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I feel like I did this all wrong.

Question:

So I came out to my Dad about a month ago, and now I sort of regret it. I didn’t even know/ think about my orientation for very long leading up to that, it just happened that I was at writing camp and we did this little meditation thing and all I could think of during it was all the time I had spent with this friend of mine, and I walked out of there 100% sure that I had feelings for her, there was no point in questioning it but I still did anyways, but I love her, and it’s glorious, and I think there’s a decent chance that things might work out with her, and that’s the main reason I came out to my Dad, I figured it would be easier if I just told him and got it over with and figured out how he was going to react before I started literally dating a girl. Plus, going to his homophobic church and listening to him “debate” (err, rant homophobically) about gay marriage was starting to take a toll on me.

Life with him has been horrible ever since. He’s very cold towards me, for the most part, although I’ve had a few seemingly harmless conversations with him devolve into bouts of rage. He doesn’t tell me I’m going to hell or anything, but he just kindof says he “doesn’t respect my decision”. He accuses me of being secretive, but instead of ever asking me questions he just talks to my sister about me behind my back. He’s said some eerie things, too, like “It’s too bad I can’t have a close relationship with [my name] anymore”, and “If anything happens to our relationship, it’ll be your fault, not mine”. He’s yelled at me for being disrespectful and refused to explain what I did wrong (because I really didn’t feel I’d done anything wrong). He’s been pretty insensitive about me being depressed, too, and he told me I had been “really difficult to live with in the past year” when I tried to explain that to him. And basically whenever I try to explain things he did that hurt me, he just sort of brushes them off or tells me I’m blowing things out of proportion or that I need to relax or something, and he tells me I’m too young for my opinions to matter. I’ve told my Mom (who is much more supportive) I want to live with her, and she and my sister seem to get it completely. Unfortunately my Dad found out about that before I could discuss it with him myself, and instead of me getting to sit down and tell him calmly what I needed to do, he just flipped out at me and accused me of “turning the house upside down”. He told me that if I went through with this he was going to turn it into a big court battle and bring up all the ugly details about the divorce, and that when I’m eighteen I can leave and not come back provided I don’t ask for any of his money, but until then, if I don’t like it, too bad, I have to stay and deal with it, I’m running way from my problems, I have to figure out how to communicate better with him . . . That last part sounds easy enough, and I do second-guess whether that’s what I should do sometimes. But it feels like a hopeless cause. I don’t know how I’m supposed to bare my soul to him when he shuts me down before I can even defend myself. And he’s not going to change. But I don’t know how to get him to let me go.

And I don’t know, I’ve started to feel sort of ashamed of myself, like I shouldn’t have brought this whole thing up. I don’t really think about suicide anymore but I just have this strange sense that I should go far away and not talk to anyone ever anymore and possibly never come back. I started feeling better this summer after the whole writing camp thing but now I’m starting to have more random crying spells and backaches and self-harm impulses and things and I don’t want to be miserable again and God I’m just tired of talking about myself I don’t even know why I’m doing this.

And meanwhile the girl, I told her how I feel even though she has a boyfriend (she’s bisexual), and she seems to feel the same way, she kissed me, she’s said she’s imagined being with me before, she liked the love poem I wrote about her, but she wants to be with her boyfriend. It’s okay but I keep worrying incessantly that I messed things up for us somehow, and I haven’t seen her in a while and I’m worried about her because she tried to kill herself several months ago, meanwhile I’m a trainwreck myself and she knows that and I don’t want to scare her . . . One of our friends told me the girl seems to be happiest when she’s with me, and I guess that coud be true, and I’m also happiest when I’m with her, but I feel like I need to give her space, given the circumstances, and I just I just don’t really know what to do with myself here.

I know there’s a lot to unpack in this letter but any advice you could give me would be a great help. Thank you.
Love,
E.

