By William Waller, Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Spring 2017
Upfront, I believe I should provide a brief description of myself. My name is William, and I am a gay male in my late twenties. Although I grew up in the liberal suburbs of Washington, D.C., I come from a socially and religiously conservative family.
I knew I was gay from an early age, and unquestionably the most difficult part of fully accepting my sexuality has been telling members of my family. Frankly, I grew up around a lot of people who held very disparaging views of gay people. As a result, I spent many years praying I would wake up one day and be straight. As I got older, however, I realized that I would always be gay and will eventually have to come out to everyone meaningful in my life, particularly my family. Coming out to my immediate family member has resulted in a variety of reactions: from anger to tears to indifference to joy, I believe I have ran the gamut of emotions.
While there is a lot of discussion about coming out to parents and siblings, a topic that I feel does not generate enough discussion is coming out to your grandparents. At least for me, grandparents were probably the most difficult group to handle because of the generational divide and the infrequency with which I saw regularly saw them.
My paternal grandfather passed away when I was a toddler, before I had any idea of what it means to be gay. My maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother both passed away when I was in college. At that point, I was already out of the closet to all my friends and a few select family members. However, these grandparents passed away before I ever told them I am gay. Looking back, I am sad to think that my deceased grandparents never got to know the “real” me. While I do not identify myself solely by my sexuality, it has undeniably shaped who I am and how I view the world. At the same time, I knew I did not have the courage then to come out to them, fearful that their love of me would not be strong enough to accept news that I knew would be extremely difficult for them to understand.
My maternal grandmother, Meme, is my only grandparent still alive. My aunt told Meme a few years ago that I am gay, believing it would be best for my grandmother to hear it from her. To my surprise, my grandmother said she did not care. Since then, an enormous weight has been lifted off my shoulders, as I am no longer carrying around the insecurities about coming out that plagued my childhood. Now, I bring my boyfriend to family events (a scenario I would have never thought possible when I was growing up). At my brother’s wedding, my boyfriend and Meme bonded over Slippery Monkey cocktails.
I really do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to coming out to family members, particularly grandparents. Instead, I think every family is different, and we need to respect each gay person’s choices with telling their family. This is my story about coming out (or staying in) to my grandparents. It is a story filled with pain, regret, and new beginnings.