Ronny came out to me. Ronny told me that he was gay After six months of being in therapy, Ronny, 15 years old, decided that he couldn’t keep the secret anymore. The secret to himself. Ronny told me that he had a crush on another boy in his English class and he wasn’t sure what to do. He and Douglas had known each other since fourth grade, played together on the soccer team, and exchanged video games. But, now, Ronny said it was different. These weird, exciting, scary feelings were new to him. He thought that Douglas was also gay, but only because Douglas was active in the theater department, had mostly female friends, and acted flamboyantly. All the old stereotypes of what a gay guy does and looks like. He wondered if he should just go up to Douglas and declare his love and admiration, or just see where things go in their relationship. Adding to the confusion, he was worried and scared of how his mom and dad may react to his coming out as gay. Ronny had two first cousins who were gay and had come out to Ronny’s aunt and uncle several years ago. It seemed that they were happy and had very close relationships with their family members. Ronny was thinking of telling his cousins and asking them for advice. We agreed that that would be a good idea. But, what about his parents? He loved his parents and didn’t want to upset them. What if they stopped loving him or pulled away from him? Ronny and I decided that we would spend another month or so processing his feelings and then plan a family session with his parents.
Young people are coming out at earlier and earlier ages, having shifted from the 20s and college years into high school and even middle school. According to a new survey of more than 10,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teenagers conducted for the Human Rights Campaign, 64 percent of those in high school say they are out, and 54 percent of those in middle school say they are. This early openness about sexual orientation carries a possible burden of its own, since adolescence can be such a vulnerable time, and being different can feel like something between a crime and a disease.
The strain of it all plays out in difficult and even risky ways. Studies suggest that gay teenagers have higher rates of suicide, depression and drug and alcohol abuse than their straight counterparts. The reasons may include the stress of being different and being spurned by friends and family.
Ronny and I talked about how he would come out to his parents. Even though there is never an ideal time to share such intimate news, Ronny knew that he would not come out in an argument, or at a time he felt angry or resentful. The message would be delivered to his family in a time of bad feelings and would convey those bad feelings, making the process more difficult for Ronny and his parents in the long run.
Ronny was beginning to understand that it would take time for his mom and dad to accept his sexuality. His parents may go through periods of rejection, acceptance, and then rejection again before they would come to accept Ronny for who he is and understand something of what it means for him to be gay. Ronny realized that he has had more time to deal with his sexuality than his parents have. Ronny and I rehearsed how he may tell his parents that he was gay. Ronny would explain that he is telling them this because he loves them and doesn’t want to be dishonest with them.
After two months, Ronny felt ready and prepared to tell his parents that he is gay. Last week, Ronny’s parents joined Ronny and me in a family session. I had met them a few times at the beginning of Ronny’s therapy. I remember them as being loving and supportive of Ronny and had brought him to see me when they noticed his grades were slipping and he seemed depressed and irritable. We all sat down after exchanging pleasantries. Before I could say a word, Ronny turned to his parents and said, “Mom and Dad, I have something important to tell you and I want you to just listen.” Ronny talked and talked for 45 minutes straight, as his parents listened intently. At the end of the session, Ronny and his parents decided to come back for another family session. As Ronny was leaving my office, he turned to me and said “Thank you, Glenn, thank you.” At that moment, I knew that Ronny would be okay and that the conversation with his parents had only just begun.