When your parents love who they want you to be more than who you really are

When your parents love who they want you to be more than who you really are May 7, 2015

Dollarphotoclub_73973057Below is a weeks-old email exchange between myself and a young woman. It occurred to me to share it with you (with her permission, of course), because I wanted to show how little effort it takes to make someone feel better. It’s so easy to go through life thinking that we have little if any power to help others. But our taking just a moment to share a kind word with another can make a real difference in their lives. Here’s proof:

This is the email I received:

Hey, my name is Andie [not her real name] and I am an almost certainly gay, non-denominational Christian.

So I’m 20 years old and I kinda think I should have already figured out who I am, but I could be wrong. A psychiatrist I saw said I had been through so much that I never really had the chance to figure it out. I don’t know.

My parents split when I was 9, and for as long as I can remember I was emotionally abused by my mother. Which lead to years of depression, multiple suicide attempts and a lot of self harming. I moved in with my dad when I was 18 to get away from it and things have been better. Anyway I’m getting away from why I’m writing this.

Since I was 10 I’ve had several boyfriends, but every time a relationship ended I would be like… pick a boy that seems decent and like him now. Which, now that I think about it, means that I was forcing myself to be with boys.

I remember the first time I slept over at my best friend’s house. I was so nervous, but happy to be sharing a bed with her (not in sexual way). We just watched Friends and went to sleep. I remember looking over at her and thinking, I just want to kiss her. I had butterflies and everything. It was then I first realized I might like girls.

I was sixteen, and, coming from a strict Christian home, I just tossed such thoughts aside and continued dating guys. By then I’d gotten so used to the facade and pretending it was easy. I just thought of it as a phase–like maybe I’m bi. I was just thinking that I can’t be gay, and forcing myself to be with guys wether I liked it or not. I’ve pushed myself to the point of sleeping with guys, after which I just wanted to throw up and just get more depressed.

Now I’m almost certain I’m gay. I say almost because every time I’m ready to accept it, I become so afraid of what my parents will think that I would rather stay in this rut. Even though me and my mother have been rebuilding our relationship, I’m still most terrified of what she’ll think. I tried to sent her a copy of your book, Unfair [learn more here], to see how she’d react so I’d know if I could ever come out to her. She claimed to have not received anything in the post; I think she threw it in the bin at first glance, but don’t know for sure.

I know my dad is anti-gay, even though he says, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” He says being gay isn’t a choice. But I know I didn’t choose to feel this way.

I think I know God loves me as I am, but I’m so numb to Christianity because of my mum at this point. I still love God, but I want to be with girls. I’ve met a girl that I really like, but I’m scared of confirming it and confused if I can still be a Christian. It all hurts so bad.

I’m sorry this is so long, I think it’s important to lay out my history or whatever to really be able to help me I guess. If you have any advice for me it would be much appreciated.


P.S. found your book comforting. Thanks again.


I don’t have any advice for you that’s anything but the same advice I’m sure you would give any girl in your position: You’re 20. You can either live the life that works for you, or you can deny who you are so that your parents might be happier.

Your parents can either accept you for who you are, or they can decide that their IDEA of who you are–that is, who they WANT you to be–is more important to them than is the truth of who you REALLY are.

Which is to say: They can, if they want, choose themselves over you.

That happens. People really are that selfish.

If you’re gay, be gay. It’s not like you can NOT be gay if you were born gay. God is perfectly fine with you being gay.

If your parents force you to choose between them and you, that’ll be tough for you.

Choose you. Fuck ’em if they don’t love you enough to actually love you. That’s the bottom line.


Thanks that actually does help some.


In a nutshell: Perpetually unhappy? Consider rejecting your parents.


Thanks. That makes a lot of sense. For the first time in 6 years my head is actually clear. And I’m excited. I’m spending the day with that girl on Monday and I’m excited.


Good. You should be excited. It sounds to me like it’s time for you to start a new life for yourself. Your parents are likely going to try to keep you in your old, scared, self-condemning, You’re Offending God life and mindset, so … as you know, that’s probably a storm you’re going to have to weather–and will keep weathering, for a long, long time.

Just know that it’s okay if you both love and utterly and completely reject your parents–know, in fact, that ultimately and thoroughly you must do both.


