The politics of coming out

A night of grappling with the reality of marbled meat was not one spent coming out to my parents, I decided. Eight years after telling friends one by one, four after I blurted it out to my cousins with the help of several gulped Tanqueray and tonics, those same cousins shook their heads in a panic when I thought it would a raffish movie to announce, “I’m gay” at the Chicago Chop House.

My time would come eight months later. Gin was involved; garbanzos fritos substituted for the ribeye or whatever. It had been a good evening: my dad at his scabrous best, Mom as straight man. An unplanned gesture, a burp almost. Stricken, she turned to him. He nodded. “I know,” he said with a tight resigned grin, and he didn’t lie. A tearful couple of hours ensued during which he continued to project reasonableness, even good cheer. I hadn’t realized to what degree decades of pantomime had obscured my humanity; we reserve our lives for our friends and our rituals for our families. I cracked jokes, gossiped, shared opinions on food and Fleetwood Mac albums and American Airlines terminals. And now there were consequences. You can see whoever you want, and you can tell your mother, just don’t tell me, I won’t show up, Dad said the next day sitting in my apartment, his face lined with exhaustion. Still testing the arm, head, and legs of this newly human body, I accepted these terms. Well, not terms — crumbs.

This détente dissolved a few years later. My folks are cooler now. Having grandchildren has helped: Mom even asked for advice on how to answer possible questions from my oldest niece about gay parents (“Some kids have a mom and a dad; some kids have just a mom or a dad; some two moms or two dads”). So these stats encourage me:

A majority of gay and bisexual Generation Z teenage boys report being out to their parents, part of an uptick in coming out among young people that researchers have noted in recent decades, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. However, stigma and religious beliefs still prevent some young people from disclosing their sexual identity.

This study offers a glimpse into the coming out practices of Generation Z, those born between 1998 and 2010, a group that researchers are only beginning to study.

“This study is encouraging in that it shows that many teens, including those under 18 years old, are comfortable with their sexuality,” said lead author David A. Moskowitz, PhD, assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing. “At the same time, we must be cautious, as the data also point to some of the same barriers and discrimination that previous generations have faced. Work still needs to be done.”

I worry about trans adolescents in cultures like mine where gender identity gets fixed to expectations about maternity, earning power, household management; the reek of machismo isn’t far. During spring 2020’s pandemic lockdown I knew several students who had left their houses because they weren’t homes; now they faced potentially dangerous situations. But we hope younger parents — those born in the 1980s, say — have in them to flaunt the quality of their mercy.

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