“Chicken, steak, or shrimp?” my dad asked me.
It had been a family ritual growing up. He’d cook dinner almost every night, and he’d pull some meat out of the big chest freezer in the garage for grilling. Those were the three options most nights: chicken, steak, or shrimp.
I went home one Saturday night during my junior year of college at NC State. My sister, a freshman at nearby Chapel Hill, came home as well. She and I were going to eat dinner with our parents like we’d done for years in our youth.
I answered my father absently — probably chicken — because I had something big on my mind.
I would be coming out to my family over dinner. I’d tell them that I “struggle with same-sex attraction” — the language I used to talk about myself at the time.
I didn’t want to, though.
It wasn’t that I was afraid of their response, exactly. They were all conservative, evangelical Christians (as was I), but they were never ones to go off the deep end about anything. Over the years I had seen my entire family respond to life’s many twists and turns with grace and patience.
To be fair, it certainly also helped that I wasn’t looking to start dating men.
Even today, it’s difficult to put words to why I didn’t want to let them in.
Was it that I feared regular status updates would be expected of me? Was I afraid they’d try to manage my situation with their usual zeal for addressing problems rather than let me handle it on my own terms and arrive at my own conclusions?
Was there some resentment deep down, some bitter feeling that I’d been forced to come to terms with my sexuality all on my own — without their knowledge or support?
I wish I knew.
But I’d been coming out to more and more friends, and I wanted my family to hear it from me first. It felt like only a matter of time before word got out. That I had to hurry and come out to my family because I was sitting on a ticking time bomb.
I dropped that bomb toward the end of dinner. I told them I struggled with same-sex attraction but that I wasn’t planning on changing the course of my faith.
I explained that I was telling them because I planned to tell even more people, and I didn’t want them to hear it from anyone else. I answered just enough questions to make sure they didn’t think I was sending up a distress signal.
I told them that if I wanted to talk about it again I’d be the one to bring it up, and I stood up and left.
I got into my car where I’d already packed all my laundry for a speedy getaway, much to my mom’s bemusement an hour prior (“I just want to, you know, get it out the way,” I had told her).
I drove straight home to Raleigh.
I just told my family, I texted a friend after stopping for gas. I don’t really want to be alone. Can I come over?
He said I could, even though he was making dinner with his not-really-girlfriend. Good enough. An hour later, I knocked on his door.
Well, she was obviously annoyed that I had showed up, but I didn’t know her well enough to want to explain. It was Extremely Awkward Dinner 2: Electric Boogaloo.
It just goes to show that there’s no part of coming out that isn’t awkward.
Looking back, part of me regrets the way I handled things that day. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told my family until I was actually ready to talk about it.
Perhaps I should have allowed them to pray for me in person, encircled in the foyer, hands clasped, as I know they would have done if I’d let them.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have declared a moratorium on the topic.
But I also think I did the best with what I had at the time. I was a frightened 20-year-old. I was anxious and perplexed about what was going on in my heart. I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to make sure they felt good about everything.
If the choice was really between a too-brief conversation and their learning about my sexual orientation from another source, I think I made the right choice.
And I won’t entertain any self-accusation of cowardice: what I did that night was the most courageous thing I had done in my life to that point.
Like most of life, this story is a mixture of victory and defeat.
Thankfully, things are better between us now — but by no virtue of mine! My family honored my wishes for years.
One day, my mother asked me how I was doing with all of it. I told her I was doing fine but didn’t volunteer anything else.
My sister was the one who eventually thawed the chilly silence. She and her husband got me talking about a book they had read about homosexuality and Christianity, and she encouraged me to talk to my parents about it. I did, and we had a good conversation about an article Eve Tushnet wrote for the Washington Post.
While it’s still a struggle to be open with my family sometimes, it doesn’t feel taboo anymore.
I’m thankful for my family’s grace and patience. They’ve been an undeniable blessing to me in every walk of life. For my part, I hope that God will continue to grow me in openness and vulnerability with them.
How did coming out to your parents and family turn out? What stalls or discourages you from coming out to people in your life?