I don’t why I’m telling you this but your advice has really helped me and I wanted to let you know how my date went. I hope that’s okay?


of course it is


It was amazing! We didn’t stop talking for even one minute, we couldn’t stop smiling and I had butterflies long after after the date was over. We saw Home and then got something to eat. It felt so right.


Love always does!

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  • And that is why you are a huge asset to humanity John. For that young woman’s sake, I say thank you.

  • Matt

    Man, we human beings really love our labels and binary boxes, don’t we? “If you don’t do exactly what your parents say (even when it hurts you) and feel warm fuzzies toward them every second of every day, you don’t love them and therefore suck! It can be no other way!”

    That’s awesome you were able to help the Letter Writer see otherwise. And kudos to her as well for being so resilient and holding onto the truth. You go, smart girl!

  • Jessica Arnold

    Awww… I just want to hug her. Why do parents like this have gay children? I’d like to think it’s supposed to be a lesson. But the kids always get hurt. I have also had to reject my parents. Their idea of God is more important than I am. It was very hard for me to accept but so freeing once I did. Thank you for sharing, John.

  • Sometimes, coming from a very controlling family, adult children forget that they are adults and not children, I think. I’m speaking from my own experience here. It is unfortunate that in situations like this, children wrap their own identities with their parents and never get to know who they really are. In time, when we learn about making our own song as we go along, we realize that rejecting our parents isn’t rejection at all, it only feels that way. Rejecting our parents is actually cutting the apron strings and living our lives the way we see fit. This is natural, this is normal. If the parents are forcing their song on to their adult children (or even, teenage children in some cases), then it is they who have overstepped natural, healthy boundaries. It is the same as forcing children to be either right handed or left handed. It’s unthinkable. Again, just my observation and experience…

  • That’s really kind of you, Allegro. Thank you.

  • This resonates with me. I’m reminded of this Dar Williams lyric that I find particularly inspiring:

    Well I know a woman with a collection of sticks
    She could fight back the hundreds of voices she heard
    She could poke at the greed, she could fend off her need
    And with anger she found she could pound every word

    But one voice got through, caught her up by surprise
    It said, “Don’t hold us back we’re the story you tell”
    And no sooner than spoken, a spell had been broken
    And the voices before her were trumpets and tympani
    Violins, basses and woodwinds and cellos, singing

    “We’re so glad that you finally made it here
    You thought nobody cared, but we did, we could tell
    And now you’ll dance through the days while the orchestra plays
    And oh, you’re aging well”

  • Andy

    Thanks for sharing this, John. I’m glad she’s being honest and seeming comfortable with herself. I hope her parents are as happy for her as she is, whenever she chooses to come out to them.

  • Just want to toss this in the mix, in regards to the whole “choice vs. born-that-way” conversation.

    Whether or not one’s sexuality is a choice is beside the point. Being a Christian is a choice. Treating people well or poorly is a choice. The real question is, I believe: are our choices bringing us happiness? Given the way your date went, it sounds like this choice is a happy one.

  • Yes, exactly. Perfect. Thanks, Mike.

  • lymis

    I’d add that, as real and scary as “rejecting your parents” can be, in most cases, it’s not inherently permanent and irrevocable.

    A lot of what our parents, and to a lesser degree, our friends hold over us is the threat of their cutting us off from their affection unless we pretend to be who they want us to be. And that has power as long as we let it.

    But once we say, “No. I love you, but I can’t be what you seem to want me to be any more” they lose that power. And then they are the ones who have to face the fact that their own actions have resulted in our no longer being in their lives.

    It often takes time, and there are often dramas and relapses and attempts to guilt us back into the old status quo, but it’s not uncommon for parents to eventually come around to being willing to rebuild a new relationship on the ruins of the old one.

    I wouldn’t make that an expectation, but it is a common experience. And if they don’t come around, then it merely proves that the decision to cut them off was entirely the right one. Meanwhile, you can put your energy into new friends and the creation of a family of choice who do accept who you are and celebrate your authenticity.

  • I believe God is happiest when we’re honest with ourselves, and when we live independent lives.

    It’s a shame your parents aren’t there yet. They might come around, they might not.

    Enjoy growing into who you are.
    There are plenty of people who will support you.

    Oh, and for some of us, being bi isn’t just a phase!
    You are allowed to like whoever you like.
    Don’t let anyone take that away from you.