Monday, January 28, 2013

Email from a guy who doesn't want to come out to his father

Last month, about a week before Christmas, a reader sent me the following email:

Dear GB,

I occasionally visit your blog and like the topics that come up. I would like to share my situation with you.

I'm a young guy living in London, although I'm not originally from the UK. I come from quite a wealthy family, which makes it very difficult for me to relate to a lot of people in my home country. I am an only child and I came out to my mother a few months ago, as I couldn’t bear keeping it a secret any longer. It was an awful experience. She labeled me as selfish, delusional, and pretentious and basically thinks I am a mess who is out of control. She moreover told me that there is no such thing as being gay and that it is a sign of weakness. She added that my father would kill himself if he found out. She urged me to try sleeping with a woman and I urged her to seek professional help (she was in bed with whiskey for two days afterwards claiming she had the flu – my father didn’t notice anything). I tried to be very strong and rational during this process, as I knew she was just going through a rough period of absorbing all of this in. I feel sorry for her because she basically comes from a family of loonies, her husband is a workaholic and her mother is quite old and ill.

Subsequently, she told me that she went to a sexologist and that he told her there is no such thing as being gay and that it is all “one big propaganda”. Obviously I knew she was lying and confronted her about it. Ever since March we haven’t discussed it and our relationship is fine though she occasionally complains that I am emotionally distant.

Both my parents are conservative yet they have had very international experiences and have lived in many countries. My father basically started from nothing and is an extremely dedicated, respected and hard working family man. I cannot get over my mother’s words and I do not want to let him down by telling him I am gay as I think it would ruin him – he loves me very much and his family is his life. Although not overtly homophobic, he has expressed his disapproval in the past (although he is vehemently anti-racist so this is beyond me). However, I also don’t want to lead a double life.

I am writing to you because I feel like I am in a helpless, hopeless situation. I am trying to find a job in London but my parents do not seem to be pressuring me and are quite keen for me to return home and start working in the family businesses. Although semi-ambitious, I do not possess the same drive for success as other applicants and do not feel like I would succeed in the business world – especially when compared to my father’s accomplishments. I really like London though and want to stay here.

I am also experiencing a host of feelings of inadequacies. I feel trapped in a social bubble where all I do is party (lots of alcohol and quite a bit of cocaine) and have no purpose to society. My lifestyle is entirely out of touch with those of most people and this leads me to having bouts of guilt and anxiety every now and then. I have real friends but this is causing problems in my gay relationships as I find it hard to find someone who I can relate to and who will accept me. I am completely out to all my friends and am very confident socially and have been told I am very good-looking.

Any thoughts on what I should do to improve my situation and get on with a more creative, fulfilling life?


Judging from the email, reading about the reader's mother, he clearly comes from quite an interesting family! After I'd thought about it for a while, I sent a reply which contained the following paragraphs:

My gut instinct is that you need to come out to your father as soon as possible. Your mother is clearly quite a controlling woman, and for some reason she's trying to stop you from coming out to him. You feel sure that she's lied to you about the sexologist saying that gay is "one big propaganda", so I don't think you can trust her at all in this matter. Perhaps she feels that your sexuality is all her fault, and hence is trying to hide it.

I think the case for coming out to your father is strong. He's clearly an exceptionally impressive guy, so give him the credit that he deserves. Men who build businesses from nothing are incredible guys and very robust. My father also told me when I was about 19 that he disapproves of homosexuals, and as a result it took me about 10 years more to come out to him. Looking back, I think he was just trying to avoid what he knew was the truth. I'm not saying that the same is true of your father, but I would say that someone like your father deserves to know the truth.

I don't know what you feel about having a family one day, but it is possible for gay guys these days, particularly rich ones e.g. Elton John! Since you're quite young, it's far too early to start thinking about that. However, it may well be worth pointing out to your family that these days being gay is no obstacle to being a father.

At present, there's a terrible rift in your family, because your mother knows what she feels is a ghastly secret. Of course it's not ghastly, it's exactly what those Stonewall adverts say on the side of London buses, "Some people are gay, get over it"! In my case, it was only once the whole family knew that I was gay that the healing process for the family as a whole began. Before I came out, I was very distant and lots of things were problematic for everyone, but now we're a very close loving family again. So after the initial shock, I think that coming out to your father may also be good for your mother.

