I’m 14 years old and lesbian, but I'm scared to come out of the closet to my homophobic Islamic family. My mom accidentally found out I'm lesbian and wants me to see a therapist, and she says it’s just a "phase." I tried to convince her it ain’t, but she wouldn't listen, saying I'm too young to assume I’m gay. What should I do to convince her, and how can I come out one day to the rest of my family? They're way worse than her.
I hate the advice I’m about to give you. I wish I had a better idea. But honestly and horribly, my first suggestion to you is: Wait it out. When you’re underage and financially dependent on your family, you only have so much leeway to try to make them accept things that fly in the face of their hopes.
I hate that I have to say this, too—that in the five-plus years I’ve been writing this column I haven’t come up with a better answer—but there’s no surefire trick that will convince your mother to accept you being gay. There are no magic words. There is no perfect strategy. All I can really offer you is the hardest lesson you’ll ever learn, one you’ll have to face again and again in different forms throughout your life: You cannot control other people’s feelings, words, or actions. You can only take responsibility for your own.
Once you’ve done the best you can to help your mother see your point of view, the ball is in her court. “The best you can” is situational—if she’s threatening to kick you out of the house if you bring up being gay again, please know that you are under no obligation to keep trying to show her the light. Your safety comes first, and while you’re dependent on her for food and shelter and education, it’s okay if you decide to prioritize not making waves. I promise you, you’re not letting down The Cause, and you’re also not resigning yourself to living in the closet forever. If you need to keep your mouth shut about your orientation to make your life livable for now, just remember that this is not forever, and that the independent queer life that’s waiting for you when you’re out of high school is going to rock your socks. Hang in there and you’ll get to it. While you’re waiting, focus on the things you can do now to make your future as amazing as possible. Kick ass in school, get into a good college, and get a job to start saving money as soon as you can.
And if trying to bring your mom around feels like a safe option (and an acceptable risk), feel free to keep at it. Remind her that there has never been any evidence that therapy can “cure” homosexuality and that attempts to convert queer folks always cause more harm than good; if she insists on believing your orientation is a phase, she might as well let you grow out of it on your own. If you want to come out to the rest of your family, go for it, but only with the understanding that you are not in control of their reactions, and if they act shitty it doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.
Also, I don’t know how you feel about the religion in which you were raised, but I want to reassure you that if your family’s Islamic faith is something you share, you don’t have to choose between that and being gay. There are many LGBTQ Muslims in the world, living in full and authentic celebration of their beliefs and their identities, and you can be one of them if you want to be. Don’t let your family tell you that you have to give up being gay to be Muslim, and don’t let Islamophobic queers (I wish those weren’t a thing, but sadly, they are) tell you that you have to give up religion to be a lesbian. Check out this site or this site for stories and inspiration from awesome Islamic LGBTQ folks.
More than anything else, please know that you deserve to be loved and accepted for every facet of who you are. If your family isn’t delivering, that’s their failure, not yours. You are brave and amazing and your life is going to be so, so joyful.
I’ve put myself in a weird situation and I need some advice on how to proceed. Some backstory, first: About five years ago, I was 19 and, well, the term “impulsive” is a pretty big understatement. I decided that I’d move across the country and shack up with a man I thought I was desperately in love with. The only thing is that I hadn’t come out to my family, so I made sure to do that the week before I left. Their reactions were positive, mostly—there was some asking if I was sure, like, really sure and then pleading to at least tell them I was bisexual—but they were still positive. Then I left. I still kept in close touch with everyone, but I wasn’t present enough to really let them know who I was becoming.
Recently my family asked me to come back and help out with our family business, and I jumped at the chance. (The relationship I moved out there for ended within a year, go figure.) My job at the business doesn’t pay me enough to be “residentially independent,” so I live with my family. I was asked to not bring any men over—I absolutely agreed to that, because it’s their house and they’re really kind to even let me live there. Then, I made a huge mistake and flirted with a guy in front of my family, and they told me that they really didn’t like me doing that. I relented to that as well, figuring I’m the jerk who flirted in front of family members, like, that’s in bad taste, who does that. Then, I made a huge mistake when I tried to tell some co-workers I was gay, and I got a panicked look and rapid waving of hands, which is when I realized what was really up. Now I just keep my head down. LGBTQ+ issues are important to the fam, but when it comes to me personally, I no longer feel comfortable talking about it.
I can’t help but feel like this is my fault. My family never had a chance to really catch their breath after I dropped the “I’m sort of like John Waters but not in the way where I make great films” bomb on them and then set off for the horizon. So, part of me feels like this problem must be because they’re not used to me as a gay man. But that’s hindsight talking. I liked who I was when I was free to be myself. I’m not myself anymore. I want to reconcile my family and my identity. But I want to respect my family’s wishes. But my family’s wishes are infringing on my confidence to be myself. Got any advice for me, QC?
Your family’s wishes suck and you are under no obligation to respect them! You moved home as a favor to them, even though it required taking a low-paying job that doesn’t allow you financial independence, and they’re leveraging that into making you pretend you’re not gay, because they haven’t found the time to come to terms with your identity in the last five goddamn years? Please pass along to your parents my warm and sincere invitation to bite me.
You’re ten years older than the first letter writer, but it sounds to me like you’re still struggling with a similar issue: You’ve internalized the idea that you’re responsible for everyone else’s feelings and reactions. You’re blaming yourself for not giving your parents enough time to accept you being gay, but dude, you’ve given them FIVE YEARS. That is, by any reasonable standard, plenty of time. It’s one thing to ask you not to have sex in their house, although, honestly, you’re an adult and who cares? But as for demanding that you stay in the closet for the foreseeable future (you didn’t mention your position at their business having an end date), fuck that racket. Do they expect that you’ll be celibate for the rest of your life to save them the extremely minor awkwardness of mentioning to their colleagues and acquaintances that you’re gay? And PS, why didn’t they mention this “your identity is a secret” thing BEFORE you moved back home, instead of waiting and springing it on you after you had already become dependent on them for a place to live?
Look, you don’t have to be furious at your family just because I am, but at the very least you need to sit down with them and have a very serious talk. You can’t work this kind of thing out through panicked looks and gestures. You need to use your words: “Does me living with you mean I have to pretend I’m not gay? Because that is not okay with me, and if that’s one of your conditions I need to look for a new job and a new place to live.”
You also didn’t say anything about what the family business is or whether you have any interest in it for reasons beyond doing your folks a solid. If you want a career in their industry, and your current position gives you a foot in the door, it might be worth accepting the short-term trade-off of hiding your orientation until you can move up to a job that allows you to afford your own place—but you need to be clear on what that timeline looks like. Does your family expect you to live at home forever, or is there a promotion and your very own crappy studio apartment in your immediate future? Because it’s clear that the current situation is not sustainable.
I hope you can stop blaming yourself for your family’s refusal to accept the whole of who you are. Absolutely none of this is your fault. They are behaving horribly. Tell them off, get a new job, and move out—let them be part of your life on your terms, not theirs. Good luck!
Thanks, everyone! Remember to send me your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme tattooed fat chick who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, an adorable baby girl, and two very spoiled cats. Her first book, Ask A Queer Chick, was published by Plume in February 2016.