What to expect when a loved one ‘comes out’

Tom O'Connor Contributor
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I guess no family is exempt, because it just happened in mine. My nephew “came out” to his parents last week. Of course, they had known something wasn’t quite right with George (not his real name) for a long time, but it was still quite a shock when he finally admitted that he was, indeed, a conservative.

Thinking back, though, all the signs were there.

His classmates sensed that George was “different” early on. In elementary school, he was ostracized. In junior high, he was teased unmercifully. Kids called him the worst kind of names: “Newt” and “Neo”. In high school, his mother found a copy of National Review under his mattress. Even with this damning evidence staring her in the face, she made herself believe it was something he would grow out of.

But he didn’t.

They blame themselves, of course. “Did we not read the New York Times editorial page to him often enough?” “Was making him do his homework rather than watching the CBS Nightly News a mistake?” I’ve pointed out that research indicates that a child’s political preference has nothing to do with how they are raised. It’s not nurture. It’s nature. Conservatives are simply ‘born that way’.

But they still believe they are, at least to some degree, to blame.

You see, they urged him to go to their alma mater, a school that was traditionally, thoroughly liberal. They hoped that four years there would cauterize his conservatism and nudge George back toward “normal”.

Big mistake.

Admissions policies not being what they once were, a small cadre of conservatives had made its way onto campus. In no time at all George had “hooked up” with them. (How do these people find each other so quickly?) Out went the Howard Zinn. In came the Edmund Burke. From there it was but a short step to the inevitable transfer to a state university where George decided to major in business. It broke his father’s heart. He had always hoped George would follow in his footsteps as a Jungian therapist.

As you can imagine, adjusting to life with a conservative son who is fully “out” has not been easy for George’s parents. Their oldest friends have suddenly grown distant. There are uncomfortable silences at family gatherings whenever George’s name comes up. His parents never really know what to say or how to react when George’s “friends” come over. Should they turn off NPR? Should they take down the Che posters? It’s all very awkward.

To his parents, however, the latest development is undoubtedly the most painful of all: George is engaged to a girl he met at (where else?) at a Tea Party rally! To their credit, George and his fiancée don’t flaunt their predilections. To meet them, you’d never know they were intellectually inferior and irredeemably heartless.

Of course, George’s parents love him very much and only want for him to be happy but, as you can imagine, the thought of two conservatives bringing children into this world fills them with dread. I don’t care how progressive you are, you have to admit it’s not fair to raise a child in that kind of an environment.

Despite what I told my brother and sister-in-law about the whole ‘conservatives are born that way’ thing, I have an 8-year old son and I’m not taking any chances. We’ve gotten him subscriptions to The Nation and Newsweek. We make him read the Daily Kos every morning and watch Keith Olbermann every night before he goes to bed. If all that doesn’t put him on the correct path, I don’t know what will.

Tom O’Connor is a writer and worried dad in Bloomfield, Michigan.