Letter submitted by:

Answer:

Dear E.,

You’re right that there’s a lot to unpack in there, so let’s get right to it: first and foremost, although your situation is rough, it certainly is not uncommon.  A lot of young people like you write to us with similar feelings, and you’re doing the right thing by reaching out to people like us to talk things over.  Coming out, in and of itself, is difficult for many people, and it surely doesn’t help your situation when you have a particularly difficult father, plus a girl who seems to like you back who then says she wants to date some guy.

Before we get to dad and the more emotional issues going on here, let’s begin with a physical issue: you mentioned that you were once again starting to feel self-harm impulses.  As you seem to know, self-harm, such as cutting, is relatively common among LGBT youth.  People harm themselves as a way of dealing with or managing difficult, painful, overwhelming emotions or stress.  For some, self-harm relieves stress or tension or they find that the physical pain of self-harm or cutting is a distraction from the emotional pain.  Some people are angry at someone in their lives, such as their fathers, and they take the anger out on themselves by self- harm and cutting.  Others feel that self-harm and cutting provides a feeling of control when things feel out of control emotionally.  Self-harm is also used to help people who otherwise feel numb or “dead inside” feel pain – in contrast to their ordinary numbness – or to feel alive.

It would not be surprising if you have experienced some of these things, given dad’s behavior.

Cutting and self-harm generally may well help you feel better momentarily, but the longer it goes on, the more dangerous it can become.  It can cause permanent scars, infections, and serious or sometimes life-threatening medical problems, especially if you accidentally cut a major blood vessel.  It can also cause you to feel shame, guilt, more depressed, and out of control.

Next time you feel a self-harm impulse, you might consider a few alternative ways to get that same feeling of gaining control or of relieving anger or stress, all without putting yourself at risk.  Start by thinking about how you feel before and after you harm yourself.  If self-harm helps to release anger, you might try getting the anger out in another way like hitting a pillow, stomping around in heavy shoes, ripping up a newspaper or flattening a can of soda.  If self-harm helps you when you’re sad, do whatever makes you feel taken care of and comforted, such as listening to certain songs, calling a friend, or eating a favorite food.  Some people find that writing in a journal or drawing/painting helps the person feel better.  Consider trying that if you haven’t already.  If self-harm helps you to relieve stress, consider doing something else that counter-acts that, like something physical, such as running outdoors or yoga.  If the self-harm helps you to feel less numb, do something that creates a sharp physical feeling like putting your hand briefly in ice water, or stamp your feet on the ground.

I’ll confess that some of these ideas are not original: check out helpguide.org/mental/self_injury.htm.  You’ll find that this amazing recourse has, among other things, more ideas as to alternative things you can do to address self-harm impulses (under the heading “Help for cutting and self-harm step 3: Find new coping techniques”), and you’ll find even more great advice about how to find and address what triggers your self-harm impulses.  You definitely should check it out.

It can be very difficult to stop self-harm or cutting.  It would be important to tell a trusted adult about it in order for them to help you find a therapist for you to work with to find safer and healthier ways to deal with the hard things you’re going through.  If you’re not comfortable talking with mom, you could ask a school counselor for help finding a therapist, or call 1-800-DON’T-CUT where you can be referred to a therapist in your area.  When you have the urge to engage in self-harm or cutting, you can always call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386) and talk with a Trevor lifeline counselor about what you’re feeling and experiencing as well as your urges which can help to delay or stop the urge.  They can also work with you to find a therapist to help you.

On to dad.

It must be hard hearing your own father say things like how he doesn’t respect your “decisions” when, in fact, you never “decided” to be who you are and, more importantly, when there’s nothing wrong with you being you.

The first piece of advice is to stop taking advice from dad, particularly legal advice.  Although we don’t specialize in giving legal advice here, you might want to check in with mom or her legal advisers about what dad’s saying when it comes to how easy or hard it would be for you to make the move over to mom’s place.  You could even try Googling the topic a bit to get a sense of things.  It may just be that dad’s ranting a bit out of his own concern for looking bad in front of his friends when his own daughter leaves the house.  He’d look like he can’t support and raise his daughter on his own, and his friends might look down on him for it.  In other words, it might just possibly be that dad’s advice is based, in some small part, on his desire to look out for his own interests, even if living with mom would be better overall for your own interests.

