How My Family Became Stronger and Happier After My Mom Came Out of the Closet

POPSUGAR Photography | Keaton Nugent
POPSUGAR Photography | Keaton Nugent

Growing up, I had the most "normal" family you can imagine: a dad, a mom, a sister, and a dog. We blended in with the rest of the families in our neighborhood, which always gave me a sense of security. I was shocked when my parents told me they were getting a divorce when I was 12 years old. It came out of nowhere for me. I knew kids at school that had split families, but I never imagined that was something that could happen to me.

Rumors started to spread in my family about why my parents had split up after more than a decade of marriage. I remember the gossip I started to hear from the rest of my family. "We heard that your mom is talking to women online. Is it true?" or "You know homosexuality is a sin, right?" I ignored the rumors and gossip because I knew, whether or not any of it was true, I would still love my mom.

A year after my parents divorced, California was split by protests and angry TV commercials as the community began debating the merits of Prop 8 — a law that would legalize gay marriage in the state.

I think those ads helped finally push my mom out of the closet. She was so sick of seeing these misconceptions about her community, and she couldn't stay silent about it anymore. The way that she finally came out to me was so awkward. I was getting out of the shower, and only had a towel on. My mom stopped me and said, "Keaton, come into my room; I want to talk." She explained to me that she was gay, and she'd been dating a woman online. She knew this must be confusing and tough for me. She told me that I didn't need to approve of her, I just needed to respect her. I started crying and we hugged. I wasn't crying because I was upset, I was just happy to finally have the truth out in the open. But I didn't realize how difficult this revelation would make things in the future.

When kids found out at my school, there was teasing and jokes. One of my teachers told me, "You need to help your mom recover." My mom stayed strong throughout all of it. I watched her explain what lesbian meant to my little sister. She told us why it was hurtful to her when our uncle called things "gay" as an insult. She spent many nights calmly arguing with my grandmother across the dinner table about homosexuality and the Bible. There's always adjustment and changes as families find a new normal after a divorce. Christmas, birthdays, and school events were all different. But my family had the extra work of adjusting to the divorce while also struggling through misconceptions about the gay community.

Working through those misconceptions together taught me how to see life through someone else's eyes. She took more time to understand where someone was coming from before making assumptions. The lesson she taught me has stayed close to the core of who I am.

Years later, at the age of 13, my then-sister came out as a transgender boy. (Born a female, transitioning to a man.) This came as another shock to my family, and again we faced even more misunderstandings and misconceptions. Even my mom, who had so much firsthand experience, would say things like, "But he doesn't even like cars or manly things? He doesn't really act like a guy?" I found myself in a similar position to where my mom had been years ago, calmly explaining the misconceptions about the transgender community. Our family had already gone through changes before, so it was easier in some ways this time. My parents knew how to be patient and ask questions. In other ways, things were harder because there are still so many misconceptions about the transgender community. My brother has faced some discrimination and hate, having jobs reject him and people calling him "she/her" at school. Though it's difficult sometimes, we've been so thankful to see how much understanding and positivity there is. His school is very accepting, he has a new ID with his chosen name, he can use the men's room, and he even has a supportive group of friends and a girlfriend. My family is still learning a lot about the trans community — they talk to other members online, watch videos, and read on the subject.

I think that respect and deep caring is what keeps our family so strong. My parents always encourage my brother and me to be ourselves, making sure we know we deserve love no matter what. We try our hardest to work through our mistakes. We take the time to understand each other better. I am so thankful for the love my family and friends give me and my brother every day.

Today my brother is about to turn 17. He's going to start taking testosterone when he's 18. He's become a lot more comfortable with himself over the years. My mom is married happily with her wife of six years. I love my family — my mom, her wife, my dad, his wife, and my brother.