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“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” with Mom and Dad

When my parents first found out that the girl I kept having stay over for sleepovers was more than “just a friend”, healing my mother wept for one week straight. My father froze in his distraught, not knowing what to do with his wayward daughter or his weeping wife.

In their traditional Chinese mindsets, my parents couldn’t understand my refusal to sacrifice on behalf of the family and be with a man. For them, my coming out was immoral, irresponsible, and selfish. They asked, “What about the Bible? How will you have a family? What did we do wrong? Who will take care of you? And What will people say?”

Five years have passed since that initial disclosure at my parent’s kitchen counter. After that first period of “shock and hysterics,” my parents shifted to “deny and counter-attack” where they secretly donated money to anti-gay organizations and pushed me into therapy hoping that I might change. When the therapist showed no signs of turning me around (in fact, she affirmed my identity), my parents moved to a period of “guilt and mourning” where every visit ended with my mother pleading and in tears. Eventually, we’ve resigned to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to avoid the issue altogether.

Unfortunately, keeping the peace also means talking about nothing of substance. Asking about my trip to Mexico or last weekend’s dinner party is too dangerous for my mother because it might bring up signs of my “gay life.” Any reference to Lisa’s name results in a change of topic. We’ve taken to sticking to sterile topics like work and….well, work. It’s hard to look at each other in the eyes.

I know my parents love me to death, and while I wish they could get some cajones and take a stand for their daughter and themselves, I can also appreciate how difficult this is given their ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Recently, I attempted to break the silence and wrote them an email:

Hi mom and dad,

I came upon this video that i thought you might be interested to see. Its from a mom of a gay daughter in Taiwan. Anyways, just want you to know that you guys aren’t alone. And the video also makes me think I need to talk to you guys more..not just come to the house and talk about nothing. But talk about real things. Like my life, if you actually want to hear about it.

The truth is my life is not what you think. I am happier and I have a more secure sense of myself than I ever have before. I have someone in my life who loves me very much, and we have many dreams together. This is who I am, and while the first year or two was hard and confusing even for myself, I know that this is who I am going to be, not a phase in my life that I just came up with at age 25 – This is who I will still be at age 30, 40, 50…

I would like to somehow talk to you, but it is difficult, and i feel there is not much for us to talk about anymore. You don’t really want to hear about my life, I don’t really listen to yours. So it is what it is. Recently, a friend of mine told me that her brother just told their parents that he is gay, and she told me what a hard time it is for everyone. I can understand.

I received a response from my father a few days later. He wished me a happy Chinese New Year’s, asked about my health, and told me that he loved me and that I always had a place to come home. While his response still sidestepped the main issue altogether, I knew my dad was being as sincere as he could.

It’s heartbreaking, really. Both sides want to figure out how to cross this great divide that’s been created, but we don’t know how. This is going to be a long road, and I don’t pretend to know the best way to come out to parents or even whether every child should come out to their parents.

But I do know that in my case, I’m glad I did and although the process is hard, I’ll keep trying, and to my parents’ credit, I believe that they’ll keep trying as well. After all, we’re family, and it’s worth it…

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9 Responses

  1. I just love the way both of you write….with clarity, sincerity, honesty, insight…even humor. You are both brave, exceptional women.

    I’m so glad that you feel your parent’s love. I hope their acceptance comes soon, as well! Just remember that complete acceptance necessitates a rejection of their core beliefs. And if we reject our core beliefs, where does that leave us? I wonder if that’s the conversation to have. Do you know religious people who might be able to frame this conversation?

    I often think the Bible needs a good rewrite.

  2. Jenni, I read this on BART on my morning commute to work and it just resonated with me so much that I cried in front of a car full of strangers. We have so much in common. Everyday is a struggle, as you know. But those moments like when your father tells you that he loves you and that there is always a place for you at home are the ones holding on to. I’ve learned that you can actually encourage more of that behavior by responding positively – by saying, “hey dad, that means a lot to me when you tell me things like that.” Keep up the writing, it’s helping everyone become more aware. I will share the video with my parents as well, and hope to start a dialogue again. You are lucky that your parents live close, the interaction of just being in the same room builds stronger bonds than you would think. Sometimes I wish that I could just go and talk to mine in person, but I don’t have that choice.

