Come Out Of The Closet Son…Then Go Back In…

Sixteen months ago I asked a question that got a decent amount of attention on the internet:

Son scootering the sidewalk.

“Do you think that it is possible for a homosexual person to not have to come out of the closet.  I don’t mean stay closeted for always and ever.  I mean never even enter the closet.  For instance, I’ve asked my oldest son if he thinks anybody in his class is cute.  I’m careful how I phrase it.  I don’t ask if he thinks any of the girls are cute.  I leave it open so that he can answer honestly.  Do you think an LGBT youth could grow up and never step foot in the closet (at least with immediate family), thus making the coming out process (with the immediate family) obsolete?  Can a family be so okay with homosexuality that, say, a fifth grade boy could tell his mom very comfortably that the boy in class in a Chargers jersey and still outgrowing his baby fat (or Baby Phat, who knows) is totes amazeballs?”            — Raising My Rainbow, June 2, 2011

A lot of people have told me that it is possible, especially in a family like ours.  My brother grew up feeling like he was hiding in the closet for as far back as he can remember…which is pretty much around the time that he wanted a Wonder Woman doll for Christmas and longed to dress in drag for Halloween.  The thought of my son bypassing a good amount of the guilt, shame, fear and secretiveness that my brother grew up with made me happy and made me feel like his father and I (and the rest of the people in his life) were/are doing something right.  If my son were LGBTQ and didn’t want to step foot in the closet he didn’t have to.  Hooray!

Sons savoring the sunset.

But, all of that was when my son was four-years-old and him realizing his sexuality seemed like a thing for the distant future.  Then, Amelia (who writes for the Huffington Post’s Gay Voices section and with whom I’ve gotten to know via email) started writing about her son who is seven years old and openly identifies as gay.  He came out when he was six.  Then, an awesome mom who I met through my blog wrote last week about her son and how he recently declared that he is in love with another boy.  He is six.  He is in kindergarten.  C.J. is almost six.  C.J. is in kindergarten.

I used to think that we had until middle school (plus or minus a year or two) to learn our son’s sexuality.  What if it happens in kindergarten?  What if it happens tomorrow?

There is a new hesitation in me.  If he is LGBTQ, I wanted my son to be out of the closet – never in it – with us, his family.  I hadn’t factored in how he would handle it with the other seven billion people on earth…at age 6, then 7, then 8, then….?

If my son were to come out to us in the next five to ten years, what do I tell him about being open about his sexuality?  That it’s a private matter, which only his family needs to know about?

What would I tell him if he were heterosexual?  Would I parent him the same?

If I encourage him to keep a part of himself a secret, am I pushing him into the closet?

Do I explain to him the dangers of being out to certain types of people – his bullying schoolmates included?  Is a child equiped to fully understand that?

How do I teach my son that he’s perfectly made, raise him with no shame, encourage him to be the most authentic version of himself…and then tell him to keep quiet about it at school and on the playground?

If C.J. is LGBTQ, I’ve always wanted him to be out and free and proud.  Knowing that that moment may be closer than we thought, what I really want is for my son to be safe.  And, sometimes it feels like he can’t be out and free and proud and safe all at the same time.

About raisingmyrainbow is a blog about the adventures in raising a fabulous, gender creative son.
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80 Responses to Come Out Of The Closet Son…Then Go Back In…

  1. Jalen says:

    good advice

  2. It’s really amazing and inspiring to read about your experiences. You’re a bit of a pioneer, and you’ll certainly walk on bumpy ground sometimes and you will not be able to do everything right – but that’s totally fine as long as your son grows up loved and accepted no matter what. Those labels – LGBTQ whatever and also male/ female should be something we won’t need anymore in a perfect world. As long as we don’t have that, I tend to think of them as a crutch. Helps us to learn walking and to learn that we belong – not in the closet but that we are not alone. Because that’s how queer teens used to grow up when i was a kid – thinking that they’re the only one who feels that way. Finding out that we are many – and that being different makes us strong and proud is a powerful experience that someone who never felt “different” probably doesn’t understand. I love that quote from my favorite TV series Queer as folk: “Sure, in a lot of ways, I am just like you. I wanna be happy, I want some security, a little extra money in my pocket, but in many ways, my life is nothing like yours. Why should it be? Do we all have to have the same lives to have the same rights? I thought that diversity was what this country was all about. In the gay community, we have drag queens, leather daddies, trannies, and couples with children – every color of the rainbow. My mother’s standing way in the back with some friends. My friends. She once told me that people are like snowflakes; every one special and unique… and in the morning you have to shovel ’em off the driveway. But being different is what makes us all the same. It’s what makes us family.” Keep on rocking!

