February 2, 2011

How Not to Come Out to Family

So I’m like really really horrible at coming out. My first verbal expression of “I have something to tell you” was over a year ago to my Dad. In order to muster the strength/energy to do so, I worked myself up into an emotional frenzy. You can read about it here but what’s pretty crazy is how rotten of a job I did to deal with the rest of my family.

Living a life of secrecy and hidden love is nothing new to me. In fact, nearly two and a half years of my time at Duke had been spent in this melodramatic heart-wrenching, heart-breaking relationship that caused so much pain to so many people that it is hard to think of myself as the same person. One thing that always stuck with me through all that was a complete loss of how to be transparent and truly honest. It is through these means that honor and pride manifest themselves.

So I vowed: No more secrets. No more bullshit. Let’s do this.

Except it’s really hard. I certainly don’t want to blame this on my recent history of secrecy since I was in a period of re-thinking my self image, my gender expression, and the true manifestations of love (I even shaved my head, damnit), but I didn’t have many clear examples of what to do.

To my own credit, I did come out to both of my grandmothers, but the talking stopped there. The thing about my extended family, is that they’re really a lot more like immediate family. We all live within a few minutes of each other, and my grandparents live next door. So it’s not a once-a-year kind of family, it’s a most-nights-during-the-week kind of family. I knew it was my responsibility to tell everyone myself, for my sake, and those who were holding and suffering from my news. But also for Hilary’s sake. The silence of a partnership—however it’s employed—is suffocating, infuriating, and never, ever okay.

I failed her. I failed Hilary and myself. I was crushed by the pressure and withdrew from taking action. Quite possibly the best example of proving love: to announce it, to celebrate it, to be honest.

So the night before Hilary and I flew out to San Diego together, my dad sat my family down, and told them the news for me because I hadn’t done it yet. It might work for some people to come out this way, it gets a lot of conversations done quickly. But my family refused to meet her.

Now, my family is the kind of family that will like all go out to one of our favorite restaurants to welcome a new friend, or my sister’s boyfriends (& her girlfriends since they didn’t know they were girlfriends). So it was a sinking, sick feeling. Dinners are like the ultimate expression of welcome and acceptance. Also a great opportunity to tease, and to test, and to talk about poop.

But Hilary didn’t get that. Not yet anyway. Because I fucked it up. I hope we can someday. It certainly isn’t a rejection of her as it is a rejection of a shocking truth told second hand and with less than 24 hours to react. I can only blame myself.

I know my grandpa cried when he found out. The only other time that’s happened is when he found out that I got into Duke, and he said, “I can’t believe a Puente is gonna go to Duke.” He’s a quiet hard-working man who I love dearly. I wish he could celebrate my love with me.

But my dad, who has sat with this news for over a year, COMPLETELY kicked ass. He had an awesome family dinner with my siblings and Hilary. Then after she left to return to Durham, he took my little brother, my sister and I to a GAY THEATRE. To see a GAY PLAY. Isn’t that the craziest shit you ever heard? He even knew the reputation of the theatre, and all this gay culture stuff in the city. It was clear that he had been doing his research, and the fact that he would plan a family outing with gay themes (sex included) for my 15-year-old brother to see, is a huge step for him. So back home, I felt more simultaneously accepted and furious at myself than I have in awhile.

Now—on to the step that, for me, is infinitely harder and oppressive than coming out: the follow up conversation. How the hell am I gonna conquer that one?


  1. Ahhhh! Summer!

    This situation sounds so tough. I know in my own life, there are definitely times when I don't come out-it could be for whatever reason: the person, the situation, etc. I'm not sure if I view this as personal failure, but rather a let-down of the society/people around me for not creating a more positive enviornment. It sounds to me like you might not have felt safe, and it's difficult as the LGBTQ individual to create that enviornment yourself. I think in that situation, you needed support from them too.

    Also, I used to beat myself up for this, but I think there came a point when I realized that I don't think I have to be a martyr for the LGBTQ equality movement. I just decided that if I was really feeling that uncomfortable, maybe there was a good reason why. My guess, is that as an extremely honest, open and wonderful queer woman, if you (out of all people!) didn't feel comfortable enough in a situation to come out, that would have been a very difficult, tense and tough situation for anyone. I of course can't comment on what that's like with a significant other depending on you to come out, but I find it hard to believe that you'd decline the chance to be honest about yourself in a safe and welcoming situation.

    This is off topic, but I miss you!! Thanks for writing again on the blog. =)

  2. Summer, you're an awesome girlfriend just for having the self-awareness to say this. Don't be too hard on yourself!

  3. It makes me feel better about myself that others, including kick-ass, confident appearing people like you have trouble. I haven't really been dealing with my sexuality. I've been attracted to males and females my whole life, and pretty much exclusively male (same sex) since 14/18. But that was something I disassociated from my public life. I've talked to friends about it (maybe ~8-12 close friends). No family. And with my friends, I've only had follow up discussions with one of them. What's up with that? Why aren't my friends talking about it?

  4. Oh Summer! I'm sorry that it didn't turn out the way that you wanted it to, but I'm glad that you're not COMPLETELY dwelling on the bad things. Your father is absolutely amazing and affirming, and if you can get through to him and he can see how wonderful your relationship with Hilary is, I'm sure that the rest of your family may just need ti cine around.

    Don't keep beating yourself up about not doing it earlier or on your own. It's hard for everyone, no exceptions. I'm sure that Hilary understood. As for your question, the hard work of them having the knowledge is already over with. I would just grab the bull by the horns and have a direct conversation with your family about it. But, that's just me because there's no other way my family and I can communicate unless I shove the information down their throats.

    Best of luck! I'm always totally here for you! <3

  5. i love your strength and your awareness. i am sure your partner finds amazing wisdom in your moments together, i hope that she is as affirming of you and your partnership as you are.

    it is so important to be reminded, in a personal way, how silence alienates, and the truth of something (especially such a great thing as love)is so liberating and eye-opening, and it sucks that the responsibility of queer people to make their lives ones they feel comfortable in, is such an uncomfortable process.

    im glad your dad kicks so much ass, but more importantly, i am glad you have a dad who kicks ass, and that you recognize how much ass is being kicked. it is really easy to go through life remembering the fact that your grandparents are having a hard time, or that it didnt go exactly as you would have seen as ideal, but the fact that you can see all the good, and really enjoy those parts, means that you are ALWAYS going to be okay, even in the rough times.

    i dont know you, but you seem fairly confidant and outgoing, at least that is what it seems you show people outwardly. something that has worked for me as far as follow up conversations about things as an outgoing person, is taking a bit of a gently dominating posture and making the only feasible outcome one of acceptance and happiness, focusing on the joy that is your partnership.

    if you think about old, straight people, often times the only thing they know about queerness are things like AIDS, promiscuity, anti queer language in religious text etc, and if you think about loving grandparents all they want for you is sweet happiness and joy, not fear and pain and eternal damnation. even if they cannot access it in these words, grandparents need to unlearn all they are scared of regarding your sexuality. if the only thing they see is that you have a lot of fear in talking about it, that reinforces their own fear, and your ass kicking father jumps in to say hey no big deal, this is they way it is.

    it is already the truth to them as it has not been before. give them the opportunity to love you for who you are, and help them see how confidant that makes you. reassure them that you are fine, in fact that the only way you are well is by loving the people who make you feel whole. there is no fear, no shame. and do it smiling, and happy.

    i wish you luck, i know you are going to make it.