December 15, 2018 at 9:34 am EST | by Michael Radkowsky
Coming out to only one parent creates tension, drama
coming out to parents, gay news, Washington Blade

People often are capable of growth when life challenges them.

Hi Michael,

 

I came out to my mom three years ago, but not to my dad. I had felt like my mom would be accepting and I was right. She was not real happy, but has generally been supportive. 

 

I was afraid to tell my dad. He is far-right and a little bigoted, prejudiced against anyone who isn’t just like him. My mom said I absolutely can’t tell my dad because he’d never accept me and she’s afraid he’d kick me out of his life and want to disinherit me. 

 

I think she might be right but am not sure. In spite of his being narrow-minded, he is my dad and has been loving and kind to me for my whole life. Just one example, he worked a second job to put me through college. I would be heartbroken if he stopped talking to me.

 

Now Christmas is approaching and I’m planning on going home to my parents. But I’m dreading the trip. Each year it gets harder to keep my secret from him. I have to be careful about what I say and be really vague about my life in D.C.

 

I’ve been open with my brother and sister. While they’re supportive of me, they’re also fearful that our dad would have a bad reaction.

 

I feel uncomfortable when we’re all together because I can’t be honest about my life and who I am. It’s depressing that my family is so dysfunctional. 

 

I can’t imagine keeping this up for the rest of my father’s life. But I’m afraid my dad will reject me and that the rest of my family will be angry if I tell him and our family blows up. 

 

Also, my mom is worried he will be mad at her for keeping this secret from him.

 

I’m scared of his reaction, I’m scared of my family’s reaction and yet I don’t want to keep hiding.

Michael replies:

This is why people come out. It is crazy-making to hide who you are from people you love.  Doing so makes it impossible to be close to them. Keeping big secrets is corrosive to our relationships and sometimes to our souls.

Yes, when we come out we sometimes gravely upset the people we tell, who have their own ideas about whom they want us to be. 

But it’s not your job to pretend to be someone you are not in order to keep your dad from getting angry or to maintain your family’s equilibrium. Your life is yours to live as you see fit. 

With regard to your mom and siblings being angry if you come out to your father: You’ll have to decide if you would rather lie about your life to keep them comfortable or deal with their possible wrath.

About your mom being concerned that you’ll reveal her dishonesty: Coming out to one parent but not the other creates problems. We’re either asking one parent to lie to the other or asking that parent to do the hard work of coming out for us to the other parent.

Your mom is now colluding with you to keep this secret from your dad. The question is, do you want to stay stuck in this mess or work to get out of it, even if she is upset by your telling your dad the truth about your life?

I’m curious why your family is tightly organized around appeasing your father’s temper and prejudices. What has gone on in your family’s past that leads all of you to be so afraid of him? Has he ever been violent or cut people off out of anger? 

Given your family’s behavior regarding your dad, I suggest you consider working with an LGBT-positive therapist who is skilled in family dynamics and family therapy, to help you carefully consider and plan your upcoming moves. Doing so would enable you to work on your own and also with family members (if they were willing to join for some sessions) toward having a less fearful life going forward. 

One more thing to consider: You say your dad loves you, and he certainly sounds like he has been a dedicated father. Maybe, despite your family’s fears, he is capable of growing beyond his prejudices. People often are capable of growth when life challenges them.

But regardless of whether your dad is willing to accept you as you are, you don’t have to keep playing your relationship with him the way you are playing it, if you don’t want to continue lying.  You’re an adult. While it would be painful, you would be able to survive even if your father responded negatively.

 

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.

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