Subject: I'm Out: The Christmas Story, Pt. 1
Summary: A coming-out "dress rehearsal" ...
Date: Oct 1994
My apologies again for another hideously long post, second of three, but
I gotta finish da story.
When last we left Our Hero and Your Humble Narrator, he was only out to
one person. Here's what happened when I went home for Christmas last
year, when I had resolved to begin the coming-out process for real.
I've always been fairly good at storytelling, and I actually came out to
several friends via the telling of this story. It's long, so I'll break
it in two. The first part below deals with the unpleasantness I went
through with my parents, and part two tells how I came out to my sisters.
I've fondly referred to it, with apologies to Jean Shepherd, as "The
Christmas Story" ...
As I mentioned before, I come from a Catholic family, and my parents are
extremely conservative Catholics -- nothing new to some of y'all in
here, I'm sure. My dad, at least, is more or less reasonable. As set as
he is in his beliefs, I think it *is* possible to talk to him. Once Mom
gets involved, though, it seems that he will always take her side, no
matter how irrational she's being. To his credit, he's a very loyal
husband, but in many cases he looks the other way and backs her up when he
needs to be gently pointing out that she's being irrational.
One problem with Dad is that sometimes he's only reasonable when it suits
him. That's the norm, actually ... he seems to have great difficulty
admitting when he's wrong, because no matter how wrong he may be, he usually
thinks he's right.
My mom, to put it mildly, is *virulently* homophobic. In fact, I think
the hatred outweighs the fear -- "*They're* going to *HELL*!!!" is her most
memorable quote about gay people, the one that's burned into my memory
like a branding iron into flesh. I've heard her say awful, terrible things
about gay people, and it's only gotten worse in recent years. It's even
become somewhat of a crusade with her, and she's had homophobic letters
printed in the local paper (one of which condemned the City Council for
passing an ordinance forbidding discrimination against PWAs and HIV-positive
Every time she says something like this, I feel like she's stuck a knife
in me, and I want to say, "You know, Jesus said that whatever you to do
the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it to *ME*."
My mom's faith is a sort of fundamentalist Catholicism. Her entire
life is obsessed with religion, with prayer groups, daily Mass, heavy
involvement in the Marian Medjugorje cult, which believes in daily
apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the former Yugoslavia, and the like.
Sadly, I find that her religion manifests itself very negatively. I know
a lot more about what she hates than what she loves. She (and Dad, too)
actually report priests and nuns that they perceive as "liberal" to the
Archdiocese to try to get them silenced. That boggles my mind.
And for someone who used to be a med tech, is married to a health care
professional and has a daughter who's almost a nurse, she's also
astonishingly ignorant about AIDS and HIV transmission vectors. Some of
her bizarrely incorrect beliefs about AIDS and its transmission would be
funny if they weren't so sadly and pathetically wrong. For instance,
she once tried to tell my sister not to use a certain laundromat, because
"they've got a lot of *gays* in that neighborhood, and someone with AIDS
could do their laundry there, and they could have infected semen in their
underwear and it could get into your clothes and you could catch it from
them." I kid you not. Both of my sisters told me this story.
As the years have gone by, I've seen Mom slip further and further into
irrationality; my sisters and I believe that Mom's got some problems,
deeply buried, that she just won't address. This manifests itself in an
impossibility to discuss anything with her that's even the slightest
deviation from her beliefs; it invariably and immediately descends into
shrill shrieking. If she believes it, it's *right*, it's the Absolute
Truth, and that's the way it is.
I don't want to demonize my mom ... sometimes, she does OK. She is a
loving mother, and it is possible to get along with her as long as she's
not preaching. Unfortunately, she believes in "tough love", and doing
things "for our own good". Her main problem is that she's a control
freak, and she is terrified of the idea of her children growing up and
living their own lives. Her kids aren't kids, they range in age from 22
to 32, and have absolutely no need to have their lives run "for their own
good". She's desperate to keep us all as close as possible, but this
usually finds its expression with her wanting to keep us under her
thumb. And when she gets on a holy rampage, it's like Jekyll and Hyde.
She can get very ugly, and can be very unpleasant to be around, in these
So anyway, this is the situation I'm faced with in coming out to my
parents ... I don't see them as being even remotely receptive to the news.
After I came out to J., I took a couple of months to sort of regroup --
I had a lot of internal catching up to do. Just getting used to the idea
of being out took a lot. I almost came out next to Michael, another of
my best friends (who's straight), but chickened out a couple of times. I
then decided that I really should tell my sisters first, and that the
time to do this would be when I went home for Christmas.
