Coming out to other family members is often a process that involves parents, after discussion. Some parents leave it to the discretion of their son or daughter. Gabrielle says: ‘We have embraced it fully but he has not told the French family nor the Jewish family nor his youngest sibling’.
Some families have been totally open about a ‘coming out’ to relatives. Marcia says: ‘Everybody knows. There has been no backlash that I know of’. Claire says: ‘We have told everyone in the UK. We were more hesitant about relatives in South Africa, but they were fine, too’. Eliza and Tom, whose son came out 25 years ago, say: ‘It has been such a long and gradual process of coming out and, as we were accepting of him as he is and because he can be very charming and attentive, this has not been a problem. When family members, on rare occasions, have said homophobic things – we have just thought it amusing afterwards. I try and say when older relatives make inappropriate comments that: “Nowadays that is not acceptable”.’
Several parents have not told all family members. Sometimes there is a particular worry that older relatives might react badly and there is clearly some careful thought given to who should know and when. There is also a concern to protect sons or daughters from negative attitudes. Bianca and Jon explain: ‘We haven’t told her grandfather because he might say inappropriate things that would upset our daughter and spoil their relationship.’
Rosie’s reasoning is: ‘The boys are still young and neither is in a relationship. We decided to tell those family members who were most likely to be informed about the issues and supportive to the boys. There are still many relatives we haven’t told – there isn’t any reason to at the moment. Our younger son, although out to all his friends, is still at school and has anxieties about it being generally known.’
Green Pepper’s story is: ‘Our daughter seems to accept it, but has little contact with him since he left home to live at university. I could not tell any family members. I don’t have many relatives but my elderly frail mother would find out and be upset and angry. She is Irish Catholic and holds very old-fashioned views on sexuality in general. I would not dare risk her finding out. She lives 9,000 miles away so it’s not a day-to-day issue, but she has always been very critical of me and would probably say hurtful things to me, and, even worse, to my son’.
Mercedes’ family has been similarly unsupportive: ‘I am extremely saddened by my mother’s ,siblings and their children’s response to the news that my son is gay. Their condemnation, judgement and rejection has caused intense pain. I remain estranged from my mother and siblings. They have apportioned blame to me for supporting my son. I am now ostracised by my mother, my siblings and their families.’
Toni says: ‘My close family have found it hard to accept, especially at first. There are definitely some friends and family I would not tell. The good thing is that he is a wonderful son.’
Silver Fox points out that there are significant costs to family members not knowing, especially as our sons and daughters get older. He says: ‘If friends or family do not know, you can never have a “normal” conversation about what your son or daughter is doing, if asked. For other people, it’s: ‘Yes he is coming over with his girlfriend to stay; we are off to see him and his wife and children for the weekend; we are going out with him and his wife for a meal – would you like to come?’
Of course, parents are not always the first to know. Lesley tells us: ‘His (twin) brother knew before us and was affected badly at first – this made life very difficult as the family was falling apart. Now they are the best of friends and his brother is really supportive. If the situation arises, I have no problem telling people now.’