You Need Help: My Mom Is Offended I Didn’t Come Out To Her Sooner

Q:

Hi! I recently came out to my Mom and she’s very accepting of the fact that I’m queer, but she’s really mad at me that I didn’t tell her sooner. In fact, we aren’t talking right now because she’s so upset with me. I’ve tried to explain to her that I just wasn’t ready in the past, but she’s still so offended. How do I start to heal the relationship?


A:

In 2013, I started coming out to my friends, and it sucked. I hated it. I’d been fed a Hollywood-ified narrative that told me that once I told my closest friends that I’m gay then I would feel happier, lighter, more sure of myself, less anxious. All of those things eventually did come true, and I grew into someone who was much happier and more confident, but it took time. It didn’t happen right away. And coming out one-on-one to my loved ones was never super easy for me even though on paper it should have been. My friends were all loving, accepting people, many of them queer themselves. But I still held onto a lot of shame, insecurity, and anxiety that made it hard. Every time.

It did not help that during this period of gradually coming out to my friends something happened to me that is a lot like what you’re describing. It was late at night, and I called one of my close friends to finally tell him. His immediate reaction was anger and hurt over the fact that I “took so long to tell him.” He wanted to know who else knew before him, why I didn’t trust him, etc. etc. It was disheartening, to say the least. Especially since this particular friend IS ALSO GAY. He should have known that coming out is often hard even in the best of cases! He should have known that reacting the way he did was selfish! After that, our friendship gradually and then, in the end, very suddenly ended.

Your mother is doing what my friend did. She’s making it about herself, when really this is about you. When I eventually came out to my mom, she didn’t have this exact reaction, but I did catch her occasionally making comments about why I didn’t tell her sooner. In my case, I never really TOLD her. I just sort of let her find out via a webseries I wrote… lol… I’m very good at passively coming out. But the thing is I could tell or not tell her any way I wanted! I had my reasons for not telling her sooner, and I’m sure you had yours, too. Your mom is likely reacting from a place of guilt. She feels bad that you didn’t feel comfortable enough to come out to her. She’s likely wondering if you think she’s homophobic.

And frankly, that’s her problem to unpack. You truly do not owe your mother an explanation for why you didn’t tell her sooner. If you WANT to get into the reasons with her as a way to address any underlying issues that might be there, then go for it! In my case, I did eventually end up pointing out some things from the past to my mother, like the times she constantly pressured me to get a boyfriend, made jokes about certain things I wore, etc. For me, it was helpful to point these things out to her, and she was receptive to it. I noticed a difference in the way she talked about certain things moving forward. So if you think you and your mom can have a healthy and helpful conversation—or series of conversations—along those lines, then go for it!

But, and this is important, YOU DON’T HAVE TO! You’ve already tried to explain your side of things, and she wasn’t receptive to it, so there’s not a lot more you can do right now unless she’s willing to listen more. You really, truly do not owe her this emotional work, especially because her reaction is so intense and harmful. She won’t SPEAK to you because she’s this upset?! That is not okay! It is very, very selfish! Whereas your coming out has everything to do with you and nothing to do with her, her reaction has everything to do with her and nothing to do with you. You didn’t do anything wrong. You still will not be doing anything wrong if you just say “look, mom, it is my right to be able to come out however I like, whenever I like.” Do not apologize, because you have nothing to apologize for.

I know you want to heal the relationship, and I do think it’s possible to, but it’s also a two-way street, and so far your mom is making YOU do all the work, which is doubly messed up because you didn’t do anything wrong in the first place! She needs to sit with herself and figure out where her reaction stems from, and unfortunately, you can’t really do that work for her. If trying to talk to her right now feels more harmful than helpful, then I think you should see space from each other as a good thing. Sometimes trying to talk about the problem too much upfront can cause people to be even more reactive or to repeat the same things over and over. So I think you need some time and space, and I know that sucks, but until she’s willing to look within herself and figure out why her reaction was not supportive or kind and what the reaction is rooted in, you’re not going to get very far. Her guilt is not yours to fix. There is no precise roadmap for how to come out, and we all do it in our own ways, on our own terms, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation for the choices you made, especially when someone is trying to make it all about them.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 299 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. Your Mom has said she’s fine with you being queer, but the facts of the situation are that you came out to her and she stopped speaking to you. That is not the reaction you would expect of someone wh is accepting of their child being queer. Maybe she is genuinely fine but upset you didn’t tell her (and I agree with everything Kayla said re that), or maybe she realises that being upset about your queerness would put her in the wrong so she has found what she thinks is an acceptable reason to be upset.

    • Agreed! This situation reminds me of that episode from One Day at a Time where a character came out and the way her mom reacted- specifically the point of how the mom felt like she had the rug pulled out from under her. Not to say that the way she is behaving is right. Maybe her expectations of who you were and what she thought of your future is now shattered bc you came out.

  2. I feel you, letter writer. I put off coming out to my parents (mostly my mom) until I moved states away to college specifically because I wanted to avoid having a Long Drawn-Out Conversation in which i made my mother feel okay about whatever feelings she had. Coming out should be about you, and if your mother can only make it about her, don’t feel guilty for taking a step back

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