THURSDAY, Oct. 11, is National Coming-Out Day, an annual celebration of living openly for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Some people approach this particular square on the calendar with pride and courage, others with trepidation. Then there’s a third group, which gazes at the day with an uncomfortable blend of longing and impatience. These are parents who know, deep down inside, that a son or daughter is almost certainly gay, but hasn’t worked up the nerve to open up about it. And many of them want to scream, “Would you just come out, already?”
Parents aren’t blind, and the clues are often there. Some research suggests that sexual orientation can show itself even at 3 years old. In our family, by the time our youngest son came out at 13, my wife and I had long progressed from inkling to conviction. A toddler who wore a feather boa around the house and pleaded for pink light-up sneakers with rhinestones is probably telling you something, even if he doesn’t yet know what it is.
We’re not the only ones, said Ellen Kahn, the director of the Family Project for the Human Rights Campaign, a leading advocacy group for gay men and lesbians. Recalling that her own tomboy ways served as a signal, she said, “I was one of those kids, and my parents were those parents.”
Ms. Kahn added, “I’ve heard many parents who have said, ‘I knew my son was gay, I heard my daughter was a lesbian, and I just was waiting’ ” for what she called the “Mom, Dad: I have something to tell you” conversation.
In her home, and in too many others, she said, “Nobody wanted to talk about it.” (She initially told her mother that she thought she was bisexual, because she thought “it wasn’t going to crush her as much.”)
Whether the parents might embrace or reject a gay child, families naturally tend to avoid difficult subjects — and so a stalemate ensues, with many parents worrying that the act of concealment could be taking a psychic toll on their child.
Considering the growing support for gay rights, as well as the rise of openly gay public figures and sympathetic roles in television and movies, people might be forgiven for thinking that it’s no big deal to come out these days. But the process of announcing your sexual orientation to the world can still can be a minefield, said Ilan H. Meyer, a professor at the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the law school of the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Coming out and coming to terms with being gay is easier now, but it’s a matter of degree and not a complete reversal of the world,” Professor Meyer said. He studies what he refers to as “minority stress” and its effect on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Along with the fear of being rejected or attacked, he has said, such stresses include strain of concealing sexual orientation and inner fears of a second-class existence. “Gay kids do suffer consequences for being gay, and having to deal with social attitudes that are not accepting of them,” he said.