Coming Out to a Tolerant, Not Accepting, Parent
Coming Out to a Tolerant,
Not Accepting, Parent
by Steve Reaugh
This sounds like a very difficult situation for all involved. I want to start by saying that I hope everything goes well, and that your daughter’s father accepts her as the same loving, wonderful child he’s always known.
The first and most important thing I can advise is this: if you haven’t already, reach out to your local PFLAG chapter. The support you can receive from PFLAG may be instrumental in helping your daughter’s father better understand the LGBTQ spectrum. PFLAG can also find a safe and welcoming space where all three of you can dialogue. This doesn’t have to all be up to you. There’s help out there, and the good folks of PFLAG can certainly offer it. You can search for your local PFLAG chapter here.
Second, does your daughter feel comfortable coming out to her father? If she shares your apprehension, you might find some important assistance with PFLAG—but it may also be a signal that your daughter needs some more time to become comfortable and confident with herself before she takes that step. I know that there are some things that I didn’t tell my father for years after I came out, because he has been similar to how you’ve described your daughter’s father: tolerant, but not quite accepting. On those awkward phone calls with him, he’d ask if I’d reconsidered “just trying girls out a few times,” or how I could be so sure I was gay if I hadn’t had any kind of sexual experiences yet. I would cough and change the subject, nattering on about some new recipe I was trying for dinner. A minute later, he’d find a way to end the call. I just didn’t have the confidence yet to have a real conversation with him—to enlighten us both instead of avoiding it. That went on for years. All of this is just to say that I wouldn’t want your daughter to feel like she needs to talk to her father before she’s ready—and I’m sure you don’t want her to feel out of sorts, either.
Third, even if your daughter is ready to tell her father, don’t forget how important you are to her, too. She knows that she is never alone, but that doesn’t always come to the forefront of our minds when we’re in tough spots like these. Continue to be there for her. If you’re the chatting type, have a sit-down or two more than you normally do. If you two prefer to do things together, find something easy, low-key, and fun you can do together—and that won’t embarrass her in front of her friends (heaven forbid, right?). Find out how she’s feeling, and you’ll know what to do to help her. Keep telling her how proud you are of her. She might not show it, but she’s listening, and she loves you for reminding her of it.
Finally, when the time comes for those dialogues with her father—and there will be many—all three of you will have moments that test your patience. This is what helped me: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither will acceptance. Any or all of you will have moments when you lose your patience and say things you don’t mean—I know I certainly did. Taking a break for things to process, be it an hour or a few days or even weeks, can help. Just don’t close down the lines entirely. Make it clear that your priority here is the same as his: to continue guiding and loving your daughter as best as you know how. Keep that love at the forefront so that perhaps, as it has become and continues to be for me, her father will slowly start to come around. So many people keep opinions that change so radically when they begin to interact with the LGBTQ community, and I hope that this will be the case for all of you. I wish you all the best.
Steve Reaugh is a third-year candidate for an MFA in Creative Writing in prose at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. His writing, a hybridized blend of drama and memoir, focuses on the depictions and performances of an LGBTQ self in the public sphere, and how that self changes based on both acceptance and non-acceptance. In addition to teaching English and Creative Writing at the University of Alabama, he volunteers with the Tuscaloosa chapter of the Writers in the Schools initiative, which introduces creative writing instruction to Title I schools in Tuscaloosa and the surrounding area as a complement to academic success. He currently resides in Tuscaloosa, with his fiancé of 3 years, Josh, and their dog, Brooke.
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