Hello Dr. G.,
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my question. I’m a 23 year old gay Iranian (‘gayranian’ as some of us call ourselves). I recently ‘came out’ and told my parents that I am gay. My father has been supportive but my mother is having a really terrible time with it. I’m pretty sure they’ve known (or suspected as much) for a long time but we never discussed it and until six months ago I always pretended to be straight so as to avoid an uncomfortable situation (for myself and them).
My mother is still shell-shocked and insists that I’m just confused and that seeing a psychologist will help. I love my mother to death but she’s out of her mind thinking that I need to be ‘healed’ or ‘fixed’. There is nothing to fix–I’m gay and were it not for concern over my mother’s feelings I wouldn’t stress about any of this. As a result of her insistence and as an act of loving appeasement I have agreed to see a psychologist with her. I sense that this is providing her some level of hope and helps calm her nerves.
I would love to hear your guidance as to how I can help my mother accept, or at a minimum, be more understanding of my sexual orientation. Her anger, disappointment and disapproval makes me feel like shit. So much so that I am beginning to blame myself and feeling a bit depressed. I’m not sure where to go from here…
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You seem like such a kind soul and a lovely human being. First, let me say how proud of you I am for coming out to your family, and also for writing about this in a public forum. You are not alone in this dilemma, and it actually has nothing to do with being “Gayranian” – that’s cute! There is absolutely nothing to feel shame about, and I hope after reading this post you will immediately stop your thoughts of self-blame and sadness. If I’m picking up on what you’re putting down correctly, you’re okay with your sexual orientation, but concerned about and perhaps saddened by your mother’s reaction. I found it so interesting that your father is the accepting parent, and your mother is not. This is probably the less common scenario, but kudos to your father!!! What this may suggest is that your father has the ability to have more compassion for you because he is engaging in more balanced thought processing (i.e., critical thinking). Your mother may be struggling with acceptance because she has anxiety or anxiety-provoking thoughts about homosexuality. For example, she may be catastrophizing (e.g., thinking the worst-case scenarios). Perhaps she worries she will not have grandchildren, or worries that you will contract HIV, or perhaps she is overly concerned with what other people think and she worries that your family will be outcast or judged. Clearly, she has some core belief systems that are rigid and do not allow space for flexible lifestyles, and my guess is that it extends way beyond her beliefs on just sexual orientation. I wonder if your mother is prone to depression or anxiety, and perhaps this is the bigger concern once you two end up in a doctor’s office.
I wish I could offer some life-altering advice to you, but the truth is that you have great insight about the situation! Most importantly, I do not hear any cognitive dissonance or self-loathing on your part about your sexual orientation. It appears that you not only accept, but embrace your sexual orientation. That is wonderful. I understand that seeing your mother’s reaction is disappointing. Our tendency is to engage in self-blame as a means of having some control over an uncontrollable situation. Try to keep yourself in check. I agree that your parents and the people close to you have probably always known (although your mother may have been in denial for many years). I don’t think many people can argue with the fact that what we choose to do in our sex lives has no bearing on who we are as people. If we focus on the actual act of sex, then we have to be honest and acknowledge that there are heterosexuals who do far more extreme things in the bedroom than most homosexuals and yet are not judged in the same way. If it’s about anal sex, well, plenty of heterosexual couples engage in that too. Whether we like to have sex with men or women, or multiple people in orgies, or people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, or races, none of it really has any relationship with a person’s character, integrity, kindness, generosity, humor, honesty, compassion, intelligence, ability to succeed and contribute to society, etc. So, CLEARLY, this is simply an issue that lives within your mother’s thought processing.
There is only one thing I can tell you, which you may not like very much, but it is the truth (and not just for you, but all of us). I know you love your mother, and that is clear by your letter, but you are not responsible for how she thinks, feels, or behaves. You have no responsibility because you have no control over these entities. I think it is absolutely acceptable and was very compassionate for you to agree to see a psychologist together. Truly, this is for her sake, not yours, and the therapist will completely understand this and hopefully direct the spotlight to your mother. There is nothing for you to change! Your mother, however, will suffer a lot (in her own head and life!) if she does not make some adjustments to her thought processing. You ask, “How can I help my mother accept or be understanding…?” YOU CANNOT. This is an internal process for her, and you are doing everything you can by going to a family therapist with her. It’s almost humorous because one could say that YOU are the one who needs everyone’s support while coming out into an already hostile world that is biased against homosexuality. So, we would hope that your mother (and father, but he is already there) could be there for you. However, in this comical twist, you have to be there for your mom. She is making this all about her!
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But remember this: You are only in control of and thus responsible for your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. And it sounds like you’re doing a great job! All you can do is listen to her, validate her (and that does not mean agree with her, it simply means acknowledging her suffering), and reassure her that you will always love her even if she cannot accept you as you are. You can communicate to her that you hope she will learn to accept this reality and that she will choose to partake in your life and love whoever you love. And keep in mind that you are not only allowed to, but it would behoove you set firm boundaries with your mother (and anyone else) if she becomes verbally abusive or unkind, or refuses to meet your partners or husband at some point. It is completely healthy to set firm boundaries, and in fact, it is the compassionate thing to do because by doing so you cease to enable her (or other unhealthy people around you who may be unwilling to accept responsibility for themselves). So, your mother does not get to blame you for her negative emotions. She cannot say, “I’m sad, angry, or scared [HER emotions] because you are gay, or you choose to date men [YOUR behavior].” It does not match up. If she feels sad, it is because she has sad thoughts that are manufacturing her ongoing feelings of sadness. It’s a pretty simple concept:
Her Thoughts => Her Feelings => Her Behaviors
Your Thoughts => Your Feelings => Your behaviors
You don’t get to mix and match on this! So, again, you can do nothing other than managing your own thought processing and behaviors and this will create your own emotional state. My hope is that knowing that you are doing something very kind and compassionate for your mother by supporting her in family therapy, will enable you to feel happy (or at least at peace). The rest of this issue is the work your mother has to do. Blaming yourself will not suddenly give you any more control over the situation. And if your thought is: “Well, if I had not told her, then she would not be sad,” then think again. In life, we can do everything “right” and still have a negative outcome. We have to learn to tolerate and radically accept this. What you are responsible for, Ali Jan, is being honest to her and yourself about who you are and what you need/want. This will give you a chance at being the most authentic version of yourself and having authentic relationships with the people around you. I’m not sure a relationship is worth having if you cannot show up as yourself. Again, feeling sadness is normal, and it’s absolutely okay that you feel this way. Just try not to get stuck in it. There is no place for shame, guilt, or regret in this.
I truly hope this helps you. I know that many readers will feel grateful to you for sharing your story and dilemma. I’m sending you a big hug through cyberspace and lots of positive energy. Take good care of yourself and hang in there. Take it one day at a time, and practice a lot of self-compassion.