What do you wear on the day you come out to your parents? What do you cook for dinner and should there be a dessert? Do you help with the dishes and is setting the table too much?
(Something you always wear to imply you are still the same person. Potatoes, salad, chicken stir fry. Yea, something apple. Nah and probably — but so what it’s cute.)
I had it all planned out. I set the date; 12/28/09. Picked so I wouldn’t ruin Christmas, but before the New Year, so it would quickly seem far away. “Oh, that was last year.” I knew I wanted to do it in person. I felt I owed them that. Thanksgiving break of that year was too early for me. I had just come out to myself that summer, my friends and fraternity that fall. Waiting until the following summer (the next time I was home) to tell them would have robbed my parents of six months of “getting over it” time. It had to be December 28th.
As soon as I came home I started selling the “parent appreciation dinner,” getting it on the calendar for them. I told friends the date so it would be further encouragement to follow through. I would do it over dinner and at home, so they could react however they needed. “Parent Appreciation Dinner” was set for 7:00. I purposefully backed myself into a corner.
I don’t know how I got myself to sleep the night before, but the meal (Potatoes au gratin with not a little bit of bacon) would take about four hours to prep/cook so I got started immediately. A cloud of fear grew behind me as the day progressed. My core vibrated in between knowing that there was no better time to do this and being completely terrified of doing it. I looked at the clock again and again as the day counted down, thinking to myself “Dinner will start at 7:00, by 8:30 we will be done eating. By 9:15 my parents will know that I am gay.” Or “I will be coming out to my parents in about four hours.” “My life will change forever in three hours.” “My parents may hate me in two hours.” “I may get kicked out of the house in one hour.” The clock kept moving forward. I became a numb autopilot.
I went to the grocery store only needing four things, but didn’t have it in me to direct myself. I couldn’t process “I need potatoes. They are in the vegetable aisle, exactly where they always are.” I could only wander the store aimlessly until I physically bumped into the potato stand and realized the thing in front of me was a potato and that I needed 8 and that I should put them in my cart. The four items took about two hours to find. Trying to control the wave of feelings crashing through my head made it impossible to entertain more than one thought at a time. So when I was checking-out, driving, turning on the oven I was definitively blank, singular. I couldn’t remember where my driveway was and had to circle the block I grew up on. I was pushing my body through the world, like a shopping cart, instead of existing inside of it. I kept telling myself to breath, so my lungs wouldn’t forget their job. I preheated the oven and washed the potatoes. I had to remain on schedule.
While chopping the potatoes into thin rounds, I took a foolish moment to enjoy how well I was doing. Then the gravity of the day crushed me. I was mid-chop; then just collapsed. My fingers curled into the counter edge, trying to keep me off the floor. I had to stay on schedule. My body began doing something past crying, I convulsed. I hung from the counter, a knot of a human. When I got my lungs back I started screaming. I was furious at myself for being weak. I was even madder at fate for making me gay; for forcing this day, this task that I had to perform that most of the world didn’t. I shrieked every puff of air out of my body, wiped my face on my arm and slowly, pulled myself up. With two trembling hands, I made myself keep chopping.
Other than the potatoes, I made two chicken and noodle dishes; one for each parent’s differing tastes. There was toast with cinnamon and apple butter. I wish there had been wine. I set the table. My attention to time prevailed. Dinner was ready at exactly 7:00. My parents were late, showing-up around 7:30, leisurely, laughing. They had no idea. “Maybe I would get to come out even later.” I hoped.
Advice: If you ever plan to tell someone dramatic news over a meal; burn it a little. It will slow their eating down and give you more time to prepare your heart. The food turned out perfectly and my parents ate too quickly. It was only 7:50 and half the food was gone! I wasn’t ready. I had come so far and everything was going to be ruined by hasty eating. This was the perfect time and the perfect setting. Or in 20 more minutes would be the perfect time? Or. They cleaned their plates and started to clear the table. I could just say nothing, and we’d go on. Life would be normal. They’d never know what almost happened.
“Hold on.” I knew I wouldn’t be able to pull everything out of my throat at once so I did it in leading pieces. “Well, I wanted to have this dinner because you always cook for me and I-really-appreciate-what-you-do-for-me-and-wanted-to-show-that-but. But. I also wanted to tell you something very important.” I looked at the clock, took a deep breath and at 8:15 on December 28, 2009 started telling my parent that I’m gay.
I told them a similar story I had told my friends, my fraternity. I wanted them to know that I hadn’t known, but now I was sure. That I had been responsible in my process of figuring it out. I had done research, and gone to therapy and prayed, and, and – my mouth filled with tears. I couldn’t speak anymore. I was crying too much. My mother stood up and pulled my head into her stomach. I wrapped my arms around her waist, sobbing. She said, “You are my son, of who I am well pleased.” My tears flowed harder. My dad remained silent until simply, beautifully saying “God doesn’t make trash.” My parents communicated that they were very shocked (a sentiment returned by very few) and thought I was going to tell them I had been arrested. My mother reminded me that sexuality is a river. I had no idea what she meant. They were restrained, and stiff, and scared, but kind. I thanked them and got out of there like it was burning down.
We all needed our space to go and decompress. I fled to my best friend’s house, to lay on her bed facedown and silent; too spent and dehydrated to talk. I don’t know if I’ll ever find out what my parents talked about that night after I’d left the house. But I assume my mom finished up all the dishes and my dad did some Sudoku, before going to bed.