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I Told My Parents I’m Gay. Here’s How They Reacted
LGBTQ+ and Malaysia are two things that don’t go hand in hand. Even though it’s 2020, and the world is getting more accepting, it’s still not where we want it yet especially in Malaysia.
Sexuality has always been something fluid to me. I believe it to be a spectrum with one end being straight and the other being gay or lesbian. Then there’s others in the middle such as pansexual, bisexual etc.
The gender you’re attracted to and the gender you identify as are two separate things. I have always known that I am someone who identifies as a male who has always been attracted to other men.
People have asked me: “How did you come out to your parents? There is no specific way to come out, it varies from individual to individual.
With families that are not fully accepting about it like mine, it’s a real challenge.
Hi, I’m Elyas, I‘m gay, and this is the story of how I came out to my conservative parents.
In movies and tv shows, they often do this scene where the teen sits their parents down and announces that they are gay. But for me, there wasn’t a specific time or place where I sat down with my parents and came out, it just happened gradually.
I think a part of them always had a clue. I never outright accepted or denied their doubts, because I never felt comfortable and secure enough in the home environment to speak up about it.
Back when I was still suppressing myself, I had so much resentment towards my parents. I felt like they were stopping me from being who I truly am on the inside.
However, the older I got, the more I got to the point of not caring. One day, when I turned 16, I just decided to say “F**k it” and see how far I can push their boundaries.
I started doing more feminine things that is quote unquote ‘gay.’ The first thing I decided to do was just a pierce on my lobe.
I was so afraid of the repercussions, but looking back at it now, it’s nothing compared to what I do now. Now, I just go out with a full face of makeup, paint my nails or even wear skirts.
At 17, I felt an immense amount of confidence because everyone around me knew I was gay (excluding my parents). And they accepted who I was without making an issue of it.
Feeling this supported and safe around my friends, it gave me the confidence to live the life I always dreamed of. I started flirting with men, I found a boyfriend, and I began living my life, just like any other person with a boyfriend/girlfriend.
Growing up as a gay kid in Malaysia
I have always had feminine mannerisms which were noticeable when I was younger.
The way I walk or the way my hands move and fall when I am speaking are “gay stereotypes” according to what you see in the movies. I was bullied a lot for it. In school, it started from year 3 and did not stop until year 10.
The more people pointed it out, the more my parents would make an issue out of it. They’d try to change me and force me to be straight.
So, I would try to fit in by dressing how society would expect a straight man. My go to look would be baggy jeans and a shirt with Nike shoes, and it just made me feel muted. I would rather put on a full face of makeup with a turtleneck, skirt and boots.
There are times I feel very masculine and I would wear athleisure, like joggers and a big hoodie. My gender expression is fluid, but that does not mean my gender identity is. I might dress feminine or masculine but I identify as a male.
So my parents got worried that I could be gay and sent me to a religious school for 2 years. They were hoping that by enforcing religion on me it would change my sexual preference.
Attending a school where most of them weren’t liberal amplified the bullying that I received. They would throw dictionaries, call me names and use slurs like pondan or use the word ‘gay’ as insult.
I could not even go to my teachers and counselors because they would condone the hate. One time, when I went to the counselor and told him about my situation, his reply was, word-for-word, ‘Maybe it’s time you change’.
My parents thought conversion therapy could ‘cure’ me
Another time they tried to ‘change’ me was when they would bring up Muslim conversion therapy as a “solution”.
That topic was in the conversation for a while and they were intent on that idea but everytime they brought it up my older brothers or I would shut it down.
Conversion therapy is a practice that is mainly aimed to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity because they believe it to be mental illness. I think the only thought that was going through my parents’ head were like ‘change my son gay to straight. Easy.’
I am assuming my parents didn’t know the emotional and physical trauma people go through in conversion therapy since they would abuse their victims and associate it with their identity. This would result in the victim to always think about something negative when their sexual identity is brought up.
They did not know how inhumane conversion therapy truly is and how much this conversation itself affected me mentally.
I would read articles and watch videos about it. I once read this article where this man went to conversion therapy to investigate how they work.
At first the therapists would try to convince him that he was sexually abused as a child and that was the reason for his homosexuality. They tried to plant a seed of doubt that was never there.
Then the therapists would ask him to participate in rugby since it’s a ‘manly’ sport and give him activities to do like stand naked in front of the mirror, touch himself while declaring his masculinity.
The writer of the article admits at the end he only felt confused and damaged and up to this day, he still gets flashbacks that haunt him. (To read that story, click here.)
This awakened in me a deep fear of being sent to conversion therapy, making me feel anxious around them all the time.
When I decided to stop caring and do the things I want, I did expect their reactions to be exactly how they were.
A part of me wants to blame them, but a part of me doesn’t
Having said that, I don’t hold them accountable because that’s how they have been shaped and taught since they are young and their mindset isn’t going to change with the snap of your fingers.
They were raised in a conservative time where religion was the main belief system and in the past people were not really exposed to the LGBTQ community, so there were never conversations about it.
Nonetheless, it’s hard not to blame them too, especially when you see how other adults from the same generation who grew up in similar environments have overcome their personal biases by educating themselves.
Although they are not the most supportive, they have definitely come a long way ever since they found out about my brother’s sexual preference.
