Double Stigma: Coming Out When Your Family is Hearing

Coming Out of the Closet
In or Out: Compared to 50 years ago, coming out as lesbian, gay, bi, or transgendered (LGBT) has probably never been easier. Although, sadly, hate crimes and gay bashing still occur, our culture has generally become more accepting of LGBT people. LGBT characters regularly show up in movies. There are PFLAG support groups for family members and friends. More and more people are out at work and in their neighborhoods.

Even so, coming out to one’s family members can be a difficult, sometimes terrifying, move. For some Deaf people, it can be challenging to come out to their families, no matter if they have Deaf or hearing parents. Deaf and hearing families may have similar reactions, whether positive or negative, when their Deaf child comes out to them. Having Deaf parents doesn’t necessarily make it easier to come out though. Today we focus on Deaf LGBT people from hearing families.

Family Issues:
It has been our observation that some Deaf people with hearing families worry that coming out will make them even more different from their families. They are already different in their Deaf and hearing identities. If they come out as LBGT and their family members are all straight, they may feel even more different and alone in their families.

These hearing parents probably already experienced a mixture of emotions when they found out their children were Deaf, ranging from shock to sadness or anger. They may have tried to “fix” their Deaf children with hearing aids, cochlear implants, or speech therapy. It makes sense that some Deaf people might think twice about coming out, knowing that they may once again disappoint their parents and cause them grief. They may even wonder if their families will try to change them, because there are indeed families who will look for therapists to try to change the LGBT children. It may feel safer to stay inside the closet.

Free to Be: For a very small minority of Deaf people with extremely conservative families, coming out might (and a very small “might”) result in losing their families. For most, however, this fear is unlikely to become a reality. There are Deaf people with hearing parents and siblings who enjoy warm and loving relationships with their families. Coming out and sharing their true identities and lives is a way of strengthening and deepening these relationships. Not having to carry around a big secret anymore, or worry about being out-ed, Deaf LGBT people can feel free to live and grow with authenticity.

  1. E. Lynn Jacobowitz, Ph.D. September 12, 2006

    Excellent blog. Wonder if you could try video blog for us ASL-prefered users. Smile. Thanks for the great news.

  2. Debbie H September 13, 2006

    Even our deaf Marlee Matlin is joining the cast of “The L Word,” Showtime’s drama about a circle of lesbian friends and lovers who move in the trendiest of L.A. circles.

  3. joseph rainmound September 13, 2006

    I notice there is also a “coming out” process between Deaf people and their families that often occurs over the time of one’s life as a person explains their boundaries to a family which never got a lot of training in it… just my thought.

  4. ASC September 13, 2006

    Hi Lynn,

    Thanks for your comment. You’re not the first person to ask us to do some vlogs, and it is definitely something we are looking into. If you or anyone else is interested in mentoring us through this process, we’d love to hear from you. We need all the help we can get! Smile.

  5. Brian September 30, 2006

    Excellent blogpost!! I am so thrilled you touched upon this topic because it is still today a relevant issue for EVERYONE, queer and heterosexual.

    Even to this day, I still get comments from people along the lines of “I think that the deaf community is generally less homophobic than the hearing community. Why? Because deaf people know what it is like to be oppressed. Same as gay people. Deaf people are sympathetic to the plight of gay people. Many deaf are born to hearing parents. Same for gay people – many are born to straight parents.”

    I interpret this kind of comment as a huge assumption, one that overlooks the fact that there are both deaf and hearing people who oppress queer individuals, that the deaf community is not immune to our society’s powerful (and damaging) messages of “straight is the norm. straight is better. gay is deviant. gay people deserve less.” Needless to say, we *do* have allies in the queer community who support deaf people, and vice versa.

    Thanks for making ACS a safe forum to discuss these thoughts!



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