When Coming Out to Your Liberal Parent Doesn’t Go As Planned --creative nonfiction by Sonya Azencott
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
I was sitting on the porch, leaning into the wooden chair, painted in white that was flaking off, leaving little black speckles peeking through. My mother sat herself down as well, wiping beads of sweat off her forehead; we had just gotten back from a walk, and it was a typical Houston day: hot and so humid that the air seemed to seep through my skin. We had walked by ourselves, without my brother, which wasn't usual, and all I had on my mind was a letter I had just received from a friend of mine. I had previously come out to him- though I didn't quite consider it "coming out"- and had asked him for advice, since he was openly bi. My opinion was, and still is, that coming out in a family like mine - liberal, and even sometimes a bit further left, and middle class - was obsolete; my brother was not expected to come out as straight, so why should I have to come out as bi? These facts are equally as ingrained in him as in me - instead, I decided, I should speak freely, and leave my family to catch on. It was a good plan, and I was happy with it, and yet something pressed on the back of my mind telling me- pressuring me- to just come out and say it instead- leave no ambiguity, no place for my parents to misconstrue or misunderstand the facts of my identity. All this was pressing on me as I sat there, running beads of sweat from my brow as the Houston sun compounded my headache from thinking too much.
So I came to a compromise: bring over the conversation to something to do with gay rights or identity - not out of the usual for me at all - and steer it to include myself in the picture. I ended up speaking about an old friend from middle school- a girl that I had had a crush on- and the way that I was so blind to my own feelings for such a long time. I expected my mother to catch on, perhaps ask one question for clarification about my identity, then move on- filling in just one more part of the puzzle that is me as her daughter. I knew my mother wasn't homophobic- most of my friends were queer, and although she had trouble understanding some aspects of things like non-binary, there was always an undercurrent of openness and respect that permeated it all. I was confident that my "coming out," if I could call it that, would be just another blip in the day, without grief or discussion at all.
I was wrong.
My mother cut me off as I spoke, and her face crinkled, forming the deep crease between her eyebrows that signifies concern, disagreement, and deep thought. She asked, in close enough terms: “What are you talking about?”
The question surprised me but I paid it no mind, and answered plainly before going on with my tangent about the girl.
“I'm bi- you know? I mean, I had this enormous crush on this girl in eighth grade and didn't even realize it!”
She cut me off again:
“That doesn't mean you're…anything. Plenty of straight people go out with the same sex at some point in their lives." She wouldn’t say the word bisexual. As if pronouncing the words would mean acknowledging their validity. "I don't like how people are always so quick to label everything.”
Her words were both right and wrong at the same time; taken alone, there was nothing wrong with it- even some queer people I had met expressed similar sentiments. But in this moment, in this place where I had unveiled my truth to her, mustered up the courage - it surprised me how much courage it actually took, the fear that seeped through me as I spoke- to tell her how I felt, no, who I was- her words instead were echoes of well-worn tropes, things I had heard before, and constituted a complete erasure of myself. In her words, she brought back all my feelings that I was lying to myself: that I was ‘bored with being straight’ so I tricked myself into believing I was something else. She erased my efforts and minimised my being, which folded into itself until I felt my soul the diameter of a needle’s sharp end. The conversation continued past that moment, but I can no longer remember what I said- it didn’t matter any more. I felt tears pressing at the back of my ducts, threatening to fall, but I pushed them back. I went into the house, up the stairs to my bedroom, and I did not cry. I used to cry a lot as a young girl, about everything and nothing, but now I find it difficult to cry when I know I should- I cried when a dog died in a movie, but I could not cry now. I found myself apathetic to my own plight. This complete and total antipathy turned itself into a mixture of anger and disappointment and anxiety that bottled up inside of me, like a molotov cocktail, waiting to explode.
What my mother said to me seemed to confirm all the feelings that I had had for months- no for years before- that I was an imposter, faking my emotions for the sake of being special, that I didn’t actually like girls. The words seemed to press against me, trying to push me back into the box of “straightness” that the world had constructed around me from the moment I was born and entered into the world around me where heterosexuality was the default. Somehow, my mother didn’t understand that what she was telling me, even if it wasn’t her intention, felt the same as any homophobic remark- trying to push me back into the acceptable world of straightness. Her self-ideation as a liberal- someone not homophobic, who had always voted for the expansion of gay rights, who had many queer friends (specifically gay men)- blinded her from her complicity in perpetuating ideas that erased the queer identity of her own daughter. It doesn’t matter that she is an “ally” or my mother- she is not the final judge of whether I am queer or not; it is out of her control, out of anyone’s control, and I am the only one who can even try to understand my emotions enough to come to a conclusion about my identity. No one else has that right.
Sonya Azencott is a rising junior at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, Texas. She spends most of her time reading, drawing, and singing showtunes in the shower, much to the dismay of her family. She mainly writes fantasy based in various folklore and mythology, but enjoys exploring her own queerness in all of her art.