Notes & Queeries is
As everyone who is gay surely knows, there is no end to coming out. The first time might have been the hardest, but it was only the first time. After that, there’s a lifetime of coming out ahead of you. You’ll find yourself coming out to random strangers at parties, to people you want to date, to long-lost friends who looked you up on Facebook, and, of course, to members of your extended family.
In a recent South of Nowhere episode, “Spencer’s 18th Birthday,” Spencer Carlin faces the consequences of coming out again when her grandmother, the mother of the formerly homophobic Paula Carlin, comes to visit. Spencer’s grandmother doesn’t know that her perfect little granddaughter is gay, and finding out doesn’t exactly lead to grandmotherly pride.
It turns out that Paula used to be homophobic for a reason: her mother taught her to be that way.
Although Spencer is ready to come out to her grandmother, her mother prevents her from doing so at first, telling Spencer that she doesn’t want her to get hurt. But when Grandma starts to judge Spencer’s gay friends for having made the wrong “choice,” Paula outs her own daughter, then defends her and declares that “a mother’s job is to love her child unconditionally, and to be proud of her.”
But instead of agreeing with Paula, Grandma flees the Carlin house, unable to accept the fact that her granddaughter is gay.
During Spencer’s last conversation with her grandmother in the episode, her grandmother explains that she never loved Spencer’s grandfather but stayed married to him “because it was the right thing to do.”
Spencer asks, “But doesn’t your heart tell you what’s right?”
“If it were only that simple,” her grandmother replies.
Although Spencer says, “Maybe it is,” her all-we-need-is-love argument doesn’t seem to convince her grandmother, who came from a generation in which marriage was much more of an unbreakable contract than it is today.
The episode made me wonder how often gay people avoid coming out to their grandparents for fear of a similar reaction.
Not everyone’s grandparents are homophobic, obviously, but our grandparents grew up in a time when homosexuality was not nearly as accepted as it is now.
And I admit that’s one of the reasons I didn’t come out to my own grandparents.