Dear Dr. Darcy.
All my life I’ve mostly kept to myself, but for as long as I can remember my family has been trying to get me to open up to them. One day recently they started in on me again about wanting to know the real me, so I got up my courage and I came out to them. Ever since then, whenever there’s someone gay on TV or in the neighborhood, they ask why gay people feel like they have to flaunt their sexuality. It’s obvious that my being gay upsets them. I thought coming out was supposed to feel like a burden being lifted off your shoulders; but instead it has made my life harder. How can I learn to be myself when they have so many expectations of me?
Coming out is a process, not a one-time discussion. It requires the involved parties to negotiate boundaries, expectations and make compromises. You also had expectations, i.e. hoping to be unburdened by coming out. Sadly that is not always the case. I’ve heard far more disturbing stories relating to people coming out than not. Having said that, I admire your courage to disclose your true self to your family. I think that it speaks positively to our community’s evolution that your generation has low tolerance for ignorant and passive-aggressive remarks about gays.
I think you should consider having some follow-up conversations with your family. Clearly they need some education. Ask them why they feel entitled to point fingers at same-sex couples engaging in behavior that would go unnoticed in straight couples. Ask your family if they’ve ever hesitated before holding their significant other’s hand in public for fear that they might be harassed. Share with them some of the challenges you’ve faced as a lesbian, and tell them how you feel when you hear them make negative comments about gays.
Finally, you’d like to learn how to be yourself around your family. Again, this is a process, not a chapter summary. You’ll spend much of your young adulthood trying on various suits of armor hoping to stumble upon a metal that will insulate you from the judgments and reactions of others. And then one day, having learned that no such armor exists, you’ll decide to abandon this losing battle; and you’ll learn to let go and stop worrying about other people’s expectations of you.
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Dr. Darcy Smith received her Masters degree from Columbia University and her Ph.D. from New York University. She has been a practicing social worker for over 10 years and is in private practice in both New York City and New Jersey.
*This column is not a consultation with a mental health professional and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own therapist or counselor.