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Telling my parents that I’m leaving…with a woman

As this trip became more and more of a reality, sildenafil I started developing a pit in my stomach every time I thought of having to tell my parents that I was planning to travel with Lisa for a year. When I finally broke the news in February (over Chinese new years dinner, admittedly not the best choice of time), my parents reacted as I expected – with tears and much unhappiness.

When I asked my parents whether they’d be willing to go to family therapy, I figured there really wasn’t much to lose. After all, our relationship has already been strained for the past five years since I came out as a gay woman. The distance between my home and their home is only a 45 minute drive, but it feels like an eternity. My visits have dwindled from once a week to once every other month. It feels more like an obligation than anything else. When we talk, we have to tap dance around any subject that may remind my parents of my lifestyle. Our conversations have become restricted to benign and trivial topics, usually centered around personal finance or real estate (seriously, the most involved conversation we’ve had in the past few months was on the investment value of quadruplexes in San Jose).

In the rare occasion that Lisa’s name comes up, or I make it a point to bring up the elephant in the room, the situation blows up. 9 times out of 10, my mom starts weeping and telling me that I’m going against the Bible and I get so frustrated that I storm out of the house. Clearly, we need some professional mediation.

Enter Jane Flanagan, licensed marriage family therapist, a tall Irish woman in her 50’s with a penchant for oversized jewelry. When I explained in our initial call why I wanted to do therapy with my parents, Jane told me upfront that she was a devout Catholic, but she did not believe in the church’s stance on homosexuality. I was nervous about how she would approach religion with my devout Evangelical parents (heck, I don’t even know if my mom thinks Catholics are “true Christians”), but I figured it was better than a Buddhist or new age therapist. Then my mom would have really run straight out the door.

I have zero expectation that therapy, or anything short of a miracle, will get my parents to approve of me as a gay woman. I am only hoping that therapy could help my parents tolerate my lifestyle enough for us to still share in each other’s lives. They will never be happy that I’m with a woman, but perhaps one day they can appreciate, or at least acknowledge, that I’ve found a partner who loves me incredibly well.

Unfortunately, therapy session #1 did not start off on a good foot. As I drove down to San Mateo for our appointment, I called my parents to check in on them. My mom answered and said, “Yeah, I decided that I didn’t need to go, so just your dad will be there.” I had made the mistake of telling her about the Out & Around project just a few days prior, and she was still upset about my traipsing around the world to advocate for gay rights. I blew up. I didn’t realize that I had so much anger in me. I brought up various childhood griefs and told her that she’d better get in the car and start driving. I must have sounded like a crazed person capable of doing something dangerous, because in the end she showed up.

Jane turned out to be an adept therapist, knowing when to call someone out and being careful to make all three of us feel that we were being heard. My parents didn’t say anything that I didn’t already know, but it is still rough to hear my dad compare my being gay to being an alcoholic and my mom saying that she worries I’m going to hell.

Thank goodness that I’ve had the past five years to find enough affirmation to know that none of these things are true. But for the first time in my life, I am incredibly angry at the Christian religion.  It is because of this religion that there is no room for my parents to consider any moral standard or version of “truth” outside of the one that they believe in. So overwhelmed by their grief, they cannot look past their dogmatic beliefs to see that the most tragic thing in my life is not that I am gay, but that I have lost my parents.

In our one hour session, everyone disagreed 99% of the time. My parents of course disagreed with me, I disagreed with them, and often my parents even disagreed with each other. One of the few times we agreed was when my mom and I both disagreed with the therapist. Poor Jane. But the one sacred thing that my parents and I did agree on was that we loved each other and that we wanted to mend our relationship.

It saddens me that this trip, which brings me so much excitement and happiness, brings such grief to my parents. I struggle to imagine a time when Lisa and I can sit down with my parents together for a meal, but I have faith that one day it will happen. I just hope it happens sooner rather than later…


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11 Responses

  1. Sometimes all we can do is behave in ways that we are proud of, no matter how others react. I am proud of your behavior and you should be too. You are strong and your parents are lucky to have you.