You're not sure what the right direction is for your life. One thing is for sure, namely that you can't go into the family business while there's this secret about you being gay in the family. However, once you've come out to everyone, once the air has been cleared and a bit of time has passed, only then can you think about whether it makes sense to go into the family business or not. If you explain all this to your father then I'd expect it will make perfect sense to him, and hopefully he'll respect you for telling him the truth.

I know that is a very big decision, so please be careful. As I said above, this is just my gut instinct, and there may be lots of reasons why I'm wrong. After all, it's always impossible to explain everything to a stranger like me in a short email.

To my surprise, the reader responded within half an hour:

Thanks for replying so quickly.

I think you are correct that ultimately coming out to my father will be the best outcome for everyone. However, just as in your case I think it will have to wait till things are a bit more "stable" i.e. I have proven myself capable of holding a good job and leading a settled lifestyle as this will give both my parents more confidence in my choices.

The problem with this, I suspect, is that they may interpret it as me "cutting them off" by doing my own thing and not giving a shit about them and "denying fundamental family values". Hopefully with time they will realise it will actually strengthen our relationship/bond but it will take a lot of patience and effort with them on my part. I think it's also a case of them having difficulty with the fact that I am now an adult who wants/needs to build a life for himself in a foreign country (this connects with the importance of family values in Mediterranean cultures).

I am hoping that in the meantime my mother will warm up to the idea and become stronger by finding other interests other than her only son's life.

Have a good holiday and thanks a lot again!

Reading his reply, I couldn't help myself from thinking that the reader was making excuses to avoid the main issue, namely the problem of coming out to his father. As far as I know, professional therapists usually avoid giving direct advice about what course of action their clients should follow, and instead simply work to try and help them solve their problems on their own. However, I'm a banker rather than a professional therapist, so I couldn't help myself from sending him the following reply which again suggests immediate action on the main issue:

Actually I didn't delay coming out to my father for reasons of waiting for stability. I delayed because for a long time, I tried to pretend to myself that I was straight! I came out to my parents separately, just like you, but I didn't leave it more than about 6 months between the two.

When you come out to someone, you can never know what they're thinking. In my case, quite a few years after I came out to my father, my mother confirmed to me that my father had had a gay relationship himself when he was younger. So his anti-homosexual stance was probably because he hated those feelings in himself. But in another case, I know of a guy who doesn't like gay men because his brother died of Aids that he got from a blood transfusion in the late 1980's. In the 1980's, Aids was very much "the gay disease", and blood wasn't properly screened. If your father really doesn't like gay people, it could simply be because he's known a few gay people who weren't nice to him.

Anyway, my gut instinct is still that you need to come out to your father as soon as possible. The longer you delay, the longer it will take the healing process in your family to start, and the longer it will be that your mother has to keep that secret. I thought that in the process of coming out to your mother you showed great strength of character, and were able to see through her ploys and stand firm. Between us, we must have come up with at least half a dozen good reasons to come out to your father. When do you come out to him, since he's businessman I suggest you give him all the reasons, such as
(1) you respect him a lot, so he deserves to know the truth
(2) you came out to your mother a few months ago, and you don't want her to live any longer with the secret
(3) experience of other gay men shows that the longer you leave it, the further you drift apart from your family, and you don't want that to happen because you value your family enormously
(4) experience of other gay men also shows that once the family know the truth, the family tends to gets closer, and you want this to happen with your family as soon as possible
(5) you can feel within yourself that can't be objective about what you want to do with your life while your family doesn't know who you really are
(6) you even can't think about coming back to work in the family business while this secret is hidden
Note that a lot of those reasons relate to family values. Also, hopefully your father will end up respecting you for your honesty. Do you think you can do it over the Christmas season?

Anyway, good luck, GB xxx

I haven't heard from this reader since I sent that email, so I'm not sure what his situation is now. But does anyone think that I was too direct in my advice that he should come out to his father as soon as possible? Or does anyone else have any thoughts on this reader's situation?