I wasn't too worried about my middle sister Marie. I knew she had had some
gay friends, plus she is a nursing student that had worked with AIDS
patients, and is a very warm and compassionate person. Also, there was
an ugly incident a couple of years ago in which my mother hysterically
"accused" her (God, how I hate that word in this context) of being a
lesbian. Apparently the abusive father of a close friend of hers had
made some unsubstantiated allegations because he thought they spent too
much time together. Mom bought it without trying to substantiate it
(another frequent problem of hers), and had my Dad command Marie to
come home from wherever she was at the time. When she got home, Mom was
curled up in the fetal position, shrieking and weeping hysterically, and
unable to make any coherent syllables. I'm not exaggerating. Marie was
nonplussed at this display. There was absolutely nothing sexual going on
between her and her friend, but because of this delightful little
incident, I thought Marie would be able to ... well, relate.
Also, I was a little nervous about my youngest sister, Melissa. I had
heard her make some 'phobic remarks in the past (albeit very mild ones),
and that gave me a stomachache. Still, I was determined that if I got
time with them alone, I'd tell them.
I was also planning another "revelation" of sorts to my parents, which
in retrospect I've thought of as a dress rehearsal for a possible
coming-out one day: I had no intention of going to Mass with them on
I had more or less dispensed with Catholicism when I was still in high
school, and was finally able to stop going to Mass when I moved away.
There were some frightful fights when I declined to attend when I was
home from graduate school on holidays, but that finally faded away until
there was nothing left but my token Mass attendance at Christmas. And
last year's Mass was so unbelievably excruciating that I swore it would
be the last time. (The droning boredom of the 100-minute service, the
bad music, the cheezy P.A., the uncomfortable heat, the uncomfortable
seat, and then the final blow ... the winner of the Luca Brasi lookalike
contest who vomited his dinner all over my shoes as we were leaving the
church. He hadn't chewed it very well; it looked like mostaccioli with
tomatoes and basil. I think it was a sign from God ...)
Also, I find the Catholic position on homosexuality (not to mention their
bizarrely medieval views on sexuality in general) to be so completely
odious that I consider the Church to be my enemy in many ways. I tend
to see the institution as being bad, more so the Church hierarchy/
bureaucracy than the individual members, many of whom seem to be capable
of much more compassion and tolerance than the administration (then
again, many of them aren't, either). I just could not reconcile these
personal issues, as well as my theological objections, and resolved
that if I could help it, I would never set foot in a Catholic church
I know, I know ... why couldn't I just go this one time in a year to
please my Mom? Because I hated it, because I felt like a hypocrite when
I went, because I reject so much what the institution of the Church does
and stands for, because I abhor its treatment of gay and lesbian people,
because I live my own life in my own way and it's about time I stopped
doing this dance to keep my mom's illusions afloat. Who did she think I
was fooling, anyway? She knew that I wasn't going to Mass in the entire
11 years since I had moved out of the house (I know this sounds like it
shouldn't be a big deal, but believe me, in my family it is.)
So on Christmas Eve day, the morning after I arrived in town, my mom
asked me if I'd prefer if we all went to midnight Mass or morning Mass on
Christmas Day. I replied, in the gentlest and politest way I knew how,
that "whenever y'all want to go is fine with me, because I ... politely
and respectfully decline your invitation to go to Mass." Kinda stiff, I
know, but employing my sense of humor is not called for in Mom-situations
Her face kind of twitched. She said, "All right," then turned and went into
the kitchen. This was too easy, I thought. I asked her another question,
casually and off subject, and she spat out an answer in the venomous
vocal inflection that's well-known among me and my siblings. "Come on
Mom, you're not going to pout about this the rest of my trip, are you?"
"*Pout* is *not* the same as *hurt*."
Sigh. I had determined that I was not going to back down on this, and
that I also wasn't going to raise by voice or lose my temper. I also
decided, in what may seem to be harsh, that I was not going to let my
mother manipulate me with any magnitude of guilt-infliction or histrionics,
something as which she is an expert. No amount of screaming, crying or
guilt tripping was ever going to work again, now or ever.
"Mom ... I'm not hurting you. I didn't do anything to hurt you. You're
"You go every other year!", she shrieked. "Not voluntarily", I replied.
"Mom, you *know* that I don't go to Mass anymore, and I haven't for years."
"Why can't you do JUST THIS ONE THING for me?!" I knew that one was
"Mom, please ..."
Then she whirled around with "Well WHY? WHY WON'T YOU GO?"
I said the words. "Mom, you know why. I don't go to Mass because I'm
Her fury intensified, but she was also horrified. "YOU *ARE*! YOU *ARE*
"I'm sorry Mom, but I left the Church a dozen years ago ... how can you
not know that?" Possibly because she was in her own state of denial.
