5 Dangers Of Coming Out To Your Family (You Never See On TV)
Hey, good news, everyone -- it's less than 365 days until the next National Coming Out Day! Let's all come out of the closet! In fact, let's board up our closets entirely and just pile our clothes on that chair by the bed. Once you come out, life is just rainbows (literal and symbolic), and you'll kick yourself for having waited so long. Or you might instead end up penniless and alone with your whole life screwed beyond repair. That's what happened to "Ron." Here's his story.
Coming Out Isn't Always A Realistic Option
Even if there are some rough patches, coming out is a wonderful experience that always improves your life. At least, that's how it is on TV. Ron points to Justin from Queer As Folk.
"His dad didn't accept him, and his mom was odd about it too. Within a few episodes, though, she had divorced his father and was pro-gay."
"I don't think it ever happens like that for a lot of people," said Ron, who sees no signs of reconciling with his parents after they disowned him 10 years ago. "I meet people all the time in this area at bars, or when I started a gay-straight alliance, that had horrible reactions from their parents. Sometimes it got better, but I know a lot of people who are just like me ... I have met older gay men who came out back in the '80s whose parents died without ever speaking to them again. I assume my parents will probably be the same way."
"But they don't complain that I never call. So I got that going for me."
Individuals can choose to come out if they want, or they could just stay in the closet until they're totally independent. "It's always your choice," Ron said, "and I wouldn't judge anyone for what they choose to do." You know your own situation best. Coming out could end with your family dancing all wacky at your gay wedding, or it could end with them trussing you up and firing you out of town on the special catapult they have reserved for just such occasions.
There's A Lot More Hate Than We Like To Think About
Tolerance is everywhere: Gay marriage has even (sort of) hit Alabama, the state our bookie swore would be the last one to turn. As a counterpoint, Ron would like to introduce you to his hometown in Eastern Kentucky, population 3,200. The earliest memory he has of gay issues coming up was when the news showed two men kissing at a pride rally, and his parents weighed in.
Spoiler: It wasn't the inauthentic cowboy hats that pissed them off.
"They outright said, 'All fags should be murdered, they are against God.' ... It was always, 'Gross, they should be killed.' My father was very fond of the idea of HIV/AIDS killing them all, too."
Ron's parents were typical for the area. He reckons most others in town felt the same way. The pair were religious Baptists, but no more devout than the average townsperson. They weren't activists or members of a hate group -- just purely casual advocates for genocide.
So the second-worst kind of genocide advocate.
In high school, coming out didn't even seem like an option. No one was out, and Ron was already being called "fag" even without the courtesy of pre-labeling himself. "It didn't help that I was a scrawny video game nerd, either," he said. But it did help that he started dating girls, which discouraged attacks just long enough for him to graduate. He then went on to college in that utopia of open-mindedness known as slightly more urban Kentucky. There, he finally came out. And everything was just fine, if you stop reading riiiight ... now.
Your Family Might Threaten To Murder You
Three weeks before classes ended, Ron went home for laundry and to start the summer job search. He decided now was the time to come out to his mother. "After a semester of being completely honest to myself and everyone around me," he said, "it just didn't feel right to kinda go back into the closet." Plus, he'd met a guy online and planned to drive six hours to visit him over the summer, so he'd have to either come out or craft an elaborate cover story about having to drive the blocker car for a high-stakes beer haul to Texarkana.
"And why are you packing all those condoms?"
"To ... uh ... carry the beer in."
"At first," Ron said, "she just kept saying there was no way I could be gay and talked about how I dated girls, I liked girls. She told me I couldn't be gay because it's evil. I would go to hell. I would get AIDS. She didn't raise me to be gay."
Before returning to campus, Ron got his mother to promise not to say anything. But a week later, he got a call from his older brother.
"You're gay?" said big brother. "Mom told dad. He's flipping the fuck out."
"He's calling you a dirty, no-good, high-stakes beer hauler!"
