Coming out: students and parents share their stories
Ann Vettikkal | Staff Writer
Hannah Libby | Staff Writer
The struggle for LGBTQ+ rights may seem like a thing of the past to many on the outside, but it is still a constant in the home of many teens.
These students that walk the halls of Mason High School are faced with the task of choosing when, where, and how to come out to their parents. Many of them worry themselves sick over the “what ifs” of their decision as well. It is a tradeoff: to put their relationship with their parents in jeopardy in exchange for their identity. Parents, in turn, will suddenly learn that their child will be thrust into a world of judgment and hatred based on something they cannot control. Some must come to terms with an identity they don’t understand in order to keep a relationship with a child they love; others choose not to come to terms with it at all. Despite the risks, some students at MHS have made the deeply personal choice to come out.
The buildup to coming out is often a long, introspective journey teens have to go through as they come to terms with their identity. Sophomore Jorja Meere said that understanding her sexual orientation was not a linear process.
“I started questioning my sexuality when I was 11-ish,” Jorja said. “I first came out to one of my internet friends and then I gradually started coming out to more of my friends. I first came out as bisexual and then I thought I was gay — I came out to my mom as gay. And then I went through all these labels and now, I identify as bisexual.”
Even if teens are sure of their identity, figuring out how to assert this identity publicly takes time. Junior Avin Martin, who transitioned from female to male, also experienced similar struggles when it came to feeling secure in who he was and how he presented himself to the world.
“I [was] hyper-feminine because I was trying to convince myself that I wasn’t trans[gender], that I was a girl, that there was something wrong with me,” Avin said. “And then it piled up. And I was like, no I can’t do this anymore. Then I went into hyper-masculinity, where I’m like, I have to be this and this otherwise, I’m not a guy. Now I feel like I’m more comfortable with being feminine as a guy.”
For senior Drew Hatfield, it was the inability to express his identity, not how he expressed it, that created the most hardships.
He said that when he was keeping his sexual identity to himself, he felt that his mental health suffered greatly.
“A lot of times people will get depressed because they’re holding in who they truly are and trying to mask [it],” Hatfield said. “That’s what I did in middle school; I was always trying to be a different person. But then once I finally came out and got to be who I was, a lot of those feelings went away and then you’re just a better person overall. You feel so much happier all the time.”
Coming Out: The Teens’ Side
Often, high school students must assess both their safety and the beliefs of their parents in order to decide the most ideal way to come out. For Hatfield, it was a matter of understanding his parents’ background that influenced the way he came out.
“I was just so afraid of what they were going to think,” Hatfield said. “I knew how to tell my mom, I just knew she wasn’t going to be accepting because of her religious background. The morning after I came out, she had Bible verses laid out for me. And she made me call a conversion therapist — basically what you would expect a religious parent to do. She said, ‘I’ll always love you but I’ll never accept you.’ And those few words have stuck with me since I came out.”
But the story of coming out is not always a shared experience between parents, particularly if their values differ. Hatfield talked about the nearly opposite reaction he experienced from his dad.
“I knew he’d be fine with it,” Hatfield said. “Growing up, he had lived with his gay friend. And when being gay wasn’t even legal, he helped his friend through that. I sent him this long text [at school.] He actually cancelled his flight and all of his meetings in Chicago and we went out for the day and celebrated and he made me feel super loved.”
Senior Travis Burt also had to go through the process of coming out to his parents twice: once for his dad and then again for his mom. Again, he found that his parents had very different reactions to it.
“I came out to my dad,” Burt said. “That went fine. Because my dad is gay. Then it was hard for me to come out to my mom because she’s from Venezuela, and in that culture, boys can’t be feminine and girls can’t be masculine. When I came out to her, she was fine with it but she kept on doubting it. She was like, ‘are you sure you really are and you’re not just going through a phase?’ And I [had] been waiting years to come out so I definitely know.”
On Coming Out: The Parent’s Side
For parents, there is a difference between observing the LGBTQ+ community on a grand scale and then suddenly, having a personal attachment to this subject matter. Stephanie Martin, the mother of Avin, and Kristen Meere, the mother of Jorja, commented on the moment their child came out to them, in person or otherwise. Stephanie said that while the news was not offensive to her, she still needed some time to process it.
