Coming Out in Social Situations
Coming Out in Social Situations
by Emma Tattenbaum-Fine
“Hi, I’m Emma and I have two mommies.”
That’s how I used to introduce myself in preschool.
I used to out my lesbian parents all over town. I’d roll down the window at the gas station and lean out to the guy filling up our red Honda with regular unleaded. “Hey, I have two mommies,” I’d proclaim from the backseat. It never failed to surprise and confuse. My mom would calmly adjust the mirrors, pretending that her sexuality wasn’t being discussed with a stranger.
It gets more complicated, though, when you’re an adult, expected to behave with subtlety and tact, and can no longer simply rely on being adorable.
Perhaps you are still looking for the right ways to explain to your community that your kid is gay. Here are some scenarios you might encounter and here are some ways that I suggest handling them, based on my somewhat parallel experience.
Scenario 1: Your daughter’s a lesbian and you realize that your neighbor has not yet put that together.
YOUR NEIGHBOR (eating Halloween candy out of the bowl in your living room) How was your weekend visiting Sarah? What’s the news? How’s her job? Is she dating anyone?
YOU We had a great time! She seems happy with her new job and yeah, she is seeing someone, actually.
YOUR NEIGHBOR Is this a guy she knows from college? From work? Do tell!
YOU She actually met her in a coffee shop, of all places. She works nearby and her name is Nina. I haven’t met her yet, but I heard all about her. Sarah’s doing well. It was a great trip. Got any upcoming travel plans?
So, without making a big announcement or disrupting the flow of polite conversation, you have clarified that your daughter is dating a woman. You did this with some heavy-handed pronoun use, but actually, if you think about it, this is the conversation of the future: one in which a person’s sexuality does not stop traffic. If you feel comfortable with the person to whom you’re speaking, be the change you want to see and go for it.
If you set a tone of nonchalance, you may just get one in return. If you get a response that you don’t like, you have a few options: you can be patient with this friend until he/she comes around, or you can determine that a friend who condemns your daughter’s sexuality is simply one less friend you need to hold onto.
Scenario 2: Your son’s ballet class has just ended. A fellow parent leans over to whisper in your ear, “I can’t believe there’s a boy in this class. What are his parents thinking? It’s going to turn him gay, if it hasn’t already.”
FIRST: Take a deep breath and let it out. Are you ready, soldier? Yes, you are.
YOU Hm, that’s an interesting concern. I’ve read about that, actually. Extracurricular activities don’t turn children gay and neither do parents. That’s my son, Aaron. He loves to dance and my husband and I support him in that.
BALLET MOM Oh my God. I’m so sorry. I had no idea.
YOU Listen, it’s a common misconception, and you’re not the first person to bring it up. I’m really proud of my son for doing what he loves. I’m Catherine, by the way. What’s your name?
BALLET MOM I’m Susan and my daughter is Lilly: over there in the purple leotard. We’re having a barbecue on Sunday. Do you want to join us? Lots of the dancers and moms will be there. Your family is invited.
Sometimes bravery is the only option. Remember, you are combatting ignorance, and ignorance can be fixed. Ignorance in good people is a malleable foe, and you are a formidable force. In other words, you’ve got this.
Regarding my parents’ sexuality: I have, by omission, at select times, lied. Or talked in a sort of robotic fashion to avoid pronouns. I don’t owe anybody anything by way of information, and neither do you. It’s never your job to be an ambassador for LGBTQ issues if you don’t feel safe doing so. However, the times you do speak honestly, you are trailblazing and the impact is powerful. Eat your Wheaties and do the best you can.
I’ve watched my parents in a million different situations as they’ve mitigated their identity-sharing to a degree that kept them safe, but also honest. Observe your children. See how they share and how they don’t in various situations and perhaps you can take your cues from them.
To their credit, I have always felt that my moms pushed themselves to the outer limits of their comfort zones. I think that’s a good rule of thumb for “being the change you want to see.” Push yourself to err on the side of patience, education, and bravery for yourself and others while remembering to take care of your heart. You don’t have to share until you’re ready. When you are ready, you will be a dynamic force in your child’s life and for other LGBTQ families. Welcome aboard! I salute you.
Emma Tattenbaum-Fine is a comedian who writes for The Huffington Post “Gay Voices” and Everyone Is Gay/My Kid Is Gay. Her comedy has been featured on Jezebel, BUST Magazine, Gawker; in Time Out NY and Comedy Central’s Indecision 2012 in Tribeca. She has appeared on PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton, with Reggie Watts in a web series for JASH and also on Amy Poehler's Smart Girls at the Party. She has created content for Google's Original Channels, Funny or Die, and as a sketch comedian with a residency at YouTube's NY studios.