I was completely unprepared for her bizarre reply. "Well the *BLESSED*
*VIRGIN* *MOTHER* has been making *apparitions* ALL AROUND THE WORLD, and
you had just better GET YOUR LIFE IN ORDER, BUSTER!" And she started
(All that for just this, declining to go to Mass and confirming that I
had left the Church, something she really already knew? This was seriously
smacking of "You ain't seen nothin' yet ...")
It was at this point that my father walked in the room. "What the
hell's going on here?" he said. Great entrance line, Dad ...
"*YOUR* SON has *JUST* INFORMED me that he's *NOT* CATHOLIC!"
"Whaaaat?" he said. "You are Catholic. You were born Catholic, you
were baptized Catholic, and you're going to be Catholic until the day
you die." I replied, "Well gee, thanks for giving me a choice in the
matter. I appreciate it."
I was also a bit unprepared for what he said next. "Well, why have you
left the Church? Let's sit down and talk about this, right now.
We're three rational adults here." Of course, I could only count one
rational adult there, maybe one-and-a-half.
"You obviously have some problem with the Church. What is it?"
Intelligent and insifghtful man as Dad is, he was right, of course.
But I knew that he *really* didn't want to know my big reason, and I
really wasn't ready to tell him, either. "I really don't want to talk
about it", I said.
"Well, that's a cop-out", he said, using one of his favorite expressions.
"This isn't just going to go away, you know." And, of course, he was
right, but he didn't know why.
I told him that I was a grown man, 30 years of age, that I supported
myself and lived my own life 2000 miles away from their house, that
that I had my own spirituality that was *private*. That I didn't make
this decision lightly, that it took years of thought, and that I find
proselytization to be deeply offensive. That I was no longer a child,
and that I'm sorry, I'm under no obligation to go into my personal reasons
why I left the Church.
And then I let something slip. "You probably don't really want to know
anyway," which I can't believe I said, but I thought I got away with it.
(I found out later that my sister Melissa, with whom I was supposed to
pick up our other sister and go to lunch, was eavesdropping on all of this.
She told me later that when she heard me say that, she thought to herself,
"What the fuck does he mean by *that*?")
And I said something else that also sounded like a line from a coming-out
script: "Sooner or later you're just going to have to learn to accept me
for who I am."
This continued back and forth for a few minutes until Melissa finally
came in, rescued me from this situation and, to my great relief, we
both left and headed out to Marie's. I thought that this would probably
be a good time to tell the both of them.
The story gets *much* more pleasant from here. :-)
To be continued ...
[Part 1 of this story dealt with an extremely unpleasant "coming out" to
my parents as having left Catholicism. My sister Melissa rescued me from
the squabble and we headed to our other sisters' house, where I planned
to make the big leap and tell them that I'm gay.]
Along the way, as Melissa drove me to Marie's place, she and I talked
about what had just happened, and I went over in my head how I was going
to approach coming out to them. I had no idea what I was going to do,
and the butterflies in my stomach were turning into dragonflies.
We got to Marie's apartment, and I gave her the lowdown on what had just
happened (they had both correctly predicted a shitstorm). When I got to
the line about "you don't want to know", Marie's eyes got kinda big, and
she said, "Um ... well, what *are* some of your reasons?"
I took a very deep breath and said, "There are a lot of theological
reasons, and a lot of personal reasons, but probably the biggest
reason I left the Catholic Church behind as being my enemy ... is
because I'm gay."
(This was the first time I had actually said the words out loud. When I
first came out, to J., I just said, "Me, too.")
Her jaw dropped. Melissa's jaw dropped. They stared. Not a word was
spoken. I thought I was going to throw up. I made an attempt to inject
some levity into the situation by leaning over and closing my Marie's mouth,
saying in my best Ninth Ward accent, "Close ya mouth, dawlin'!"
Melissa broke the silence by speaking first. What she said was this:
"You're full of shit!"
Oh no, no no no no, I thought. This is not what I wanted to hear.
(As she told me later, this was her initial reaction because she thought
I was kidding, and she was really pissed off at me that I would kid around
about something so serious! It was also the first of a few memorable
quotes from her that day.)
I just started to talk, to tell them that I had always been gay, what I
went through growing up, what not to be worried about, and tried to
dispel some myths and misconceptions they may have had. They professed
their cluelessness, that they had no idea (I moved away when they were 14
and 10). They both sat cross-legged on the floor, looked up at me and
listened with rapt attention.
Melissa's second memorable comment:
"Oh my God, I feel like I'm stoned ..."