  2. Hey Jenni,
    I’m having similar trouble with my mom. She told me this weekend that she could never accept my choosing a woman as my life partner and that I was selling myself short by dating women. I was so angry when I heard that; lots of irrational thoughts popped into my head, some of them involving causing physical harm. If the need to please your parents is strongly ingrained in you, but they refuse to accept a fundamental part of you, how can you go on with a healthy relationship with them, with yourself, with your partner? I can barely bring myself to talk to my mom now, and we used to talk several times a week. I am really in awe that you managed to get your parents to therapy and proud that you stood up to your mother. I would love to continue to hear how therapy goes for you and wish you success!
    Take care,

    1. Hey Silvia, thanks for sharing your struggles. I know a lot of LGBT people have similar experiences, and maybe that’s why this community is so close-knit – because we have to forge our own new families. Best of luck with your mom…

  3. Hey Jen, I can only imagine what you’re going through with your parents and it makes me so sad. 🙁 I do have to say though that not all Christians are created equal, and I hope you’ll remember that. Perhaps it’s because I’m a pretty liberal Christian (which as a Seventh-Day Adventist is pretty risqué as it is) but I’ve seen a lot of acceptance in the people at my church for gays and lesbians. We have one girl who attends regularly and periodically brings her girlfriend, and a friend of mine who considers himself an ex-gay (that makes me sad as I know he thinks he needs to be that way for his own religious reasons).

    With regards to people circa our parents’ age, I haven’t heard anyone at our church openly speak out against homosexuality. I have a bunch of friends that age who themselves have a bunch of gay friends. One in particular, you would think is this totally straight-laced Christian if you looked at her, but she recently went to the funeral for her gay friends dog, and she and Shaun (you remember from college) have totally bonded and in fact DITCHED me at last year’s Race for the Cure to go off and get Starbucks!

    With regards to people my age, I see almost global acceptance at my church. There are a few people who don’t appear against it, yet haven’t had many gay friends and therefore appear a bit nervous about the topic, but I know they’re trying. There’s also a large group of us who are incredibly offended by the lack of gay rights in this country, and I know they would fully support you, Lisa, and your awesome upcoming trip!

    So I just want to say, not all Christians are against you. I think the human factor has gotten in the way. If people were to look back to the true story of Jesus, they would see how accepting he was. That he loved everyone and he would certainly tell off anyone who made you feel less than the amazing woman you are.

    Additionally, next time someone uses the Bible to go off on you about your sexuality, saying it’s a sin, ask them if they are wearing or have ever worn a poly-cotton blended shirt (50%/50%). We all have, and mixing fabrics is listed as a sin the Bible. And since the Bible also states no sin is greater than another, you’ve just leveled their argument 🙂

    Too much of what is written in the Bible is taken to literally. And if your dissenters cite the whole Sodom and Gomorrah thing as an example, they don’t really understand that story. It wasn’t about homosexuality or heterosexuality, it was about the debauchery and rape that was going on in that city. I don’t know how people think that a straight person who sleeps around and has a new person in their bed every night is somehow more holy than a gay or lesbian person who has been in a committed, monogamous relationship for years. Pathetic.

    Anyway, to sum it all up, I think the new generation of Christians is substantially more open-minded than previous generations. And I both hope and expect to see big positive changes in the Christian church’s outlook on homosexuality.

    PS. For those out there reading this, I am a straight woman who was Jenni’s roommate for two years in college, and she is utterly fabulous! :

  4. Jenni,
    You don’t know me, but I came across your page on Facebook by mutual community connects, and this feedback you left about your journey with your parents and your coming out. I was with someone for three years who could never tell her parents about us and struggled with this transition…and still does in her current relationship. As much as I still love her and always will, there isn’t a day that goes by that I wish she had of had an inkling of inner strength within herself that you do, and I still feel regret over what could of been had she made that transition while we were together. You and Lisa are a true inspiration to our community! Good luck! Jacque

  5. Jenni –
    Thank you for sharing such a personal and painful story of your struggle to mend your relationship with your parents. You and Lisa are truly an inspiration to us all. May your journey be blessed with good fortune, love and joy.

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