National Coming Out Day - A Heterosexual Parent's Experience
I don’t see myself as much of a writer, but with recent events in my home life coinciding with National Coming Out Day, this entry is close to my heart, and I felt it worth sharing.
This isn’t my coming-out story, it is my son’s, retold through my perspective. My perspective is that of a 35-year-old heterosexual man. A bearded, tattooed, action movie-loving, Heavy Metal-listening middle-aged guy. Basically, I tick the box of every heteronormative stereotype. I probably unwillingly scare old ladies in the street.
Meanwhile, my son, Leo, at 12-years old is a street-smart, sassy, happy, empathetic icon in the making – he already has the fashion sense. Every parent likes to think that they’ve got the ‘Golden Child’, but it’s hard for me to believe otherwise when it comes to his intelligence, achievements, talents and magnetic personality. If he’s reading this, he’ll tell me to shut up. So, I guess we should add that he’s humble to that list.
A few weeks prior to writing this, my son messaged with an incredibly heartfelt message, not just to come out as gay, but more importantly, to express how much he wanted me to treat him in exactly the same way as I always have. It was a moment I’d anticipated for years, when it finally came, it came as a relief, I cried with happiness and smiled through the tears as I typed out my reply.
Of course, I would treat him the same.
No words can express how much I adore my child, how much I love him and even at frequent times, admire him. In brief, my reply told him that in a way, I had always known. I thanked him for opening up and for sharing this occasion which brought us even closer to each other.
I always felt that it was important for Leo to make that big step and tell me who he is, and it should never have been a conversation which I initiated. I knew that he had to choose the right time to make that important leap. To me, it was one of those ultimate acknowledgements of trust & comfortability between a parent and their child.
Leo's Mother & I (separated) have known for many years, since he was maybe 6 or even younger, that he would grow to be a part of the LGBTQ community. Of course, it would be easy to say we knew because he preferred dolls, make-up, dressing up, and imitating the female role models he adores. But there was something more. A certain ‘je ne sais quoi’, something far greater than stereotypes fulfilled. I know I certainly loved to dress up in my Mums clothing… I can't help but be reminded by the many photos taken by my Mum and my older sister of me in the pretty skirts and hair in bunches. That’s the thing about experimenting and exploring, not everything has to stick.
It's hard to describe what this "something" that I saw is. I can only tell you what I know. I know that Leo’s upbringing, the role models around him and how we openly encouraged feminine influences didn’t ‘make’ him gay. These factors simply allowed him to enjoy his identity as he learnt about the world. They allowed him to express himself in the ways he wanted to, not in the ways that a heteronormative society expects him to.
At 12-years-old, he’s grown from a curious toddler into a confident, expressive and talented trailblazer. He astounds me, amongst many others with his ever-developing skills with make-up and fashion, it’s a privilege and an inspiration to be considered a positive influence to this remarkable young human who I will always be proud to call my son.
From the day he first wore make-up in front of me, to our first wig, clothing and make-up shopping spree, to now, there has been no change in how we interact with each other. He’s not just my son, he’s my best friend, that bond between us is easily the most important thing in my life. We laugh together, cuddle up and watch films together, eat, play games, joke around and fart together. At no point do I need to tell him what he means to me and just how important he is to me, I know that he already knows, there’s an unspoken strength in the bond, I know that for as long as I live, nothing will feel stronger.
So, why did I feel the need to share this publicly?
You could call this an open love letter to my child, but this means more than that.
I wanted to not only share our experience with young people who are yet to come out and hopefully remove some of that fear and anxiety, but I also wanted to share a positive coming out experience which could inspire, shift perceptions, or just simply bring a smile to anyone who cares.
‘Coming Out’ shouldn’t be a hard thing to do, but I do believe that it should never be dismissed as a non-important event. It means everything in the world to the individual who is bracing for every negative repercussion that has bounded around their heads, possibly from the first moment that they knew themselves that they were a member of the LGBTQA community.
From my position, yes, I know that’s a straight white male position, I know, that deep down that no matter what pigeonhole a person falls into, they should still have the capacity to be open-hearted, loving and accepting.
From my position, I know that when you truly love a family member, friend or any other companion, it should be unconditional, ESPECIALLY when presented with information of your loved one’s true identity.
To any parent who denies their child of acceptance, truly ask yourself; why do you want to take the freedom of expression away from your child and the future adult they will become?
I won't lie - of course, I fear the intolerance and homophobia my son may encounter. But through his bravery, he’s shown me that this is no time to be living in fear and waste time about thinking about every possible catastrophic outcome.
When I start to think about how much freedom of expression there is today compared to 30, 20, 10 or even 5 years ago, I start to be grateful that he can be gay in a time when it isn’t a crime.
I start to be grateful of the shifts in public perception when it comes to the LGBTQA community, yes, it’s painfully slow, and the media will always tell us what we need to hear to live in fear, but when you step outside and drink in the real world, you start to remember, that generally, people are either kind to you, or too much in their own world to notice you.
You may ask why sexual expression matters to a 12-year-old; I’d start by responding that it has nothing to do with sex. It has everything to do with expression and building confidence, not within some false image projected to the world, but in their boundlessly ever-developing identity. I have no doubt that Leo has plenty more to discover about himself, whatever he finds, he’s got my undying support and embrace throughout his journey in life. Admittedly, I did have a small freak out about how I was going to have the ‘sex chat’ with him, given that I’m heterosexual with no experience in non-hetero relationships. Until it dawned on me, through the advise I sought from a number of both Gay & Straight friends, that orientation didn’t matter. I will still offer advice to make sure that he has happy and healthy relationships and make sure that they never felt pressured or do the pressuring.
I’ll always be there to answer heartbreak phone calls, I’ll still be giddy to hear him telling me that he’s in love for the first time, I’ll love meeting the other person who is worthy of my son’s affection. No matter what he needs to tell me, I’ll be here for him, without any shame or judgement reserved. My arms will be as open as they have been since the day he was born.
On that note, I just wanted to say, for all the people still biting their tongue on coming out, take the step when it feels right, be brave, but more importantly, be yourself.
To all supportive, open-minded parents - I salute you. Parents like us are paving the way for a world which embraces expression. From that, acceptance will grow, not only with regard to gender, or sexuality but also race and all aspects of culture. From our open hearts & minds will grow creativity, diversity, mindfulness & empathy. I know this level of freedom hasn’t always been around, and for anyone who has been burned by prejudice in the past, I’m truly sorry.
Leo, if you are reading this, please never stop being you, and remember that I, your family and all of our friends will love you for who you are, no matter what. I love you, little dude. Dad X