My story isn’t the usual one where a young man realizes he’s different and struggles through school to find himself. I actually did well in high school and didn’t experience the heartbreaking bullying stories I hear from some young people who struggle. I had a strong ability to suppress my feelings, the ones that I couldn’t accept. I dated a few girls and even had a steady girlfriend for a while. In college being very focused on my studies helped me ignore anything else. At age 25 I finally came to a realization about myself and began my journey. But it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I came out to my parents, and only then to protect their feelings from a religious zealot ex-girlfriend who decided that she needed to tell them my truth. I wanted them to hear it from me before they heard the wrong version from her. I didn’t want them to suffer for who I was.
Flash forward quite a few years and in my early forties, after many years of giving to my family and protecting their feelings, I asked one thing in return. I wanted to marry my male partner of three years and wanted my family around. They declined. And my brother declined as well. It would be easier to say that it was due to their religious beliefs and the brainwashing of their church. That would let them off the hook, in a way. But my parents are anything but religious. Conversely, I am the one with more of a faith and relationship with God, I would say.
After some thought, I made the difficult decision of suggesting that maybe we should just break off our relationship and no longer be a real family. After all, they hadn’t seemed to really love me most of my life due to my sexual orientation. It was the unspoken issue in our family. When I suggested that maybe we just call it quits, they seemed to like the idea and I never heard from them again. It was probably a relief to them, in fact. At the time I said, “You never wanted a gay son and I have always wanted parents who accept me for who I am…so none of us is getting what we want.”
The sadness of it all was eventually replaced by indifference, but I have to say that the most unexpected feeling was immediate. When I realized they were out of my life and that I would no longer have to deal with their lack of support, their lack of love for me, it was literally like someone took a weight from my shoulders. I felt lighter and free. I felt like I was embarking on a new chapter in my life, one with no ties to my small hometown and my small-minded family.
I don’t resent them or hate anyone. I’m just glad to be free of them. I have been asked at times if my parents were still alive, and I’ve sometimes answered honestly, “I don’t know.” But at other times, I have said, “No.” Both answers are the truth because in a sense THAT family is dead, at least for me. My new family is what matters. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t wish my parents or my brother and his family any ill will. I hope they are as happy as I’ve made myself.
I remember that I had a much older cousin who moved to California as soon as he was old enough to do so. I found out later that he was gay. And I found out that he died and his family didn’t even know if for almost a year because they talked that infrequently. I think about Mike every once in a while. I now know how that can happen and why a family can choose separation and closing their hearts over love and acceptance, because to love someone who is not like you can be too painful for some.
So, I strive to accept people who are different from me. When I succeed, it’s because of what I learned from being ignored and exiled by my family. In a sense they gave me a great gift. Maybe I am more able to care because they could not.