Coming Out vs. Coming of Age
I now believe it was because, as a young, closeted gay person living with a newly divorced mother, nothing could have been more inconceivable than the idea I would one day “come of age” and live my own life. In all these stories, the misfit hero, usually male, is compelled to rebel against a strong, conservative family to create his own identity. With all the sense of discovery and liberation that entailed. And I was angered by the entitlement the main character must have felt to believe that life owed him some unique and self-defining role in the world. “What a fantasy,” I thought, “to believe your parents would survive you becoming your own person.”
Like the viral video of a young man being attacked by his own father and mother in the name of religion for simply sharing his authentic self, many young people still cannot “come of age” at the appropriate time.
I didn’t have that luxury. My father left the family by the time I was 14, never to return or contact us again. And I felt that, were I to do anything “rebellious”, my mother, who was clinically depressed, would simply implode. Whether through suicide, to which she made passing references, or simply a complete breakdown. Put simply, she made it clear in a number of small ways, she wouldn’t “make it” if I were to misbehave (i.e., do anything on my own). With just the two of us, the situation became critical: If I rebelled like Ferris Bueller, I risked having no parents.
Although being gay was starting to be chic in the late 1970s (remember Studio 54 and the Village People?), with the onset of AIDS in the early 1980s, it was anything but. Even “out” celebrities were thrust back in the closet. And in small-town Connecticut, of course, there were no gay people. At least no one who’d admit to it.
For LGBT youth, coming of age includes coming out
I believe this still remains the case for many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) youth 40 years later. Like the viral video of a young man being attacked by his own father and mother in the name of religion for simply sharing his authentic self, many young people still cannot “come of age” at the appropriate time (which for an LGBT person includes “coming out”). They might be thrown out in the street before they have the emotional and financial security to survive. For many, it’s not worth the risk. They postpone. Some may come out when they move away, or after they’re married to someone of the opposite gender. Or they might remain closeted permanently.
But I remain angry at a society that refuses to support our LGBT youth to come out early and with the necessary supports.
In addition, because society doesn’t honor our milestones and rituals, LGBT people are often the ones called home to care for their sick and aging parents. Unlike our straight siblings, we are assumed to be “available.” So although we may have long ago “come out” to ourselves and our friends, our families view us as eternally childlike.
As I’ve gotten older and built a life of my own, I am no longer angry at “coming of age” movies, especially those from the 80s (I mean look at that hair!). But I remain angry at a society that refuses to support our LGBT youth to come out early and with the necessary supports. Unfortunately, bullying, parental rejection and risk of suicide characterize their teenage experience more than skipping school and dancing to “Shake It Up Baby” in a parade. And because we are only beginning to have the same rights as our heterosexual counterparts, that “coming of age” can get postponed indefinitely. Some of us may never “become our own person” with all the entitlements (full non-discrimination protection nationwide, increased societal support, marital rights, and adequate political representation) that entails.
Until we are truly equal, unlike Ferris Bueller, many LGBT people will “come of age” in secret, too late, or not at all.