  3. Stephen says:

    I am an openly gay man. I have always been “out of the closet” so to speak. When I was 9, I was the Child-Like Empress from Neverending Story for Halloween (I wore that white dress and pearl necklace on my forehead to school). My parents divorced when I was 9 or 10 months old, but both have always been incredibly supportive of me and my lifestyle. When I was in 4th grade a new family moved in next door who had a a little boy round about my own age. I fell head-over-heels for that boy, I knew it the first time I saw him. He was the first person I had ever been “attracted” to, so to speak. I never once thought it was strange that I found another boy attractive because my parents had never told me what was normal and what wasnt. My mother has always been very nonspecific about that sort of thing. “When you find someone you care about”, “When you meet someone you find attractive”, that sort of gender nondescript language. I had no idea that there was a difference between being gay or straight or whatever, all I knew was that I was in love (or the nine year old equivalent) with the boy next door.

    As the months went along, the boy next door and I became friends. He was the exact opposite of me. Sports and action figures and what not. I would sit and watch him play soccer in my giant floppy sun hat and fanning myself with my hand painted Chinese fan (I had recently discovered Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo on TCM and was slightly obsessed with what I thought was ultimate glamour).

    That summer, I told my mother that I wanted to get married. She was both amused and incredulous at the same time. She asked me who I wanted to marry, and I told her the boy next door (I obviously used his name, I didnt refer to him as the boy next door). She gently laughed and asked me if I had talked to him about that. I said I had, and she asked me what he thought of the idea. “He said, ‘Ok, as long as you keep coming to my soccer games and do my homework when I dont feel like it” I replied (Which, I think, is a VERY early form of the pre-nup).

    The next day, after soccer, I walked up to the boy next door, took his hand and said “OK, now we are married.” He looked down at my hand holding his, looked back up and said “Ok. Will you go get me a Sunny Delight?” and kissed me on the cheek as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

    If more parents in the world were like you and your husband, there would much less pain and anger and hatred. Its families like yours that makes me hopeful for the future, not only the future of LGBTQ people, but for everyone.

    Love and acceptance are never bad things.

    • Kristin says:

      I love this story -and not only because I wanted to be the princess from The Neverending Story for my entire childhood.

      My kids are young, and I haven’t thought of asking them about boy- or girlfriends yet, so I am grateful to read this and remind myself NOT to fall into the trap of asking limiting questions, or to make assumptions.

  4. Jenni says:

    I think you are an absolutely amazing person and mother. If only everyone could be as accepting as you!

  5. Meg says:

    I am 20 years old female and for a long time I have known that I was attracted to other females, I was terrified of what my family would say but even more so I was terrified of what would happen at school if people knew, there had been other girls and boys come out, so to speak, and be put through hell and I didn’t want that. I remember confiding in my mum when I was 12 that I thought I liked girls and she simply replied ‘you are young, you have a long life ahead of you, you will know and figure it out for yourself later in life, don’t stress or worry now, just enjoy being young’ I had several boyfriends throughout high school and the years following, but it never felt quite right, then about two months before my 20th birthday I met this incredible girl and became drawn to her in every way, I couldn’t stop talking to her, or thinking about her and eventually I knew that I wanted to be with her, she asked me to be her girlfriend, and I said yes.
    I suppose I never really ‘came out’ I was lucky enough that my family simply accepted the fact that I do, now, identify as a lesbian, my mum accepted my girlfriend immediately and treated her no different to the boyfriends I had had in the past and no one in my immediate family, nor the majority of my extended family, blinked twice. Because of my family, and my girlfriends family, being so very accepting I truly didn’t care what anyone else thought, I announced that I was a lesbian on Facebook by posting a photo of myself and my amazing girlfriend kissing.
    I have experienced judgement, I have faced many vulger comments and questions regarding my sexuality, but my family has been by my side every step of the way and that has made all the difference in the world and I have never been happier than I am now almost 9 months into my relationship, I know that many people don’t have so much support around them, but I feel that there truly does not need to be an endless, hurtful process to coming out and my way of looking at it is that C.J will know when it’s right and when he’s ready to tell people, publicly, who he truly is, some people will understand, some will not, however, he has an incredible support base at home which I believe should help him through. No matter what age he is when he comes out, there will always be those people who won’t understand, but regardless of his age, he will handle it in his own way, and he will know that way when the time comes.
    I wish you, C.J and your family all the best in the world, it is truly wonderful to see that people are being allowed to be comfortable with who they truly are from such a young age ❤