“We were a little surprised, to say the least,” Stephanie said. “You go from one day having a little girl…things were changing. There really wasn’t a transition — we were told through mass text which I didn’t appreciate. The news wasn’t that hard but it was different. Me and his dad are fairly accepting. We have no qualms with anybody for any reason other than who they are.”
Kristen Meere, on the other hand, had a feeling that something was unique about her daughter, Jorja, even before she was told in person about the news. These premonitions made the actual event go a little more smoothly.
“Jorja has always been very much a tomboy,” Kristen said. “When she was little, we shopped in the boys’ department. All her friends were boys and she didn’t want dolls or anything like that. When she came into my bedroom while I was reading and said, ‘There’s something that I need to tell you. I don’t like boys.’ And I was like, ‘okay.’ And then she cried and I cried and we hugged it out.”
Most parents spend their entire life focused on and planning out the safety and success of their children. So when something throws a curveball in the plans that they had, it takes some time for them to adjust, according to Kristen Meere.
“It was a bit of a digestion. There was a lot to think about,” Kristen said. “There was some getting used to it — it was a process. I told a couple family members
just because I needed to talk about it. It wasn’t an issue — it was just different.”
Kristen’s unconditional love for her daughter was the first thing she wanted to make clear when she came out. But she couldn’t help but worry about the potential repercussions for being herself in today’s polarized society — especially in a large high school.
“I was worried,” Kristen said. “I know that society is getting a lot better in that regard. But I was still worried that she would lose friends. Or that people would say things to her, you know there are people who target [the LGBTQ+] community.”
According to junior Mayank Naik, his mom didn’t jump to proclamations of acceptance but rather learned from experience. It took a close friend taking her to her first pride parade for her to understand the LGBTQ+ community more.
“I feel like over time [she accepted me more],” Naik said. “She went to LA and there was a pride parade going down there and friend took her there and her friend is really open to these kind of things and she said it opened her eyes a little bit more. She realized the struggle that gay people go through.”
Advice to Others
Trying to navigate high school is difficult enough without needing to worry about people’s opinions about who you are. So, many parents and their kids came together to give their advice to anyone struggling with coming out.
Kristen Meere consistently promotes public support of a child striving to be comfortable with their identity. The goal she holds is to make it easier for them in the long run while giving them support by speaking out.
“I would just say be open about it, I mean even if you’re accepting, you need to voice to the
community and the world around you that it’s okay,” Kristen said. “Just accepting it silently is not the way to go in my opinion. You need to support your child openly and not just in your house.”
Fellow mother Stephanie Martin believes the best advice she can offer to kids coming out is to not only be open, but to try to grasp your parents’ perspectives beforehand.
“Really you know your own parents. You know your own family. You have to figure out the best way for you to talk to them and discuss it,” Stephanie said. “Being blindsided is not the best way of [being told]. Sit down, talk to your parents or family. Having an open relationship and discussion would be key there.”
The experience of the teenager varies so much from the situation of their parents, so it’s understandable why the advice is so distinctly different. And Kristen’s daughter Jorja says that no matter the grade, the need for a secondary support system is a must when coming out.
“Make sure you’re in a safe environment or you have a good support system to fall back to if you are faced with a negative reaction,” Jorja said. “And make sure you come out on your terms. Make sure you’re comfortable with everything and that you accept yourself before expecting others to accept you.”
Drew Hatfield came out halfway through his freshman year after truly understanding his sexuality. He not only advises that you have a great support group but also that you just be yourself regardless.
“Make sure before you’re going to come out that you have a great backup,” Hatfield said. “You want to know that you have friends to go to. Because it’s not easy even if your parents are supportive, just getting over the fear of telling them is one of the worst things that I’ve ever had to go through.”
Hatfield is also a huge advocate for being openly yourself as well. He believes that embracing who you are can entirely change your quality of life.
“When I first came out, I was just afraid of what people thought,” Hatfield said. “But once I got over that fear of caring what people thought and doing colorguard, it was so much better just being myself. It sounds so cliche and is so hard to do but once you can truly be yourself, nothing’s really going to stop you.”