Sunday, January 29, 2012

LGBT discrimination hurts everyone: My story about coming out as an ally

A key component of learning to be a counselor is "unpacking your suitcase."  In order to effectively guide others through their issues, one must first move through their own successfully.  I am in my second year of my program, and I have been making steady progress up until this quarter.  All of the sudden, things I thought were packed away nicely and neatly are coming unfolded and launching themselves at me with full force!  I am having to reexamine things I thought to be true, only this time I am looking at it from a different perspective.   At least I have the resources to know I need to move through the pain to get through it and not try to avoid it.  As of this moment, I can sum it up in one word: OUCH.  Psychological growth is painful!

It all started with my group counseling class, where I actually have to participate in a real group for two hours a week.  During the first session, I realized that I do not like self-disclosing to six people at one time.  I'm totally fine spilling my guts to my therapist, or my partner, or anyone who is willing to listen really.  But having multiple faces staring back at me as I share is terrifying, and something I did not truly understand until I experienced it myself.

During the second session, I decided to talk about my dad's coming out when I was 12.  That topic is something that has always been difficult for me to open up to people about.  I'm fine talking about it once people know, but it's that initial disclosure that freaks me out.  I've gotten better over the years, but it is still something I am not entirely comfortable with.  So as you might imagine, it was a huge risk telling six people at once.

When I got home that night, and for the next few days, I could not stop thinking about that session.  Why, exactly was it so hard for me to tell people that my dad is gay?  I think I came up with the answer in the middle of the night.  He first came out to my mom about a year before he came out to us kids.  After that it took them a long time to tell my grandparents.  During that period, my brother and I had to keep it a secret.  I even had to lie to my grandfather once to cover up the fact that we were going swimming in my dad's apartment pool.  I also kept it from my friends for a long while.  Basically, when I was 12-13 years old, this huge thing was happening in my life and I had no one to talk to.  I went about my junior high activities like I was fine, I kept my grades up, I did what I was supposed to.  But I was not fine.

At first I was angry at my parents.  They were so busy having the "perfect" divorce, making sure my dad still came home for dinners and that we acted as "normal" as possible, that no one bothered to check on me.  Why didn't anyone ask me about my feelings?  Why didn't they send me to a counselor?  Why weren't they more open?  Why all this secrecy and hiding and SHAME??

Then I attended a Safe Space training on Saturday to learn how to be a better LGBT ally.  It left me wrecked.  I have no other word to describe it.  That wasn't supposed to happen, right?  Wasn't I supposed to leave going "Rah rah rah, let's help the gay kids?"  Instead I felt a mixture of anger and grief and I wanted to curl up in a corner and cry.  It was only after participating in a dramatic sketch where a daughter comes out to her unsupportive parents, did it truly sink in as to why there was all the shame and secrecy.  My parents had grown up in environments where being gay was this horrible, sinful thing.  I'm sure they had seen and experienced discrimination similar to that in the sketch, or maybe worse.  I don't know.  But they had good reason to be scared.  

My anger shifted from being directed at them, to being directed at society.  This is not okay.  Why didn't my dad feel comfortable with his identity?  Don't people realize what they are doing?  Behaving this way is not only deeply hurtful to the LGBT community, it is DAMAGING TO EVERYONE.  It hurts the kids.  It hurts the parents.  It hurts the families.  It puts people in boxes and forces them to pretend to be things they are not.  It makes people feel unsafe.  It can contribute to suicide and violence.  One hateful act or word can spread further than one ever imagined.

IT IS CONTAGIOUS.   

Please, help end the hate.  

2 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your story, as painful as it might have been! That is what changes people's hearts and minds.

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  2. Thank you for being open about your story and sharing it with all of us. I cried in several spots, especially your last full paragraph when you spoke about how this hurt is damaging to everyone. It really is. I'm so happy for you that you're going through this journey, it's going to prove to make you a better counselor for those you see in the future.

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