  6. mothlit says:

    Another amazing post and another that resonates on such a personal level. I wish I could say that I had your courage from the first day my son picked up a Barbie. Eventually, I found that courage, and my son is out now. It’s an interesting question… was he ever “in”? I don’t know. He was 16 when he told me… within a few days of his own certainty. He’d broken up with a girl that day after school and called me in tears. I’d said, “Honey, it’s ok. She’ll be fine with a little time.” He said to me, “Mom, it’s more complicated than that,” and I knew. That night when he told me, I asked about his girlfriends, worried that he’d felt some pressure to conform. He said that wasn’t the case at all–but it was in dating girls that he knew…”Nothing was happening.” 🙂 News spread his school within a day and still he was beloved by students and teachers alike. He was elected “head boy” his senior year and lived an amazing four years of high school. I feel so very grateful.

  7. Libby says:

    Obviously a difficult question with no easy answer. One thing I would say is that sometime moms’ instinct to protect their gay sons goes too far and effectively becomes repression. Although that is in the case of my gay friends who came out in their late teenage years, after finishing high school. It was easy for them to interpret their moms’ protectiveness as hesitation about whether they approved (and it was, to be honest). However, you’re not like those moms.

    No line can be drawn between ‘don’t tell everyone because they think it’s shameful’ and ‘don’t tell everyone because I think it’s shameful’. I have never been physically bullied in my life for being gay or for being effeminate (thank all that is good), but people called me a faggot in late elementary school (grade 7 and 8) and in high school. Initially it felt unbearable, and I was mad at my friend who told me “just ignore them, they’re idiots” because it seemed unsympathetic. But she was right. Once I found my social footing in high school and was lucky to find a strong, close, supportive group of friends, I eventually learned not to care. If I was with a friend and felt physically safe, I would just laugh. It genuinely did not perturb me at all. Once someone shouted “candy ass” at me from their car which I thought was a hilarious choice of insult since it seemed so out of date (imagine calling someone a “poof”). Learning to not give a fuck is the best thing you can do!

  8. janeggg says:

    love it! My child has smith magenis syndrome and is so uniquely herself she has taught all around her about this skill! for you your path with your beautiful boy sounds different and yet the same! as a newbie here (and to wordpress0 can i ask what LGBTQ stands for? now following xxxxx

  9. That is a very tough question, but CJ is so lucky to be living at a time and with a family where being openly gay (if it works out that way) is even possible. From what I’ve read here, CJ couldn’t hide his gender nonconformity if he tried. He’s too bold, too brave, too self-confident and has too much support to ever feel that kind of shame. He may still end up being bullied, but believe me, with the support of his family, he’s miles ahead of most other gay kids out there. I wish I’d been so lucky at his age. It took me a long, long time to feel as comfortable with myself as CJ already does. Best wishes. Reading your blog always fills me with so much joy and hope.

  10. Johanna says:

    I’m just catching up on your blog after a few months of being too busy with work to read my favorite sites, and saw this post just days after my five year old son (a pink boy, Alexander, whom I’ve written about before) proposed marriage to a boy at his school. It was a thought-out decision. And he never thought about coming out. I know it was serious because he’s someone who often overshares, who rarely keeps anything to himself. And this crush, he initially only revealed to me.

