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Being gay in a homophobic family means you don’t get the same privileges

When I came out to my parents the second time, I knew it wouldn’t go well. I learned this the first time I came out to them and they brushed it under the rug like they hadn’t understood my accidental confession in the middle of a heated debate about politics. Afterward, mentions of finding a husband came up with suspicious regularity.

The second time I came out, I had a girlfriend, and I wanted her to stay over at our house one night. We were going on a trip that made leaving from my house much simpler. Since I still lived with my parents, the infamous “our rules under our roof” still applied even though I was over 21. My girlfriend and I already spent a lot of time at her house, and so it seemed reasonable my parents would survive a single night.

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Not only did it go poorly, but my second coming out required a serious discussion in which I was sat down like I had done something wrong. My parents told me while they loved me, they would never support this part of my life. They didn’t want anything to do with my girlfriend, and she was not welcome in our life. Though their response wasn’t a surprise, my stomach dropped even as I vowed to stick up for myself.

I brought my girlfriend to stay overnight anyway. We steered clear of the rest of the family until I was yanked aside shortly before bedtime. My parents were determined to enforce their “no gay in the house” rule. This meant my girlfriend and I could not sleep in the same room, or even on the same floor of the house.

Meanwhile, my brother and his serious girlfriend cozied up on the couch in the blissful reverie of young love. Not only did my brother’s girlfriend frequently stay overnight — in the same room as my brother, I might add — but she was a welcome and invited guest. The double standards my parents were trying to impose on me couldn’t have been more obvious because they were playing out right in the background.

My parents insisted my brother and his girlfriend always slept in separate rooms, but this was immediately shut down as my brother announced, unaware of the argument, he would be sleeping on the couch with his girlfriend as usual. My parents looked uncomfortable, but they didn’t argue or object. Since we ran out of separate floors to sleep on thanks to my brother’s announcement, my girlfriend slept in my room, and my parents survived.

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This one and only evening my girlfriend stayed over at my parents’ house wasn’t the end of the arguments between my parents and me on the subject of my sexual orientation. I constantly felt the need to make excuses for where I was going to avoid the word “girlfriend.” My brother and his girlfriend continued to be treated like royalty while I had to sneak around with my girlfriend anywhere but home. My parents wanted to shove me back in the closet at any cost.

Dating while gay in a homophobic family meant different rules and feeling forced to lie for other people’s comfort. Even as I fought against my parents’ draconian ideas about my girlfriend, all the repressed shame, anger, frustration and defeat had to go somewhere. It turned into fear. Fear that I would get rude comments if I held my girlfriend’s hand in public, or shunned at work if I admitted my gayness — the way my parents treated me. As the most important people in my life, my family’s rejection of my sexual orientation rippled outward and touched other parts of my life.

What I didn’t know then was this moment turned out to be the beginning of a seismic shift in my parents. Years later, and years after my girlfriend and I broke up, my parents sat me down again. This time, they declared they were OK with me being gay. They even apologized for the way they had treated my girlfriend that night years earlier and admitted they were wrong to treat me so differently than my brother just because of who I loved.

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Though our relationship wasn’t repaired overnight, nor the emotional impact, this was a huge step in a positive direction. My parents continue to work on their ability to love me as the person I am, as opposed to the straight person they dreamt I would become. I am working on being more open about who I am without shame. We still may not agree on much politically, but my parents and I now have a good relationship. And, I’m pretty sure the next girl I bring home will be treated exactly the same as my brother’s wife.

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