Ron spent the next couple weeks trying to call home but getting no reply.
"Finally, about three days before school ended, my dad picked up and told me I wasn't welcome in his house anymore. And I was as good as dead to him. If I ever came back, he said, he would shoot me dead. 'Shoot me dead' being his exact words."
The two never saw or spoke to each other again.
Disowned Gay Kids Often Wind Up Homeless
Almost 20 percent of kids in foster care identify as LGBT, according to a Los Angeles study. That's twice the LGBT rate of the overall country. And the number is likely higher -- foster kids have a pretty good incentive to stay closeted, since each is twice as likely to experience mistreatment as a straight kid and three times as likely to wind up in the hospital. An estimated 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, and they're seven times as likely as straight homeless youth to turn to sex work. And it's not just because hobos are irresistibly sexy regardless of gender -- most of them came out and were disowned. When Ron was kicked out, he had his car, his clothes, and about 20 bucks. With school closing down for the summer, he was very much set to be homeless. Instead, he moved in with an older man who lived in Virginia.
No story starting with that sentence ends happily.
"I'm not sure it's what I really wanted to do," he said, "but I didn't have much of a choice at the time. I didn't have a job, any money, and none of my friends were really an option anyway." Things went bad quick; the guy was mean and controlling, and Ron soon caught him in bed with someone else. "After our first fight, he made it very clear that if I didn't like something, I was free to leave. However, I had nowhere to go."
It was either stick with the bad relationship or go homeless. That kind of no-win choice, incidentally, is one of the many reasons committed gay couples seek not just marriage but legitimate same-sex divorce. The first same-sex couple to marry in the country actually ended up divorcing -- it's not often brought up in the whole gay marriage debate, but why should anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, have to battle shifting laws so that they can have the basic human right not to put up with each other's bullshit anymore?
"We're here. We're queer. Get alimony!"
The Internet Makes Being Disowned That Much Weirder
Much of Ron's life without a family has been pretty gloomy. Thanksgiving is just a four-day weekend. Christmas is just a time to watch Die Hard on repeat for a few weeks. For a while, he sank into real depression, even refusing to get out of bed. The one thing he'd get up for, at times, was video games -- playing them with friends online and even driving to attend tournaments in person. He might even go so far as to say video games kept him from turning to suicide. "It's always a way to escape," he said. "To get your mind off all the stupid shit you shouldn't be thinking."
They said video games would rot our brains, but they never stopped to think we could use a little brain rot now and again.
Feel like arguing about that? Try playing a video game instead.
You're never really totally cut off from anyone in the 21st century, though. We have the Internet. Ever find yourself senselessly browsing the Facebook page of an ex you've not seen in years? Ron does that, too, but strike "ex" and insert "whole family." Mom posts Bible quotes with some regularity. Ron's brother appears to have quit drinking. The brother's daughter got pregnant at 15, so Ron's a great-uncle at 29 -- to a child he'll probably never meet.
That's 3,201 people in Ron's hometown whom he'll never see again.
Nobody's saying that you should never come out. In fact, Ron wouldn't do it any differently, even if he could:
"I think I could have waited. I'm still glad I didn't. I wouldn't be the person I am today if I didn't go through all this."
But they say that there's nothing more important than family. And it's true that your family can be the greatest thing in the world, but they could also just be a bunch of jerks who unfortunately share some of the same twisty bits of DNA as you.
"I don't really miss them anymore," Ron said. "I have built up all these friends around me who have helped me and loved me no matter who I was. And it just all seems to not matter."
"I swear never to shoot you dead and/or otherwise."
So stay tuned for our gritty sitcom reboot, Family Doesn't Matter, starring Jaleel White as Urkel, a gay teen just trying to get through high school ... and Jaleel White as Stefan, Urkel's clone and giant asshole that doesn't accept his doppleganger's sexual identity.
For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Shockingly Outdated Problems Gay People Still Face Today and 5 Shocking Realities Of Being Transgender The Media Ignores .
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