    We were driving home from school last Monday (you know, the day before election day), and reviewing the electoral races and ballot initiatives. My son is also profoundly gifted, so he reads the news, listens to the radio, and wants to know about these things. I’d already asked him about school and he’d given me his usual answers about what he did, what he learned, who he played with. I noticed he seemed quieter than usual, but nothing else. He mentioned the election and asked me again who I was voting for and why. I try to give him as openminded and balanced a response to things as I can so he can make up his own mind. And I went over the charter school initiative, the initiative requiring a 2/3 majority in the state legislature for tax increases, and a few others. And then I mentioned Referendum 74, the initiative to approve the state legislature’s recent legalization of marriage equality.

    Alexander’s recently been retreating from being “out” about his love of all things pink, sparkly, and glam, and has been more vocal about “boy toys” and “girl toys” in tones ranging from the exasperated to the curious. So I thought I’d ask, point blank, before sharing my own opinion again: “Do you think boys should just marry girls, or do you think boys should be able to marry boys, too, and girls marry girls, or should girls just marry boys?” (If I don’t ask things completely like that, he’ll sidetrack until I do.) He said boys should be able to marry boys OR girls, and girls marry boys OR girls, “because everyone should be able to do whatever they want without anyone telling them they can’t.” Very five year old answer. But then he burst into tears: “And if it isn’t okay for boys to marry boys then I can’t marry TJ, and I LOVE TJ. I really love him! And today Harlem said when he grows up he’s going to marry Ember (a girl in the class) *and* TJ, and that’s not fair because I love TJ *more* than he does!”

    I asked if he’d told the other kids how he felt, and he clammed up. “No, not yet. I was worried about it.” I probed a little and he clearly didn’t want to discuss it further. But he did tell me he wanted to ask TJ to marry him some time soon. I told him it was okay to have those feelings, and to decide to keep them to himself OR to share them, and that it’s a long time til they all grow up and decide who they are marrying anyway, so whatever happens I’m sure he’ll be okay.

    On Friday, five days later, he informed me on the way to school that he would be proposing that day. I did not suggest bringing a ring, or try to persuade or dissuade him. I just said I was looking forward to hearing about it later. When I arrived to pick him up at 2:30, I gave him a questioning look, and whispered “So? Did you do it?” To be honest, I wanted to be able to give TJ’s mom a heads-up so she wasn’t taken by surprise. He said “No! I was waiting for you!” And then walked over and said, with characteristic aplomb: “TJ! I’m going to marry you when we’re adults!” TJ looked puzzled, but still smiling, said “No you’re not.” Alexander insisted, at which point I told him that proposing marriage means you *ask* the other person if they *want* to marry you. Undaunted, he proceeded: “TJ, do you want to marry me when you’re an adult?” TJ was also undaunted, “No, not really.” Alexander started to get a little more insistent “But you have to because you’re my best friend at school and I *love* you!” Bless TJ’s heart, he said “I’ll still be your FRIEND, silly, I just don’t want to get married to you!” At that point I intervened, reminded them they both have a long time to grow up and it’s nice they are friends now.

    I don’t think Alexander will have ever been in the closet. I don’t think he’ll have to come out to his family, or friends. I think for their generation, at least in some parts of the country (thank heaven for liberal Seattle!) coming out will be different, and won’t necessarily involve having been *in*. And that makes my heart very, very glad.

  11. Idona Johnson says:

    this is a great site. I’m glad I’m not the only person who feels it is necessary to let my son be who he is. I’m hopeful now raising my son in this world thanx to people like you.

  12. yourlesbianfriend says:

    Reading this nearly moved me to tears. Your love for your son and consideration for his life and his feelings are inspiring. Personally, I grew up always being told I could be whatever I want and never wore a girl costume for Halloween. I was lucky to live in a very safe and liberal part of the country, so I never had to worry about teasing, but I also had it easier as a girl leaning boy. You have a very difficult job and this blog shows how seriously you take it. I admire your commitment to raising your children with love and open-mindedness. I would encourage you, as others have been, not to try to protect CJ from bullies by hiding his true self. It is much more productive in the long run to help him feel so comfortable and natural with who he is that bullying falls on deaf ears, and he is able to stand up for himself. Not an easy goal, but a worthy one. It seems you are already doing that though! Many props and I will continue to read faithfully.