Although you may not be able to stop hearing dad’s advice, particularly when he’s yelling in your face, certainly you can try to remember that he’s not the only one with advice, and his advice is likely to differ from other people’s.  So consider getting advice, particularly legal advice about child custody, from someone who can give fair and impartial advice about this.  Not dad.

Now, it is quite doubtful that you could do anything to make dad suddenly change his mind tomorrow about gay people.  His views are deep ingrained within him and his upbringings.  For you, then, the best way to approach the situation is to think about how you’re going to deal with him.  Are you going to keep trying to change him, even though you know that could take a long time and be very emotionally difficult for you?  Are you going to react in a way that could cause harm to yourself, even though he’s just saying the same things over and over again, and should really sound like a broken record worth ignoring at this point?  Perhaps the questions point to the right answer: to try to maintain your calm and collectiveness, even though his words infuriate you, and try not to give his ignorance so much weight in your mind.

If there’s any possibility that you’re concerned about dad becoming abusive or otherwise kicking you out of the house, it would be important to have a safety plan, like having a safe place where you could live and continue to go to school and a way to support yourself financially.  You might think about a best friend whose parents you know and trust, or perhaps an aunt or uncle or grandparent who you could live with temporarily in the event that things get bad around the house.

Dad might never seem to get it, or otherwise be willing to be sensitive to you about depression, but fear not, because your school has resources for situations like this.  You could start by speaking to your school’s guidance counselor, who you might be surprised to learn is able to help you with issues going on at home that have nothing to do with school.  You might also want to make sure you keep a good relationship with one of your favorite teachers or aunts or uncles who you know you can trust so you can go to them to share your feelings on a rough day.  Remember, there’s nothing wrong with your sexual orientation, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation about why you feel how you feel.  You’re just you, and that’s all that matters.

One more thing to keep in the back of your mind.  Although your dad says bad things about gay people generally, and even about you being gay specifically, and even though it really hurts to hear your dad – of all people – saying these things, the truth is that he’s only human, and he’s been taught by society and his upbringings to have such homophobic feelings.  As society is beginning to recognize, one’s homophobic upbringings do not justify continuing to be homophobic in this day and age.  It’s not okay for your dad to be homophobic.  But society is changing whether or not your dad changes with it.  No matter what, things will get better for you because society in general is becoming more accepting, and you’re growing up in an amazing time when things are very quickly getting better.

You might consider writing us back with some more information about the girl you like, including things you’ve said to her, things she’s said to you, and whether you think that dealing with the situation is contributing to how you’ve been feeling.  Sometimes, we feel like we’ve met our perfect match, and we just can’t stop thinking about them.  Sometimes, we’re right – they’re the one – and they come back to us even after a short-term distraction with someone else.  In those situations, we might decide to remain friends in the short term (if doing so is not too difficult on us emotionally), making sure the person knows that we’re there for them.  Your friend certainly seems like she could use the added emotional support from you, particularly as you might have some shared experiences, but you wouldn’t want to let yourself get hurt in the process.

As hinted above, a lot of other people write to us about similar circumstances.  This means a lot of other people who are in your situation means are out there, right now, just waiting for you to meet them.  It helps to have someone else like you to compare notes with.  A fantastic way to find these people is on TrevorSpace.  Have you heard of it?  You can make an online profile for yourself and meet other people who are just like you.  Check it out at trevorspace.org.  There are so many others out there, and some of them, I’m sure, have just come out to their own homophobic fathers.

I trust that you already know about LifeLine and TrevorChat.  If you ever feel like you just can’t take it anymore, message us on TrevorChat or call us at 1-866-4-U-TREVOR and we’ll talk you through it.  Feel free to update us here on AskTrevor as well.  We love hearing from you.

Good luck with dad.

Sincerely,

Trevor Staff