My brother is also gay, and he is my best friend
One of my brothers is also in the LGBTQ+ community. He was outed by his friend to my parents in the early 2000’s.
When my brother was outed, they handled it terribly, but now that they have had experience dealing with a gay son, they try to tread lightly with my situation.
Growing up, my brother and I were close despite our disagreements. But as I got older, our bond just got tighter. We don’t really fight anymore. Now, we are just best friends.
Everytime I hang out with him, it’s so memorable. It’s always a good time, especially when we go to my mom’s side family events, because they are all mostly conservative. We can feel them judging us, so my brother and I just poke fun at them.
Having someone so close that is also in the community has just made my life easier. I always have someone to talk to and ask for advice about STDS, relationships or anything else relating to the gay community.
He has never made me feel uncomfortable or judged. My brother has always respected my choice even when he does not agree with it. When I told him I wanted to come out to parents gradually, he agreed with my decision and has had my back.
In addition to that, because my brother is on good terms with my parents, he nudges them in a certain direction which makes them less hostile.
Up to now, my parents detest the way I express myself
I don’t expect my parents to fully understand me. On the contrary, they are still in denial and hope that one day I would change my sexual preference.
They would try to suppress their feelings as much as they can, but eventually they would explode and there would be a falling out.
During those times, they would interrogate me about my painted nails and makeup which they detest, asking me questions like:
“Are you a boy or girl?”
“If you are a boy why are you wearing makeup?”
“Why is this a choice you have to make?”
And the famous:
“‘I see so many boys your age that would never do what you are doing in a million years.”
Sometimes I argue back; other times, I just sit there and take it. After a while, you just get jaded.
I have come to terms with this cycle and have accepted that this is always going to happen until I eventually leave this household.
As I mature, I notice that they are trying to understand in their own way. It’s often not the best attempt, nevertheless, they do.
That’s when I concluded that baby steps are better than no steps at all, so I have to take what I can get.
They will always try to subtly play cupid.
Sometimes when we are in public and there’s a woman present, they would be like: “ Elyas, don’t you think that girl is pretty? Why don’t you ask her out?”
Other times, they would bring up the prospect of future marriage with a wife and having biological children.
It is disappointing when they do this, since it just resets what I thought was the growth of my relationship with my parents. Every time I feel like I’m making progress, these comments make me think it was all in my head.
Now they just assume it’s a phase I’m going through. In their minds, hope is on the horizon and they believe that I will eventually grow out of it and marry a girl.
This is a thought process that, unfortunately, is commonly implemented in a lot of gay peoples’ lives. There are gay men in the LGBTQ+ community who have set their mind to: “I will just date men for now and eventually settle down and marry a girl, just to please my family.”
How has all this affected me?
Despite the fact that I am still hiding a huge part of myself from my parents, it still feels so empowering to be able to express that little part of myself elsewhere.
I do wish my parents would not retort everytime I show my sexuality. Their responses have caused me to go through a lot of depressed episodes, even though now I tend to jump back up on my feet really well.
I would 100% prefer them to just respond ‘yeah that’s cool’ with a shrug of shoulders maybe, just to be nonchalant about all of this and support me.
It also made having friends over at my house complicated. For the longest time, I had a male platonic friend come over all the time.
Naturally, it made my parents suspicious, and they started coming up with reasons why I should not be hanging out with him.
Yet, they don’t want me to hang out with too many women either because that raises questions like:
“Why do you have so many female friends?” or “Is that why you are feminine?”
So what is the middle ground?
Unfortunately, I have had to alter my future plans and life goals according to my parents’ wishes. I was supposed to pursue my degree abroad, but they stopped me believing I would go ‘too far.’
In their mind, they think that if I am doing all this while I’m still living under their roof, what would I do if I went to a different country where they can’t keep a constant level of surveillance over me?
But my plans are still there. After getting my education out of the way, I will move out, go abroad and start doing my own thing which would be in the creative arts.
I decided I would not partake in my family’s business since I thrive in the creative arts. And anyway, working in the corporate scene would not allow me to express myself while being able to keep my job, even if my parents would be more content with that career choice.
Although I was affected mentally and had to adjust my future plans to what is not ideal, if you asked me “Do you have any regrets about exploring your sexuality and gender expression?”
I’d say that I have no regrets at all.
Expressing my gender just feels right to me. It made me feel more valid as a person. If I did not, I would not be as confident as I am. It’s never ending, and I really enjoy it.
Here’s My Advice For For Anyone Thinking About Coming Out To Their Family
Coming out is such a hard process which takes a lot of courage and mental preparation.
If someone were to ask me about coming out and what they should do, my two cents is that you have to ensure you feel secure, both physically and mentally. Especially in Malaysia, a country that can criminalise you for being homosexual.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to feel safe in the environment you are in. Do not come out if you feel you can potentially be harmed, even though it’s difficult having to hide a part of yourself.
And to parents who have children that are part of the LGBTQ+ community: Just remember that regardless of whether or not your religion allows it, they are still your child.
Empathise with them and what they are going through. They have kept it in for so long. When they come out openly to you, it’s because they trust you enough to come out. Try to feel for them instead of invalidating their feelings.
For more stories like this, read: What’s it like being homosexual in Malaysia? and Coming out of the Closet: A Transgender Man’s Experience