Coming Out and Rebuilding Relationships
Coming Out and
by Tamara Reisdorf
I have received so many different responses to the awkward moment of telling someone that I am gay. These have included: “I love you,” “You don’t look like a lesbian…,” “Yeah! Let’s celebrate!” and “You know that the Holy Spirit can heal you, right?!” As you can imagine, some of these responses have tested my ability to be respectful and calm, and have forced me to take a deep breath and dig into the fear, confusion, and misconceptions from people I consider friends and family. But let’s start at the beginning.
When it occurred to me that I might be gay, after I stopped associating that thought with fear and hate, I did what I often do when I have no idea what to do: I researched like it was my job to learn the facts and data about homosexuality and society. This was a way of calming myself down. As an education scientist/social worker, I was very familiar with various learning theories and how processing information goes through different stages, but when it came down to my personal life, none of these facts seemed sufficient to order my confused thoughts.
Eventually, I made my way through several “outings” with friends, which went well overall, as most people were accepting. In fact, one of my closest friends from college was and still is the loveliest person ever. She slowly walked that coming-out path beside me, encouraging me to continue on my way and try new things step by step. Without her, I would have been much more lost, and the accepting love I received from her and her family is one of the most beautiful things I could ever wish for.
This love also helped give me strength for when I came out to my parents. I had no idea how my mother would react, and since my parents got divorced when I was young and I lived with my dad, I was surprised that I chose to tell her first. But somehow I had the feeling that it would be easier. So I told her one morning in a cafe, when I was home from college. I was shaking and freaking out in my head, but when I stuttered out the important words, nothing happened. She continued eating breakfast, and I was confused. “Umm, Mom…did you hear what I just said?” She assured me that she had, and that it was nothing outrageous. From her perspective, I just happen to be gay—just like I happen to have brown hair. “Okay, that was weird…” I thought, but overall, it was manageable.
The next part was coming out to my dad. While growing up, I had sometimes heard him and my grandma talking about a “faggot politician” or things like that, and this made me fear that the news that I am gay was not something he would celebrate.
Because I am horrible at speaking (in fact, I fear speaking in front of people and hate to draw attention to myself—a typical introvert!), I decided to write a letter and leave it in the kitchen a few days before I would leave to go back to college. So the night came, and after my dad read the letter, he stared at me for a long time. He did not say much that evening, but what would follow the next day shattered my world and made me question everything in my life. He told me then that I had betrayed him, that he was disgusted by me, that he could not imagine ever attending my future wedding, and that his job as a father was done. He had raised me for 21 years, but it was now time to go our separate ways. It broke my heart and made me question all the phrases parents say, like, “I will always love you,” and “You are precious to me.” In the aftermath of his response, I mistook his reaction as the absence of love. In that moment, I was not able to remember all of the information I know about how coming out is a process for the person you are telling, and that information can be digested or understood in stages. I felt like the voice in my head telling me that there was something wrong with me now had a new supporter.
After the shock, back at school I tried to gather all of my resources, from friends to books and organizations. I set a goal not to let my sexuality affect my relationship with my father. So I called him and started small, telling him what I had for lunch, and how work and university were going. I simply wanted to prove that I was still the same person. Throughout the next year, both my father and I thought about things and helped each other understand our perspectives. With every step my father made, I was so proud of him. I was also able to learn that his reaction was the only thing he knew how to do in the moment. My job as a social worker has shown me different families with so many struggles, but at the same time in each family, there is the love that keeps them connected. In my family, I simply tried to trust in this love, and it turned out well. Today my dad accepts and encourages me, and lately has even invited my girlfriend into his home. Even though the path was not always easy, I am looking forward to a happy future.
So as you can see, all the theory in the world cannot protect you from emotions and hurt. It is important to have a solid support system and give it time. But the most crucial things are the respect and never-ending love from the child and the parents to help lead the journey on both sides.
Tamara Reisdorf is a social worker based in Germany. She just started her masters degree and likes to research in the field of family counseling and gender studies. Besides studying she tries to advocate helpfulness in her daily life and can be found writing (often real letters on paper), reading, and listening to music most of the time. She is also participating in different social projects around various topics of social work.