I’m 24, a gay man, struggling to come out.
I told my parents I’m gay over the summer, hoping they would be supportive. Unfortunately, they were not accepting.
I was surprised at my mother’s extremely negative attitude because she is a worldly person and even has gay friends at work. But she is very religious, as is my father, and they told me that they will not accept their son living a gay life — meaning, being involved with another man.
They said that if I do proceed with living a gay life, they will cut me off.
Right now I’m working at a post-college job (low pay) so my parents are generously subsidizing my rent. I’m also hoping to start graduate school next fall, which they had agreed to pay for.
Without their help, I really couldn’t make ends meet at this point in my life and I certainly could not afford graduate school on my own. I’m hoping to go into a field that I love but which is not at all lucrative, so student loans are not something I could take on.
It’s not just the financial help. They have always been loving and generous with me. I am an only child and I have always relied on my parents for companionship and support. Growing up I didn’t really have friends. I’m scared of losing their love.
And yet, I don’t want to be single for the rest of my life.
I was dating someone over the summer. This is part of the reason I told my parents. It was too complicated to explain why I couldn’t talk when my mother would call in the evenings. I didn’t want to have to lie or come up with excuses all the time.
The guy I was seeing said he didn’t respect me when my mother would call and I would lie about being with him, so the relationship ended. I can understand his feeling and I am not sure I respect myself.
I feel pathetic. I’m hoping you can help me figure out a way forward.
Many of us grow up thinking it’s our job to be the person our parents want us to be. This makes perfect sense because our parents work to shape us in ways that they think are positive and we face consequences for letting them down.
When we’re young, we don’t have any say about the expectations that are imposed on us. But as we get older and are able to start thinking about who we are and who we want to be, we may want to live in ways that differ from how our parents live.
We can hope they will understand that we aren’t extensions of them. But that’s not always the case. When our parents have rigid belief systems and fixed expectations, they’re likely to have difficulty accepting ways of being that are outside of their experience.
As we move into adulthood, we become able to take care of ourselves. We can survive losing our parents’ emotional and financial support if we behave in ways they don’t like. Yet the prospect is still likely to be scary.
This is where you are now. You’re thinking that you can’t survive without your parents’ support. But that is a child’s reality. You’re an adult, so I’m pretty sure that you can find a way to stand on your own.
Yes, I get that things would be a lot more difficult materially. You must decide if the financial assistance your parents provide is worth giving up the life you want to live.
With regard to your parents cutting you off emotionally: Your letter makes clear that their support is based on your pretending to be whom they want you to be. That’s not support.
Nor would I use the word “loving” to describe parents who threaten to kick you to the curb unless you behave in the way they demand.
Your path away from feeling pathetic is to determine what it means to live your life in a way that you respect. That may mean living in a way that your parents don’t respect.
People are sometimes capable of growing beyond their limitations when pushed to do so. Perhaps your parents might accept the truth of your life over time if you hold your ground about who you’re while making clear that you want to remain close. They may decide that they don’t want to lose you, even if you don’t toe their line.
One more point: You need support in your life from people who don’t threaten to stop caring about you for being openly gay. Please strive to make such friends, both for your wellbeing and as a reality check. Doing so will put you on a collision course with your parents’ demand, but you cannot avoid this dilemma if you want to live your own life.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@michaelradkowsky.com.