There were two phases to my coming process: first to myself, second to my family.
When I was young, I always felt a lot of attraction toward females, but I was going to an all-girls school and honestly thought everyone felt like me in school. I grew into my early twenties not really conflicted about my attraction to both men and women—that is until I went away to college and started living a separate life than what I was used to. For a few years, I thought I was truly bisexual, capable of choosing a male or female partner, except I had never gotten around to being with a female before. But things came to a head when I fell for the first woman in my adult life. She showed me a tiny sliver of what it would feel like with a woman, and then quickly closed that window of opportunity by choosing a guy over me.
That was when my beliefs about my own sexuality began feeling extremely paradoxical. In a way, that was my coming out moment to myself because being spurned by the first female I had expressed feelings to caused so much pain that I could no longer justify it as just a phase in my bisexuality. It became pretty clear to me that I preferred the female gender.
In an effort to maintain my status quo and avoid jumping into a very scary and unknown territory, I quickly began upping my game as a heterosexual and started serially dating men. It was a great way to throw my family off the scent, who by this time had noticed that I was getting disproportionately close to some female friends. This went on for about two or three years, until I fell in love with a woman who returned my affections. Once it was established that she and I would go steady, I started keeping very accurate records of my sexual development in my journals. It was my way of coping with the changes in my life, and the writing helped me process all the new feelings I was having.
During this time, I graduated from university and moved back home, and by then my behavior had changed so much that my parents and sister were left almost completely in the dark concerning the new me. My mother, unable to get through to me to talk, one day went through my journal and found out the truth about everything I was going through. Needless to say, there were a lot of hurt feelings and many family fights took place in our house, which compelled me to move out of my parents’ house and get a place of my own. And that was the second phase of my coming out process.
Though my parents never threatened disowning me, it took them a very long time to come to terms with my sexuality. It helped that I was with the same woman for a decade, and our families knew of each other. Looking back, I really think moments of growth did not come during fights; they came when we were utterly exhausted from yelling and talking over each other. I remember one particular time when I had a particularly difficult fight with my mother, but somehow, we were able to get through to each other after calming down. My mother changed dramatically after that fight, and our relationship has continued to strengthen in the past ten years.
Looking back, the moral of my coming out story is that you have to be brave enough to fight for who you are but also be patient enough to listen and explain yourself. Sometime I thank myself for persevering, and I feel blessed that I was able to accomplish peace with my family and friends.
– Mel Saroyan
This Too Shall Pass
I was struggling, really struggling with a lot of things related to my sexuality, life-style, and thoughts about what my future would hold. I was living day-by-day in a sad state of being. I was sad because I was living a total lie. I was lying to everybody about everything. The part that bothered me most was that I was lying to my mother and my brother (the two people that I loved most), and that even though they loved me and we lived under the same roof, they didn’t know me at all. I was sad too because I thought if they got to know the real me, they would be disappointed in me. This was very difficult for me because I was always a high-achiever and made my family proud of my accomplishments. The mere thought of disappointing them was dreadful to me. We were a close family, cared for one another a lot, and had many happy times; however, there was a thick black cloud over my head that I couldn’t shake. I’m not going to share every detail, but I came out to my brother and immediately felt the lifting of the “black cloud”. I remember going out for a walk with him and crying uncontrollably. I was crying so hard that I was shaking and could barely keep my balance. My brother first looked worried, but when I told him that I have to tell him something about me, he gave an awkward smile, and held me tight with his arms stretched out and looked right at me and said “I know. But I want you to tell me anyway.” I was having difficulty speaking, but he kept telling me that I was o.k. and things were o.k. and that he wanted to hear me say my story. As we walked around the block a few times, he asked questions, used a lot of humor, and was very supportive and loving. About a year later, he helped me come out to my mom. When we told mom, my mom said that she always knew.
Everybody who has come out, has a very personal story. The stories are all different and fall within a spectrum of absolute horrid and dangerous stories to stories of celebrations and triumphs. What I have learned through my own coming out, in hearing my friends and their stories, and as a marriage and family therapist through my career, is that the struggles are real, and those struggles pass and become easier. The coming out process is usually difficult, sometimes painful, but eventually the wounds heal and there are great outcomes. While I have never met anyone who has in the long-run regretted coming out, I’d advise anyone wanting to do so to take slow steps, and prepare in case things don’t go well intially. Even though the times have changed, and we believe that life and maneuvering through obstacles have become easier for LGBTQ individuals, that is not always the case in all communities and families. Preparing could be surrounding oneself with supportive friends or family members, getting professional mental health services, joining support groups, and having money set aside for financial independence. There is helpful information out there and lots of supportive organizations that can help.
My message to those trying to come out : You are not alone and if you are going through difficult times, remember “This too shall pass.”