I grew up in Alabama – small towns, strong morals, Bible Belt Capital! I was (and am) extremely close to all of my family. I realized there was something “different” with me in 8th grade when we moved to a new town and the school was very “cliqueish”. Being the gay boy that I was (but didn’t yet know), I was into the best clothes, shoes, accessories, etc., so when I started my new school, the preppy crowd took me in and welcomed me. It wasn’t long, however, that they pushed me away just as quick as they accepted me.
I quickly went from “the sharp dressed new guy” to the lonely, depressed puzzled guy who was no longer welcomed at the lunch table or to hang out after school. Like everyone else, I was called fag, queer, and every other name in the book. I knew at this time that I was gay but I was so afraid to accept it. We were at church every time the doors were open. My Sunday School teacher taught against homosexuality and I knew no one who was openly gay. I was terrified of what the future held for me. I consider myself a strong person and I vowed that I would never let this secret out, as I was certain that it would destroy my family, friends, and the relationships that we shared. I was terrified that my conservative Southern Baptist family would kick me out of the house and disown me from their lives. To help hide my secret I had girlfriends and went on “dates” but never had a relationship that lasted long enough to become intimate.
I also had my “secret” relationships. I have only had a relationship with two guys and I had just met my partner of 8 years, Will. At the time, he lived about an hour from me and my family so I had to lie about where I was going anytime we wanted to be together. Finally, one day my mom had asked me to go with her to run some errands and I was driving and she turns to me and says, “I need to know if you are gay.” The love I have for my partner would not allow me to lie anymore and I said “Yes, I hope you understand that I am the same person I have always been and I hope you can love me still and accept this.” I had always feared her crying and being upset but she wasn’t. We continued on our trek and never skipped a beat. There’s a whole lot more to this part, but I want to skip on to a year later when my partner and I had decided to move to Tampa, Florida, where he is originally from.
My relationship with my family was better than I could have ever imagined it to be and I had come out to everyone by writing a very intimate letter to each member of my family, including my aunts, uncles and cousins. I wanted to explain that part of my life and how each person was special to me in a different way, so I couldn’t just write one letter and send it to everyone. The ones I feared would shun me the most turned out to be the biggest supporters. I did not receive one negative response to my coming out to my family. It was amazing to have this conservative family be so accepting of the only “out” homosexual in the family. I thought when we moved to Florida it would be the same.
I met my partner’s family and they were welcoming but there was a sense of tension from my partner’s father. He never said anything to me directly but I could sense the discomfort. Because of the distance that we lived from my family in Alabama, we had to make a decision on how we would spend holidays. We agreed that we would alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas each year, meaning one year we would spend Thanksgiving in Florida and Christmas in Alabama and vice versa. The first year in Florida, I missed my family very much so my partner was okay with me going home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The second year is where the problem came in. We went to Alabama for Thanksgiving and we were to spend Christmas in Florida with my partner’s family. My family had welcomed my partner just as they did my cousin’s husbands and wives to the family – there was never an issue. The second year, we were very excited about Christmas and were out doing some Christmas shopping when we received a call. My partner’s father said he wanted him to call him when we got home so they could talk; this was 3 days before Christmas. I was not welcome at the family’s Christmas gathering. This hurt both of us incredibly. I convinced my partner to go to his family’s Christmas gathering without me although he did not want to. I stayed home by myself on Christmas day because at that point there was not enough time for me to make arrangements to go home. I couldn’t understand why my conservative family was so accepting and my partners family who is not as conservative was so against me being present at a family gathering, so much that I was asked to stay home by myself on Christmas day. After the holiday and some very tense discussions, we all came to an agreement that the situation would not happen again. Years later, I can’t believe it ever happened in the first place. The family who didn’t want me around for “family gatherings” couldn’t be more accepting. We’ve been partners for 8 years now and we are both lucky to have the families that we have that are so supportive.
I always thought that because I was from the small town, conservative family, mine would be the first to turn us away but I was wrong. There’s obviously a lot more to the story, but my point in writing this is that if you are struggling to tell your family, or scared that they will not accept you, it’s not always as bad as you think it might be. Give your family, who loves you, more credit, and give them time. I should have given my family more credit in the beginning; my only regret is that I didn’t tell them sooner. I also gave my in-laws time and we have become one, united, supportive family. I find the struggles that I have encountered along the way have not been as extreme as I ever thought they would be. I am thankful for everything that has happened in my life and I hope that we continue with the growing acceptance of homosexuality.