Max & Sean share their "coming out" stories and advice for parents.
Our Community Now sat down with Max and Sean for some beer, hard seltzers, and pizza to talk about their "coming out" and advice they'd give to parents on what to say (or not to say) if their child "comes out."
OCN: Tell us a little about yourself.
Max: I am 28 from Denver, Colorado. I'm gay. I do hair. I enjoy dancing and baking. I'm on a mental health journey right now. I'm tripping up about my dad a lot right now so that's what we're talking about mostly. It's just time to deal with it. It's really helpful.
Sean: I grew up in Centennial or Littleton, Colorado. I'm co-founder of Project Deviate, which partners with organizations engaging in diversity, equity, and inclusion work. I'm also completing my MA/Ph.D graduate program at CU. Belonging in community was always something I struggled with growing up, especially in the suburbs.
How old were you when you realized you were gay?
Max: Around 8 or 9—I noticed myself being more attracted to boys; not sexually but when you know things are changing and people are trying to be "boyfriend and girlfriend" I was not interested in that. I caught myself staring at boys and things like that. I don't think I came to terms with that until I was in the seventh or eighth grade, and I came out by the end of eighth grade. A lot of people said that they already knew or had suggested that I was gay, but it took me a while to become comfortable with it.
I don't know exactly what made me comfortable with being gay, but my parents took it pretty hard. My dad said a bunch of annoying stuff and reinforced that "if it feels bad, why would you do that?" I was just trying to figure my own stuff out and that wasn't very productive. My mom just cried and cried for months and then "outed" me to the rest of my family when I asked her not to, so I didn't have a chance to tell my story to my family. She took that away from me.
Sean: I knew I wasn't straight as soon as I had some kind of sexual awareness as a kid, 8 or 9. I think it was so difficult for me to come out because there is such a kind of binary "either/or" kind of thinking, even with being gay or lesbian. I expended so much effort coming to terms I was attracted to men that it was a huge deal for me to identify as "gay" in the coming out process.
Who was the first person you told?
Max: Probably my friend, Luna. She was my friend through elementary school until junior high. She was so happy for me! She was excited. She wanted to be queer with me. She was jealous.
Sean: The first person I came out to was the first boy I ever kissed—someone I met in a leadership conference. After we kissed, I freaked out and I blocked him out of my life, and that's when I dipped into that kind of a dark place for a year. We were both in a really fragile state at that point. There's no right or wrong way to come to terms or deal with that, but I wish I had been able to be kinder to him, even though I wasn't able to be kind to myself.
How has your family responded to you being gay?
Sean: I'm really lucky—my family was overall very supportive. There was some initial shock factor for sure, but overall, most of their concerns were fear-based for my own livelihood. I can't say the same for other friends of mine growing up in a different household and family.
What was the hardest thing about coming out?
Max: Fear of rejection. Fear of people being violent towards me for who I am. Getting AIDS—my great uncle had died from AIDS, so that was definitely a big deal because it affected my family directly. And the fear of rejection from everyone in my life changing radically.
Being Greek Orthodox and holding faith in God, was there ever a struggle for you on the spiritual side with being gay?
Max: Not really. I always felt like God had loved me and was going to embrace me for whoever I was. And he made me that way.
Have your religious circles perceived you in that way?
Max: Yes and no, but most people were very accepting of me when I came out. Nobody was actually really super mean to me or prejudice. I was always allowed to take sacraments.
What was the biggest part about being gay that you had to wrestle with?
Sean: The deep, deep shame and then wrestling with internalizing those messages that we got from outside around what it means to be "deviant" or "other;" I think really struggling to come to terms with that and the only way I could it was to have self-destructive behavior and being an "A" student. But on the weekends, just really spiraling in terms of alcohol and drug use. It was like a light switch once I was able to come out to friends and family, I no longer needed that.
What would you say to a parent today who has just been told by their son or daughter they are gay?
Max: First, they should tell their child that they love them, no matter what. Second, they shouldn't cry or say anything like, "I'm so worried for you," or anything like that. That's for you to deal with—don't put any of your issues with what might happen to your child. Don't project that onto them while they're coming out; they have enough going on. Go cry in your own room.
Sean: You are allowed your own process, but be aware of how that process lands on your child and to what extent you need to have your child be a part of that process ... I think a powerful question to ask is, "What would support look like for you right now?", and "What could I do to be supportive in a way that would feel life-giving for you?" There's a real power to that question around what does support look like for you. It not only signals an ethic of care but also brings something out in the person you're talking to that they may not be accustomed to thinking about or asking themselves, "What would support look like for me right now? What are my needs right now? How might I get those needs fulfilled for my relationships?"
What would you say to someone who has just come out?
Max: Just know that you're the best and this is going to be a great journey for you. Love yourself—don't forget to love yourself!
Sean: I love you and you're worthy of love and belonging.
**The conversation just gotten started. Make sure to follow the rest of the article series, "Queer Pride: An Interview ..." only on Our Community Now.
Do you have a "coming out" story, too? Share in the comments helpful things your loved ones either said or did to make it more of a positive experience for you.