Getting Out

I never managed to come out, but being queer was my way of resisting a narcissistic parent.

When you come out, there are meant to be tears and piano chords. You’re meant to do it as a teenager: sit down with mum and dad and break the news, promise it wasn’t a choice, cry a bit. Then they’re meant to tell you they accept you—that it’s just who you are, and they’ve known for a while, and God didn’t make you this way to punish you. If they don’t disown you, they’re being wonderful, and you give them however long they need to deal with it. It’s best not to deviate from the script: you’re expected to be vulnerable. You’re not allowed to be complex.

Before ending contact, I never managed to come out—partly because it was never a secret I was queer, mostly because my mum was an emotionally abusive narcissist. When she did grill me over it, at ten and eleven and seventeen and eighteen and nineteen and twenty-one and twenty-two, I wasn’t cooperative; using the word queer was only part of that. I have a sexuality no one has ever been able to guess because most don’t know it exists; I do experience it as a choice and not a natural state; I find the line between heteronormative parenting and psychological abuse blurry, and I think coming out normalises erasure and commonly prioritises straight parents’ comfort over their queer kids’ safety. Also, I’m an atheist. Whoops.

I didn’t come out—I got out. The end of that relationship proved to be a respite from a parent who weaponised every vulnerability. When my mum told me gay people went to heaven, it felt like one more invalidation of my choice to exit her faith. When she told me she was okay with who I was—I hadn’t asked, though it was a step up from ‘what you are’—it felt like an attempt to get close enough to hurt me. For a long time I felt guilty for keeping the queer side of me at arm’s length from my mum, ashamed of having felt vulnerable, even of having been ashamed. Recently, the most freeing realisation has been that being a demanding and impossible-to-talk-to queer—being queer at all under that roof—allowed me to carve out a space too alien for my abuser to enter.

I didn’t keep that from my mum because it made me vulnerable. It kept her out because it made me powerful.

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