Sometimes I think parents should be the last to know. Too often, if they come upon the evidence themselves by reading their children's mail or discovering them in bed with lovers, they react with punitive swiftness which even they come to regret, especially if they've seen a lover jailed or confined their offspring to mental hospitals. That sort of thing is still going on.
Unless you are fortunate enough to come out in a supportive and proud gay community, your first experiences of your own sexuality may be negative or at best ambivalent. Your temptation to tell your parents is to shift the blame to them. Usually they are all too willing to feel even guiltier than you do. But they can respond very much as you have, trying to toss that burning shame back on you with such unattractive outcries as (from Father) "I don't need to hear that crock of shit!" and (from Mother) "I'll die of shame" before they fall to blaming each other: "I told you to get his hair cut before he was twenty-one," and "If you hadn't ogled her friends as well as mine, she might have liked men." They are not exactly what you need at that point in your uncertainty about yourself.
If you are going to tell your parents that you're gay, tell them when they need to know, which is usually long after you are first tempted. Some parents can know and not want to know for years.
Most of us who have not been initially reckless begin by dropping hints.
Of an aunt you know is gay to her eyebrows, you say, "Do you think Aunt Ettie is a lesbian?"
"Heavens no," your mother answers. "Whatever gave you an idea like that? Her fiancée was killed in the war."
Or you lend her a really good gay novel, and she says, "It's well enough written, but I don't like reading about people like that."
If at that point you lose your patience and say bluntly, "Mother, I'm gay," she'll probably retort, "Well, I wouldn't know it from the expression on your face."
Recently I heard about a classic case of avoidance: Mother:
"I suppose you and Sara are like those people in San Francisco." Daughter:
"Well, in fact, yes, Mother, we are." Mother:
"Good, because your father and I never approved of things like that." Daughter:
"But I said yes, I was like that.'"Mother:
"Oh well, you'd say anything, wouldn't you?"
Anyone who would push that conversation further is tone deaf.
Parents' acceptance of a child's homosexuality is often a very slow process. One young man ordered home to Toronto with his lover for a family wedding was told, "For this week I want you both to be heterosexual."
"No way," the young man protested. "We're all the way out of the closet, and we're not going back in."
"Well, you may be out," his mother replied, "but I'm not."
So he and his lover dutifully wore their pink triangles on their undershirts and kissed the bride instead of the groom.
It's not a cop-out. Their generosity to the rituals of her world will make it easier for her to grow in generosity towards the rituals of theirs. Parents who are making a real effort to understand are potential allies of great importance to our community. Their coming out is a political act of as great force as our own, and they don't have the support group we do unless we provide it for them.
That classically angry graffiti scrawled across a wall, "My mother made me a homosexual: was lovingly answered with "If I gave her some yarn, would she make me one, too?"
Not until you are as confident of your desire as that, as ready to celebrate your own erotic joy, are you ready to tell your parents, to teach your parents that your sexuality is not a matter about which anyone need feel guilty. Their bigotry, like your own, is founded in ignorance and fear, and it is overcome, as your own has been, by love, not only theirs for you, but even more importantly yours for them.
It is by our love, and only by our love, that we can require our parents to be as shameless and proud as we are.
I've seen buttons recently which say, "Have you hugged your mother today?" and "Have you hugged your father today?" Maybe soon there will be buttons which say, "Have you hugged your daughter today?" and "Have you hugged your son today?" If we have to let our parents be the last to know, they may be among the first to understand that "flaunting it" is what love is all about, in all its manifestations.