at risk. Stay safe. But also, some families seem harsh until it comes down to a family member, and suddenly they’re much more open.
Don’t rush anything, and work on getting independent.
- Any coping advice, particularly, for young readers who still rely on their families for financial support and have no option? Patience. It’s a waiting game. Get to work on becoming financially independent, see if you can find a support network of more accepting people who will help support you if things go south.
- Any other thoughts, comments, tips, advice, regrets? I wish I had a chance to be a teenager. I was pushed into growing up too early, and only got to cut loose, have fun, and be myself after I was 21 years old. There’s plenty of dark, sad stuff in the world without us adding to our own sadness. Find what makes you happy.