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I Have No Idea What To Call This But I’m Gay and Mad At My Parents

The Bechdel test, as any bookish queer worth their salt knows, states that a piece of media is only worth consuming if it contains at least two women who talk about something other than a man. In the time that I have come out to my family, I have developed a test of my own—the “what-can-I-bring-home-from-the-library” test, if you will (I know, it’s less snappy). It goes like this: a piece of media is only worth consuming if I can avoid having a conversation with my parents about it.


Under normal circumstances, the development of this rule would be cruel on my part. But as my library of queer books continues to grow, there is only so many times I can clutch a copy of Fun Home to my chest and brave the awkward pause between a parent asking me what I am reading and their realization that there’s a lot of weight to this gay thing, if she keeps bringing home books about it. So usually, I just lie. Fun Home becomes a piece about a dysfunctional family, followed by some joke that I recognize us in them, the circus that we are. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda can go largely unmodified by this treatment—just so long as I don’t mention that Simon’s mysterious and romantic email correspondence is with a man. I received a copy of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe this Christmas, and felt my heart seize when my father asked if he could read it over. Maybe he wouldn’t notice the pink triangle on the cover and the “Stonewall Book Award” text to match. Neutering these stories leaves them a shell of their former selves, but I suspect that the authors would understand why I do it.


I don’t mean to suggest that my parents aren’t supportive. It’s obvious that they are. Small positive comments about my sexuality, additions to future plans (“when you get married to your husband… or wife …”), are all I really want. There was never a need to have the TV moment where we all hugged each other, crying, my father whispering through gasps that he would love me no matter what. In fact, all I have ever gotten from him on the topic of my sexuality, past my botched coming out where he asked me if being bisexual meant that I had been faking dating my boyfriend, was an offhand comment about me possibly living in a Greenwich brownstone one day. If anything, he has big dreams for me. And it is that overall powerful feeling of love, big dreams, and brownstones that I think gets muddled in with my sexuality, and their feelings of it. I think my parents see my sexuality as a part of me that can be monitored—just as my college career, or interest in writing, can be monitored. Here are where the problems begin.


It is in the same breath that my mom can freely ask if I am becoming “full-on lesbian” in earshot of nearby DSW shoppers after I ask for a pair of combat boots that she can also initiate a subtle ban against me wearing “gay” apparel. I make a slight reference to the sweatshirt reading “Best Bi” that has been sitting on my wishlist for a while, and it prompts the conversation. “You know why you can’t have that,” she says, a sad shrug, “what can you do?” evident in her small smile. Yes, I know “why” I can’t, but I would like to know why she has the power to fashion my sexuality in public at will—god forbid I wear a sweatshirt broadcasting it at my own leisure. This is not the first time she has done this, and it will not be the last. I don’t mind that she makes the jokes. I don’t mind that she laughs while telling me that I’ve failed as a daughter by choosing to be a homosexual, adopting the language and rhetoric of the idiots my dad insists on putting on in the family living room TV. Sarcasm and insults have been our way of family communication since I was old enough to understand the concepts. It’s the power imbalance that upsets me.


Luckily, my parents are not well versed in the more subtle expressions of queer fashion. Walking outside the house with them, I dig my nails into the woven stitch of my jean jackets, and tug so tightly on the collars of my flannel that I could faint. They’re a small beacon suggesting at my identity—a match to signal a passing plane on your deserted island when you really wanted a flare gun.


Of course, what is acceptable for me to wear in front of my parents, or read, is not the overall problem. I can bite my tongue on that particular subject, fold what little queer apparel and memorabilia I do own and store it in a box marked “untouchable” for my parents—waiting for the day I have my own place, and my own closet (ha!). The problem is the assumption that parents have some sort of monopoly on their queer kid’s identities, especially in the name of safety.


When I first came out to my parents, it was a cage match. Not because they were disappointed in me. But because I had neglected to tell them. To their credit, it was a piece of information that I had been holding onto for quite some time. A lot happens between ages 10 and 18.


But in their arguments—mostly my mom’s, because my father had sunk into our living couch in resignation—that damned word kept showing up. “Safety”.


I had told them that I did not want to come out to them because I found it ridiculous that queers were under the obligation to, but heterosexuals are not. As I would discover later, the reasoning behind my self-content closeting would be more complicated (read: internalized biphobia), but at the time, it was a conviction that I held near and dear to my heart.


“Straight people aren’t getting killed for being straight,” my mother yelled. “It’s a dangerous world for you. Do you even see the news? We need to keep you safe.”


As if I didn’t already know this. As if what she saw on the news was somehow not already comparable to my life.


“You don’t trust us,” she said. “That’s why you didn’t tell us.”


Past the irony of her saying this and then making our fight center around my sexuality, my mother, like so many other parents of queer children, failed to see that she did not own stock to my sexuality. Coming out is a privilege, not their right. It was always my business to do with my sexuality what I pleased—to wrap it up in a lens of “trust” is manipulative at worst, and cruel at best.


It is impossible to not address this to them, so in the sacrifice of stylistic unity, I will. I don’t care if all of this is because you’re trying to keep me safe. The assumption that you, a heterosexual, have more experience in the area of preserving my sexuality and my body unharmed is laughable, and an insult to the years worth of defenses I have built against a heteronormative society. My mother has never walked behind my two best friends as they hold hands and had passerbys intentionally look past them, straight into me, looking for the answers that they don’t deserve. My father has never sat in a room full of children who make it their goal to insert the f-slur in every sentence imaginable specifically because they know that it bothers you. You cannot keep me safe from these things. You never could, even when I was younger and under your more immediate control.


What do you consider safety? Are you to keep me locked in a tower as your queer Rapunzel? Shall I let down my golden tresses for the prince, who turns out to be an incredible stone butch? Is all of this a fairy tale to you?


And do you think that if I encounter a homophobe, their reaction will be somehow less robust if I am wearing rainbows than if I am holding another woman’s hand? Do you think that I don’t already consciously scout out safe spaces for me in my world, noticing where I have seen other queer people tread bravely? Do you know that I do not wear queer shirts when I know that there is any possibility that I will have to brave a dark parking lot by myself that day, god forbid someone follow me back? Is that something that you have ever thought about, or am I introducing new fears to you—ones that I have known for years?


I have developed my own system of safety. I’m the only one that can. This isn’t as simple as teaching me to look both ways before crossing the street. My sexuality is my own to figure out. And while I appreciate your help, your advice, and your support, never forget this.


It’s taken a fair deal of consideration, but I decide that Knit One, Girl Two is innocent enough to pass this “what-can-I-bring-home” test. I know that the minute I download it, it will also be sent to my mother’s kindle app and my father’s Paperwhite—our accounts are connected. I have chosen a queer book to purchase under this consideration. The lengthy word-salad of an ebook title, guaranteeing maximum Kindle search hits, betrays me slightly. The subtitle reads “a sweet Jewish f/f contemporary romance”, but I figure that they will not know what f/f means. The cover features two women kissing, but I factor in how small cover art appears on my mom’s cell phone screen, and the blurriness of my father’s traditional black-and-white e-reader, and reason that it will not be a huge problem… and thus, the cycle continues.

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