Well, they were both absolutely wonderful, beyond my wildest dreams. They
both hugged me fiercely, and Melissa said, "I would love you if
you were green and had horns." She then broke out into a chorus of
Kermit the Frog's "It's Not Easy Being Green", and we laughed until we cried.
They said "We have some questions", and we spent the entire afternoon
talking. They asked a ton of them and I tried to answer as thoroughly
and truthfully as I knew how. I also found out that I owe a debt of
gratitude to a gay couple that Melissa had met in school and with
whom she became friends. She became one of the many people whose myths,
fears and misconceptions about gay people are dispelled once they get to
know some of us. (Thanks, Ricky and Herman!)
Melissa's other memorable comment ... she kept getting up and running to
the bathroom. I teased, "Hey, sorry I'm making you pee."
"You're not making me pee, you're making me crap." Ah yes, that old
family tradition of loose bowels under stress.
We went off to lunch, talking about it and even laughing and joking about
it, and in my entire life I've never felt closer to my two sisters. That
closeness has grown exponentially since then. We spend literally hours
and hours talking on the phone, enough to make my naturally suspicious
mother ... well, suspicious. (Mom, a couple of months ago, burst into
Melissa's room, waking her up, phone bill in hand. "What could you
*possibly* have to talk to your brother about for *three* *hours*?!?"
Can you believe it?)
So Melissa, about whom I was most worried, took it really well, far
better than I could have hoped. Marie told me much later that Melissa
had talked to her alone about it, and had cried a little. This was
mostly because she was worried about me, because, as she put it, "there
are a lot of shitheads in this world," and she was worried about what I
might have to go through from them.
When I got back home after all of this, my dad came out of the back of the
house -- Mom was nowhere to be seen -- and made some idle chitchat as I
began to cook dinner (it had become traditional for me to cook the
Christmas Eve gumbo for the last several years, and I was working on my
magnificent chocolate brown roux).
Finally, he said, "You know, you picked one hell of a time to drop this
bombshell on your mother." It took the greatest physical effort I could
muster to keep from breaking out into completely inappropriate laughter.
"Bombshell? *BOMBSHELL?*" I thought. "Man, that was a firecracker!
You want me to bring out the nuke?" :-)
We ended up having a serious, quite rational and very good conversation.
I assured him that I love them both very much and pointed out that I *am*
spiritual, that I'm a good person who leads a good life, that I have many
friends who love me and whom I love back, and that I hope I'm not
sounding rude to say that you're really not entitled to an explanation.
Not yet, anyway, I thought. My dad astonished my by answering, "All
right. Fair enough." We continued to talk for a while, and I really
enjoyed our conversation and our time together, even though I had to
endure some digs. "Well," he said somewhat petulantly, "it's a gift, you
know, our religion."
"Sorry Dad," I said. "I don't mean to sound unappreciative, but I
brought this one back to the store because it didn't fit."
Later that night, Melissa's boyfriend and soon-to-be-fiancee Jeff and a
couple of relatives came over for dinner, and when Mom finally came out, she
looked shell-shocked. She wasn't wearing "company clothes", and hadn't
even put on any makeup (which, according to my sisters, is unheard-of).
I found out that she had been curled up on her bed all day, crying.
And all this because I told her I left the church, something she already
knew ("But it never sounded so final", my dad tried to explain later), and
not because of telling her some *real* bombshell, like that I was gay!!!
And I had to deal with the inner guilt-struggle of "look at what you did
to your mom" versus "I'm sorry she's upset, but she's just hurting
herself". Dinner seemed to go fairly well, although people could tell
something was wrong.
This episode with my parents, and particularly my Mom (who never brought
it up with me the rest of my visit but apparently still obsesses with it
daily) still stings. Despite this, I came back from this Christmas visit
with many wonderful gifts: an incredible weight lifted from my
shoulders, a feeling of inner peace, an excitement over the prospect of
getting on with my life and *having* a fulfilling life, the relationship
and the love between me and my sisters being deeper than it ever was.
(There's another part to the story, involving somebody else and what
happened when I came out to that person, but to respect that person's
privacy it's gonna have to wait. But hoo-boy ... it's gonna be worth the
And get this -- nowadays if anybody says anything homophobic in Melissa's
presence, she's in their face about it, and she uses all the facts she's
gone out of her way to learn. You go, girl! (Aah, I'm just getting in
touch with my Inner Queen ... ;-)
Oh, and one more plot complication -- apparently, ever since Christmas,
Mom's been asking Marie and Melissa, over and over ... "Why don't you
think he ever talks about having a girlfriend? ... Does he ever
talk to you about being in a relationship with anybody? Has he ever
talked to you about wanting to get married?" To use an ancient Irish
Gaelic expression ... oy vey.
