An Open Letter To My Closeted Parent

Saumya Singh for Homegrown
Saumya Singh for Homegrown

This is an odd letter to be writing on a public platform, even if it is anonymous. Having been raised in a family that was wound up tighter than a slingshot, with an underhanded comment ready to fly, I grew up with secrets everywhere. It wasn’t until I turned 16 and moved out that I realised that this wasn’t the experience that other people had had. After years of therapy, I can appreciate the way my parents raised me while dealing with their own issues and have kept this article anonymous out of respect for them, but I felt it was a necessary one to write, from the perspective of an out queer person, speaking to their closeted parent.

Growing up with having you as a parent didn’t feel like the usual parent-child relationship. We were fraught, and we did not know how to get along. We were too similar and so different in all the same ways. I oscillated wildly between wanting your attention all the time and wanting nothing to do with you at all. It was only once I started coming into my own — as an adult but also as someone who had stopped repressing their internal homophobia, that I really understood why you are the way that you are.

The divorce happened when I was 21, and even though I avoided a legal custody battle, I did not avoid the emotional one. I lived away from home while you two turned my childhood home into a battleground, drawing the line of control straight down the middle of the bed. I came out to you during this very turbulent time in our lives. I couldn’t hide it anymore, I was overconfident and too in love. You managed to keep me at the surface of our relationship with your response, telling me “It’s just a phase” and “I had a relationship like this too at your age, but I grew out of it.”

I wondered and still do sometimes, what the effect of carrying a parent’s sexuality-driven trauma does to a person. Especially a queer person trying to navigate a big bold new world. In a 2005 study on children brought up by closeted parents, there was evidence of some psychological trauma, largely in part caused by the lowered self-esteem of the closeted parent, as well as the anxiety of secret keeping. But somehow I don’t think this applies in this situation, considering that you had convinced yourself that you were straight. Repression of your sexuality over decades had made you believe that you were something you are not and when you saw those same signals in me, it scared you. I recognise the differences between us, especially in this situation –– growing up in a small town versus in a big city, growing up in the 1970s versus the 2000s, growing up with more liberal parents versus more traditional conservative ones.

I don’t know if you will ever find the self-acceptance to tell me the truth about you or if this is just one of the several regrets that you will live with for the rest of your life. But while you cultivate this secret in your head, you must know deep down inside that I will never hate you for it. You raised me to be accepting of all people and that most definitely includes you too. The frustration and hostility I held against you have transformed into empathy through years of healing and therapy. I will never force you to come out but know that there is a world that waits for you to experience life as your true authentic self and that it is never too late to begin again.

Feature image credits: Saumya Singh for Homegrown

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