When Coming Out Tears the Family Apart

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By Shi Davidi

When Rob reflects upon his life, he wishes things were different. For the past six months, the 21-year-old Canadian-born Italian, has been caught in a quagmire. Escape is a faint, distant hope, if not an impossibility. Rob is gay, and although he works in a packaging factory he’s still dependant upon a family which views homosexuality as an illness, not a reality of life. Nine years ago Marg Nosworthy’s life was shaken when her daughter revealed she was a lesbian. Nosworthy refused to accept her daughter’s homosexuality, blaming anyone and anything. With time and some help from Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), she realized the pain she was causing her daughter and the importance of remaining in her daughter’s life. Rob’s compelling story will show us how coming out of the closet can tear a family apart. Marg’s story illustrates how the bond can be repaired.

Rob wishes his mother and his sister had never found out about his homosexuality, or at the very least, discovered it differently. His nightmare began last June, on Friday the 13th, when his mother walked in on a secret he had hid from the family since he was 14 years old. “Steve (Rob’s boyfriend at the time) and I were in the basement and we heard her come through the front door,” Rob recalls. “We tried to get dressed, but there wasn’t enough time. She walked in, did a double-take and said ‘so this is what the two of you do,’  and then said to Steve ‘get out of my house and don’t ever come back.'”Steve got dressed and fled from the house. Rob’s mother looked up at him, turned away in tears and left the room. Crying, Rob chased his mother up the stairs and tried to explain to her that he was gay. “I told her being with girls didn’t work with me, but all she said was ‘don’t say that to me, I don’t want to hear it.’ She was balling.” Rob’s father was in the garage the whole time and had no idea what was happening.

The next day, Rob’s older sister, 34 and married, came by and lectured him on the pain he was causing their mother. She chastised him for being gay and told him how homosexuality was wrong. She also banned him from her home and ordered him to stay away from her two kids. And then she made him promise to stay away from Steve, “And I did because I was scared .” Rob says. “I tried to stay away, but I couldn’t – that’s the way I felt. If it wasn’t him it would’ve been another guy. I can’t change that.” It wasn’t long before Rob’s sister discovered he had broken his promise. She first threatened to phone Steve’s parents and tell them he was gay, but decided it wouldn’t change the situation. She then threatened to tell their father. “They never told my father  because they were afraid of what his reaction would be,” Rob says. “ I was scared of him finding out too. I’m scared he would beat me and be abusive.”

After talking it over, Rob’s sister and mother decided to seek professional help for Rob. “They insisted I could change,” Rob remembers, “and that I had to be open-minded and stop seeing guys. They advised me to get counselling to become straight and then they wanted to take me to a doctor to change me.”

As Rob’s relations with his mother and sister deteriorated, so did his relationship with Steve. A mutual friend had to call Rob for Steve when he wanted to talk. When Rob would leave the house, his sister would follow. A night out for the two of them became nearly impossible. But Rob and Steve  found ways around this and eventually Rob’s mother and sister stopped harassing him. “They knew I still saw Steve but they didn’t want to hear his name. They didn’t want to hear about it all. They hoped I would drift away from guys and find a girl.”

Rob’s mom soon realized that wasn’t going to happen. “ My mother couldn’t take it anymore,” says Rob. “ She felt the wife should never keep something from the husband so she told my dad.” Rob was confronted by both his parents at the dinner table. His dad got up and left the room, allowing his mother to warn Rob that he knew. “I was  terrified,” Rob recalls. “I was scared I was going to be hit or beat or kicked.” But the beating never came. “He came back into the room, sat down and said ‘so what is all this your mother has been telling me?’ He asked if I had been with Steve sexually and I said ‘yes’. He then asked me if I enjoyed having sex with a guy. Why I couldn’t just do it with a girl from behind. I told him it’s about feelings, not sex and it was something I was born with. He said ‘you chose to be this way because God doesn’t create people this way and you can change.’’’

The conversation ended in a stalemate which continues to this day. Rob’s parents remain adamant that Rob can be straight. “We don’t talk about it, but they know. Every once in awhile my dad will come into my room and say ‘you’re on the phone with those faggots aren’t you.’ He’s more uptight now about when I go out and come home.” His  relationship with his sister has improved to the point where they checked out guys together, but the bond remains tenuous. “She’s like the wind, one day she blows in one direction, the next day another. I’m not sure I can confide in her.” And his relationship with Steve ended in late December. “I had my family nagging me from side and Steve from the other. I decided to make myself happy and now I don’t listen to either of them.” As for the future, Rob looks at it realistically. “Now that they know what I’m doing it’s a start. They’ll accept it 100 per cent, but hopefully they’ll see that I’m gay and just want me to be happy.”

In 1989, Marg Nosworthy’s daughter told her she was a lesbian. Initially, Nosworthy denied her daughter’s homosexuality and their relationship suffered. Nosworthy says her reaction and that of Rob’s parents is common. “That’s pretty well how  all parents react,” she says. “I don’t think that there is a parent around who doesn’t cry when they find out that their child is a homosexual.” It took Nosworthy six months to realize the torment she was causing her daughter. It was then she went to her first PFLAG meeting. Now Nosworthy is the president of PLAG, but it took nearly four years for their mother/daughter relationship to recover.  

PFLAG is an education and support group for parents and friends of homosexuals. They meet twice a month, once in a support session, where people share their stories and once for an educational session with guest lectures.

“Parents need lots of time – a year, two years. It’s an incredible shock,” Nosworthy says. “They fight every inch of the way. We have to educate these people to understand that this is okay.” She recommends homosexual children approach their parents with some type of literature. Now that you know by Betty Fairchild and Nancy Hayward is a book she suggests. Pamphlets are available from PFLAG and the 519 Church Street community centre. People who come out to their parents should expect to do some teaching as well.

“This is the only situation where parents can’t say ‘we’ve been through that’ or  ‘I know how this feels.’ They need to understand how tremendous these kids are. They have to deal with being different when they’re teenagers, already one of the most difficult periods of your life and after that they have to be strong enough to deal with their parents.”

The 519 Church Street community centre is a good place for people struggling with their sexuality to go for help, she says. Information or contacts for most services for the gay community can be found there. And for parents who are struggling with their child’s homosexuality, she has a direct message: “Ignorance is not an excuse. If you need help to deal with it, there are people who have been through it who can help. These are your kids and you still love them.”

Rob and Steve have asked that their last names be withheld.

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