  3. Jenni, you are lucky. At least your parents didn’t make a death threat(they are quite rational). BTW, I like your character-no compromising and never gave up-.
    Maybe sometimes in the future you should use some strategies that lead to a better result. Remember, your parents love you and will be relieved if you are happy with your life. 😉

  4. Jenni, what’s extra brave about you is that you haven’t given up on a relationship with your parents. You could walk away and be justified, but you’re engaged. And that takes courage and a lot of love!

  5. I love this post, Jenni – so well written! and very moving. I think many of us have gone through a similar experience so thanks for sharing your story.

  6. Jenni,
    I am inspired by your strength and willingness to keep trying. Your parents are lucky to have a daughter like you.

  7. Jenni,

    I came across you and Lisa’s website and post off of Facebook. It has been such a long time since our high school years! Although I cannot possibly understand how difficult it must have been to come out to your family, I can certainly emphathize sincerely, since we have the same cultural background.

    My closest cousin is also gay, and he lives in Thousand Oaks. He is one of the smartest, talented, and loving individuals that I know. I remember his parents and my family’s response when he came out.

    So excited for your travels this upcoming year, and looking forward to reading about them.

    Thanks again for sharing such personal details about your story and everything that you have gone through so far.

  8. Very interesting post and issue. I like how you look at your own rticeaon and thoughts about this.I do believe that kids can be raised by gay couples just as well as by parents of both sexes. But it’s our vision of family that is being questioned here.I’m glad the article you mention focuses on the importance of the quality of how people parent their kids. That’s what matters most and makes a difference, not the logical role each parent should have within the family.I’d like to ask a question, put your very good post a step further by asking whether gay parents parent their child better ? Maybe yes. What I mean is that unlike parents of both sexes, gay parents have to ask themselves the question of how they’re going to parent their child and therefore probably pay an extra attention to their child’s self esteem and developement.Thanks for this post, it gives credibility to gay couples who have children and it’s a good thing in my opinion. Says: I was adopted when I was 23 months old and when I about 12yrs old Brenda converted my Mom. This didn’t bother me too much, except someone new was taking my Mom’s attention.I am now 32yrs old my Mom and brenda are still together 18yrs later and they are my parents, in my eyes, they went through all the tough times,adolscent times,life on the wildside and the stress I put them through.They did put good values and a firm foundation to come back to and I like to believe I am well rounded father of 3,open minded,optimistic,sympathic,empathatic and alot of good character traits I owe to my lesbian parents and my own life experiences.My kids love Grandma and Grandma Gus, (only my 9yr old get it) I feel it is more about what they have to offfer , stable enviroment,love,encouragement,loving household etc. I do not think it really matters as far as same sex. more parenting skills in general Says: Thanks, Laura and Johnny. Laura, I think you may have a point in that gay parents may even be better parents since they have to ask more questions about their roles. Johnny, you’re a living testament to what good parenting can do/make!Lisa Says: I would have to agree with Johnny! I am a lesbian parent and my girlfriend and I are raising our daughter well. We are only 22 yrs old, which is young, but I do believe we are doing the best we can. Our daughter is 2 yrs old and we are always told by doctors and other professionals that she is smarter than the average 2yr old. She knows all of her colors, can count to 100, can speak some spanish(some colors and numbers), knows her ABC’s and so much more. Now, I’m not saying she’s so smart because her parents are gay, but I am saying that the fact that she has two mothers does not impare her.amelia Says: hello, I am 14 years old and i need some help please?I think I am a bisexual but im scared of what people will think of me if I tell anyone. my parents and one of my sister know but what about everyone else. can anybody help me.

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