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?


Jay said...

Oh for God sake! Not another one. I'm sure you have covered similar issues in past posts.

'Some people are gay, get over it' sums it up nicely. These 'Dear GB' are getting rather tiresome.


GB said...

LOL Jay, but don't you think that if someone asks for help and advice then one should help them? Not everyone can be as sorted as you!

GB xxx

Jay said...

Yes sure, however I would refer them to the numerous posts you have done before.

Oh I give up on you GB! I need to find another interesting blog of a gay Londoner who writes regularly. However I am failing at that right now! LOL hard to find 'sorted' gay guys!

close encounters said...

GB - I was just talking to a friend yesterday who was telling me about how her therapist pushed her to talk to her father about stuff ... so although you were very direct, I don't think you were too direct.

However, what's this about your dad having had gay experiences ... have you revealed this before??

GB said...

Actually, Close Encounters, I might not have said that before about my father. But given that I've been blogging for 8 years now, I can't be sure! Thanks for the snippet about your friends therapist too :-).

GB xxx

Was Once said...

Of course, coming out is my recommendation as well, having done it 25 years ago, when it more difficult with less world consciousness.
But here is another is not always about you.
If you are bright you would get busy helping others in whatever way suits you, humble yourself...and maybe make waves of compassion that would meet your parents in a way all together outside their box. Then you can work it in through the back door of the heart...perhaps.

Medius said...

Once he comes out of the closet, the struggle ought to die down. Because there's no lie to fight for anymore. My dad found out about 2 years ago - my mom already knew. It was by accident, which made accepting it, for him, harder than it should have been had I told him myself. Even so, now he makes funny jokes about it and is very accepting towards homosexuality.
His biggest concern was, as far as I'm aware, that he kept warning me that life wouldn't always be as easy being gay. Which is partly true, but I've also gained a LOT of happiness in the process.

Dad's can be very intimidating - all three of us 'kids' are kind of afraid of letting him down. But in the end, family values will indeed pull through and he will be proud of his gay son. They can be a bit extreme in how they think they should protect their family, but they have their heart in the right place.

Wups, guess I started rambling :D anyway, I think what you told him made sense, though I understand his initial doubts. It's a vicious spiral he's stuck in, and the lacklustre behaviour and drug (ab-)use should be easier to handle with a solid family foundation to build on. He should take your advice. He WILL know eventually. The sooner, the better.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of boring your readers, I'll say a bit about my own experience and then say what I think about your advice.

I never came out to my father, partly at the request of my mother, partly because I didn't want to, partly because he was not in good health and mostly because I didn't need to. I've no idea whether he knew or not, but he knew that I lived with my boyfriend, knew my boyfriend, welcomed him for family celebrations and there was no need to say anything. I don't recall him saying anything about homosexuality one way or the other. He died 12 years ago, nine after I'd come out to my mother. I'm still with my boyfriend and I truly don't regret saying nothing. I loved him dearly and it was reciprocated but it never actually became necessary to say anything. I could,however, imagine circumstances where it would have been.

My circumstances were also such that I lived 300 miles away from my parents and only felt the need to come out to my mother once I had met a guy who really mattered.
It also sounds as though, culturally, his parents are rather nearer the early 1990s, when I came out, than we are now.

What I'm saying is pretty trite and is that individual circumstances are different and what is right will vary and that my advice, based on my experience would be different and more cautious. That doesn't make yours wrong.

I have a lot of sympathy with your correspondent. It is a lot easier to come out if you are settled, independent and can show your parents that you are happy and feel so yourself. I don't think your reader is in that state at the moment. A sympathetic reaction from his father would help (and parents can surprise you here but, in my experience, not that often) but an unsympathetic one might make matters even worse and your reader needs to be comfortable taking the risk.

It took my mother two or three years to get her head round my situation (and she sounds eminently rational compared weith your reader's). I was in a position where I could cope with this and give her the space to sort herself out. I wonder if your reader is in the space where he can manage both parents feeling confused and unhappy at a time when there are other decisions that he needs to take.

So if I'd been giving the advice, I would have said that your reader needs to ask himself some questions that I don't know the answer to. How close is he to his father? How close does he want to be? Would he go to him for advice and support in an emotional emergency or generally? Would he want to? Is there a danger that his mother may spill the beans? Is he under pressure to get married to a woman? Does he need to sort questions about his career and where he lives first? How would an unhelpful reaction from his father affect him? Would it make it more difficult to sort out his other problems or might it clarify the way forward? Depending on the answers I might have advised him to tell his father now or that there was no need to rush it.

That doesn't make your advice wrong and it may be that you got more from his emails than I did. In any case, I tend to feel that if you're asked for advice, you should give it, provided that it's understood that the person seeking it can reject it. In my experience most people only take advice if it chimes with what they want to do and I imagine that your reader has either found that it's given him the emotional amunition necessary to do what he wanted to do (which is excellent) or that he feels he needs to take a bit longer (which is fine, too).

Sorry for taking so long about this.

No Hetero said...

I know quite a few gay ibankers in NYC and this stuff is not so far off from that. I'm glad I didn't choose to go that route.

Anonymous said...

is your name Christopher by any chance ? I have met a Christopher with exactly the same profile as you ( nationality - came 5 years ago to study - social circles) and went to the same university as him. If it is you, I would be happy to talk as I am going through similar stuff. otherwise, foget my msg, it is just a surprising coincidence.