Dear Dr. Darcy:
My nephew is a freshman in college and just came out over the holidays. Our family was and is beyond supportive. We love him, and we will love whomever he loves. My question is this: He seemed to react badly to me asking him why it took so long to come out. Why wait until college? It seems to me he could have come out 3-4 years ago and had a better-fulfilled high school experience. Did I say something wrong?
You did, however well intended it may have been.
His failure to come out before going to college may have had nothing to do with your family. American society, by and large, is only now turning a corner on gay rights. We are in the very beginning stage of equality, and we have an unquantifiable number of years of homophobia to undo before the majority of our youth will feel safe declaring themselves a member of the LGBT community. Look at what every teen just witnessed at the Sochi Olympics.
That’s the top layer answer. The next layer is actually more important, but it’s related to the top layer, which is why I’m explaining it in this order: The psychological developmental task of a teen is to assimilate into and gain acceptance by the peer group. Given where we are in the history of gay rights, it will be eons before declaring oneself gay won’t risk rejection (or worse) by the peer group of a teenager. And so expecting a teen to take this enormous risk is akin to asking an elderly person why they don’t want to jump out of a plane: The elderly person is looking to minimize physical risks. The adolescent is looking to minimize social risks.
I’m sure you want to be an amazing uncle in your nephew’s life. It will be easier to show him the support he needs if you educate yourself about LGBT issues. You can't imagine all of the opportunities you'll have to ask silly questions that will unintentionally hurt him, i.e., "Congratulation on your engagement! So...who will be the husband?" or "I don't understand why you won't visit me. What does my state's stance on gay rights have to do with you?" or "Why is it offensive to you that I support [insert conservative politician]? It's an economic choice."
I suggest going to some PFLAG meetings.
Writer’s stats: Male, Straight (and incredibly supportive of equality).