  13. Elise says:

    I wish this is how I was raised. When I was little I wanted to 3 or 4 I wanted to play tee ball, but I wouldn’t play with the other girls and only wanted to be in the boys league. However, I was also forced into ballet and everything pink. Now I was allowed to wear baseball hats too and was never told No that’s just for boys. The problem was I was never told that it was okay. I didn’t want to be a boy, but I liked sports and G.I. Joe’s. Maybe if I was told it was okay or those things weren’t called boy things it wouldn’t have taken me 20 confusing years to realize I am a lesbian…. I refer to myself as a femme lesbian with a tomboy approach.

  14. Evan says:

    With regards to the idea that you would or should parent him differently, it seems to me that if you were to tell him to be “out and proud” about his sex life, or his sexuality, you may be forcing him into a difficult situation just because…well…who wants to discuss their sex life with their mom? It is one thing if you say that it’s okay to like whoever he wants to, but when it comes to who he “like likes” it may be something that he just wants to keep to himself or share with only his friends anyway. I think the best thing that you can do is to just tell him that it’s ok if he likes a guy, but that he doesn’t have to be completely open if he doesn’t want to. Also, he’s six. No matter what their sexuality, every six year old has to learn how to deal with crushes on their own. CJ is no different just because he may be gender nonconforming.

  15. TC says:

    Your son is lucky to have you as a parent.
    Also, for the record, I never came out to my parents. They did assume, at first, that I would grow up straight, but slowly they realized this was not the case. (They knew for sure when they read my private blog in seventh grade, but we never talk about that – partly because there were much more important things in there than sexuality, and partly because I’m kind of still angry about it.)

  16. merptown says:

    Amazing! I’m so glad I came across this blog. This is how I would raise my kids, gender neutral! Just as long as you prepare him as he gets older for any intolerance he may face, because that will still be a hardship since unfortunately there is so much hate in this world.. but that doesn’t mean you change who you are.. “raise your rainbow” and prepare him to be strong so he can handle whatever intolerance comes his way in the future and not let it break him down..
    It begins at home, with the parents.. this is how we change the world.. what you’re doing right now.. allowing your son to be whoever he is and not imposing societal gender “norms”/roles or limitations. Letting your kid be who he is naturally, there’s nothing more beautiful than that and there’s nothing greater than having your mom and/or dad in your corner, unconditional love! You inspire!

  17. Megan says:

    I just found this blog because I was looking for resources about little boys that want to take ballet. My 2 year old son loves dolls and dinosaurs, monsters and dress up, bikes and ballet. He wants to grow his lovely blonde hair out long, loves brushing mine and wearing cherry chapstick. I want to encourage him in whatever his interests are but I don’t want to push him in any one direction. Reading your blog had me smiling and nodding quite a bit. Thank you for making it.

  18. L says:

    you really are an incredible mom, every child should be so lucky for an attentive parent as you.
    I think we should remember that closets are built by people. they don’t exist on their own. also all definitions are man-made, and society related. there is no Truth about them.
    as for me, I found I wish not to enter a ‘definitive box’. and I don’t owe anyone an explanation. it’s true, I got to that resolution at my late teens, but I believe it’s a matter of social structure. if definitions would be less important, less restricting, maybe there would be less closets.
    It sound that CJ isn’t asking to define himself yet. definitions are linguisticly structured, and when time comes, he’ll look for the words and definitions on his own. you’ll be able to offer him definitions, or the way to handle them.
    on the other hand, we should also remember that finding ones sexual way and orientation is a private process, thoughts and questions we’re not sure about come up and we don’t always want or feel we can share them. that’s part of teenagehood. it’s not always about a closet.
    I read your brave atempts to make CJ feel safe and sure and loved and welcome as CJ is. that is what’s important.
    and about love at kindergarden- i’m not sure it has to do with sexual orientation or definitions. it’s still about a child being in kindergarden, finding and feeling his or her place with their mates.

  19. Phil says:

    If I were a parent I think I would become very distressed if my 6 year old child said he was gay because I wouldn’t know how to react. You can’t be sure what the child means by that. I’m sure that there are kids who just “know” they’re gay from an early age and that they really are, but the problem is that when children say they love this or that person they don’t necessarily do it for reasons adults can understand. When I was 5 I wanted to marry my cousin. Why? I don’t know, but it was probably because she was a long-haired teenager. While thinking back to my childhood I could identify some precursors of my later homosexuality, it isn’t anything sexual and I certainly wouldn’t have associated it with romantic love then.

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