She knows. But she's in denial with a capital D. I don't know if this
is going to make things better or worse ...
There's one ray of hope here. In March, I got an 18-page handwritten
letter from my dad, who wrote it while he was on a Jesuit silent retreat,
and did a lot of thinking about what happened at Christmas. He actually
apologized to me! And he said he needed to learn to be an adult friend
to an adult child, instead of being a parent.
And in the course of the letter he said six times that he loved me
unconditionally. I bawled when I read it ... it's just the kind of thing
a gay child needs to hear when preparing to come out to a parent. Of
course, he was referring to the Catholic thing ... and he conveniently
forgets this "adult friend" thing when he's badgering my sister. She got
a similar letter, and when he hassles her as if she was a child, she
throws that sentence right back in his face!
As I said, I think he might be able to handle it, but Mom's going to be a
I've gotten some great advice on parents, both from close friends and from
mottsers in here. It's been pointed out to me that parents can surprise
you. Emily's talked about seemingly hopeless cases coming around, and
how the news of a gay child has yet to be fatal to anyone. But knowing
my Mom as I do, I can't get my dire predictions out of my head.
Here's what I think is going to happen: she thinks all gay people are
going to hell, and has fervently stated this on numerous occasions.
Her first thought is that she's going to be convinced that my immortal
soul is going to roast in hell, and she's probably going try to do
whatever it takes to "convert" or "cure" me so that I won't go to hell.
She'll refuse to accept it, because she's always right, and I'm always
wrong when I disagree with her. She won't talk to P-FLAG, because
she'll see them as just "spreading gay propaganda". And I can't get a
friendly and sympathetic priest or nun to talk to her, because not only
won't she listen, but she'll fink on them to the Archbishop.
There'll also be the "How will this look?" factor ... the very idea that
the Head Honcho of her prayer group ends up having a gay son. She's
intensely concerned with what other people think. She's also going to be
immediately convinced that being gay = having AIDS.
I can teach, I can dispel the myths, but I can't do it if she's
hysterical and won't listen. I think Dad is my only hope.
I'm afraid that it's going to come to an unspoken ultimatum: either your
church, or me. I know this sounds terrible, but I really don't know
which one they'll pick.
Worst case scenario -- she'll have a breakdown. I have a real
worry about this. But I know that hearing this news has never been fatal
for anybody, and I don't think Mom is a precedent setter. And I know
that I just can't go on much longer without telling them. My
relationship with them gets more and more distant the longer that I'm
out and they don't know. It's already getting to the point where I don't
even want to talk to them on the phone anymore, with this still unspoken.
All we seem to be able to talk about these days is food. OK, that's fun
... but you can't build a relationship on food.
And if they ever spout some homophobic bullshit in my presence again, I'm
not sure that I'm going to be able to keep my mouth shut. I know that you
should never come out to anyone in anger, but only because you love them.
I've come to realize that if they can't deal with it it's *their*
problem. I'm going to be kind and gentle, and I'm going to have to have
infinite patience, but I'm going to do the best I can to make it
work. As the guy in my .sig says ... "Whatever you is, BE that!"
This is reality, this is life, and as Garrison Keillor says in the
Powdermilk Biscuit ads, I (and they) have got to get up and do what
needs to be done.
Why, then, am I so terrified to do this?
(I can see the forthcoming advice ... "Just get up off your ass and
do it." :-)
I know that many, if not most of y'all have had a rough time dealing with
your parents. I almost feel like a whiner after reading the stories
of people like Trey Harris and Derik Cowan who are having to deal with
being cut off. Me, I live on my own and I support myself. They can only
cut me off emotionally, but that's bad enough. I do believe they love
me, and I don't believe that there'll be an "I have no son" reaction,
but I think that they may do something irrational, and I know that it's
going to be very, very, very ugly. I dread it. Sigh.
I'll be back home later this week, and I'm debating telling them then.
Problem is, we've already got plans to go out to dinner and spend time
together, and I don't want to "spoil" that. Something tells me that this
will be the last opportunity I'll have to spend pleasant time with my
parents for a long time.
I had been considering coming out to them in a letter. My main reason
for this is so that my explanations can be well thought out and measured,
something I don't think I'll be able to do if faced with my mother's
hysteria and shrieking. Some little niggling voice keeps telling me that
this is, to use one of Dad's expressions, a cop-out, that I should have
the guts to tell them to their faces. I don't know. Have any of y'all
handled it in this way?
Enough of this shit! Onward.
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