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Sir Ian McKellen on why he never came out to his parents

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  1. I think it must have been very difficult for the likes of Sir Ian and Sir Derek Jacobi whilst growing up. My sexuality is half-concealed- I’ve outed myself to my mother as a bisexual, and it’s on my facebook profile so my sister and brother would have seen it, yet they refuse to talk about it- so it is humbling to hear peole like Sir Ian speak about this subject. If I find it difficult, goodness knows like it was like for people like him.

    1. Durk comming out is a nonsense for some people its stating the obvious and pointless.. Your family know but don’t want to discuss it they probally not interested. Some people really don’t care it not homophobia its indifference.

      1. Commander Thor 26 Jun 2011, 8:11am

        Exactly – indiferrence as long as it is never mentionned. Once it is mentionned, they suddenly become passionate about how it needs to be hidden.

      2. If you cannot discuss or nobody mentions you are gay in family circles, it follows they won’t discuss your partner or invite your partner to social events. Little wonder LGBT people feel excluded.

        1. It doesn’t always follow though, Dan – many families can reasonably comfortably include a “friend” in family events while flinching from dealing with gay relationships openly.

          1. Commander Thor 27 Jun 2011, 12:37pm

            Oh I see. So I attend my male cousin’s shotgun marriage with some female person he’s had sexual relationships once, am allowed to bring my long term partner, but must be careful to refer to him as my “friend”. Yeah all people are equal but some are more equal than others.

            My own parents wanted to call my partner my “friend”. I told them to fcuk off until they grew up. It took them 6 months, but they did grow up.

            Parents are like children, you have to be firm.

          2. I didn’t mean to suggest it was in any way ideal, just that that’s how it sometimes works – as with McKellen’s father, perhaps.

          3. David Myers 29 Jun 2011, 12:09pm

            Commander Thor: I’m glad they came around – for their sakes. I’m sure they’re actually happier now knowing they have a meaningful relationship with you rather than being stubborn and stupid.

        2. Thats exactly where I was in terms of my family until my ex helped me adjust. Although in terms of social events involving friends and colleagues my partner did come along to social events there. Disclosure is such a difficult thing for some people – but I do think we make it more difficult by not taking risks sometimes.

        3. Exactly

      3. @James!

        Whilst I agree with you that for some people the coming out moment is arguably senseless and pointless – as many people will know.
        That said, I had a bizarre situation and know others who have had similar ones. I was very worried about the reaction coming out would have to my parents (and the impact it might have on my mothers health – long complex story). The reaction was horrific from my mother when she bullied me into coming out – although my father had absolutely no idea. A lot of my friends knew (including some I havent officially come out to – but who know!) but some were very surprised and some work colleagues were amazed.
        For some there is homophobia (and although my mother was homophobic, I do sense it was more because of her being concerned about what people would think of her than of having any issue with me). For some it is sheer indifference. Things are better with my mum now and she loved my ex partner when she eventually met him. Having done the coming….

      4. … out initially to my parents and very close friends – I now have an entirely different air regards sharing my sexuality (if and when it occurs) as being something that evolves naturally in conversation or new friendships etc. Whereas, before telling my parents (over 15 years ago) it was something that caused me anxiety, and I guess it was more an issue of knowing I would be accepted and sense of acceptance of myself first.
        Now, hey if someone wants to know – fine … If they are accepting or tolerant – great, if not – thats their issue.

        1. David Myers 29 Jun 2011, 12:12pm

          Doesn’t that give you a full deep breath of freedom! It doesn’t matter if other’s are ignorant – its not your problem. I know the feeling.

    2. There is another possibility: your sister and brother might figure that you’ll talk to them directly, once you’re ready. They might feel they are prying if they asked you about it. Once you’re completely comfortable with yourself and eventually happen to bring the subejct up in a casual, matter-of-fact way, then they might be relieved to be able to respond in a similar manner?

      Unless I misread what you said and they abruptly change the subject when you bring it up? That could be sheer embarrassment at not knowing how to react. In this case your example of how you handle it might be a useful guide to them.

      1. To some extent there is a “Why should there be an onus on me to come out?” to it. And the siblings may feel “Why is it for us to bring it up?” A stand-off in which there ends up a mutual silence.

        1. @Dan

          You are right there can end up being a mutual silence. In most cases exploring with honesty the issues is beneficial to all sides in terms of improving the relationship.

          However, both of the questions “Why should it be an onus on me to come out?” and “Why is it for me to bring it up?” are reasonable questions. There should be no onus and there should be no reliance on either party to raise the issue.

  2. Staircase2 26 Jun 2011, 2:47am

    Good for Ian!
    I’ve always liked him :o)
    What a thoroughly lovely chap :o)

  3. Design For Life 26 Jun 2011, 6:42am

    Those darker days are not so long ago, are they? I know older men who often talk about the difficulties they faced. It makes me feel lucky to be born 30 years after them.

    1. Absolutely. I often think my life would have been infinitely more difficult if I had been born even 10 years earlier (1946 instead of 1956). I have older friends who became sexually aware and sexually active in the ’50s and lived in terror. There is a long way still to go, but an awful lot of road has already been travelled.

    2. Inhibited my teenage years and first couple of years at university for sure. And actually thereafter too.

  4. AKT is a great organisation but I wonder what has been setup for older gay homeless people?

    1. I should have added that you can tell a lot about a society in the way it treats its elders. Old gay people prefer to die alone than go to a care home.

      1. Brenda Lana Smith R af D 26 Jun 2011, 8:10am

        Fortunate though I am to enjoy my own humble roof over my head… As a 27-years, 78-year-young semi reclusive live-alone postoperative trans woman: “My thoughts precisely, James! “

        1. Brenda I hope before long we will have a safe place when we need help

      2. I could not imagine anything worse than having lived a life as a gay man, being forced in old age, to change that.
        I would prefer to die with my partner and if this is not possible, alone.

      3. @James!

        Sadly your comments are very true – although I was surprised to get an invitation (at work) months ago to visit a new LGBT friendly retirement home – maybe things are slowly changing.

    2. If you live alone there are inherent inefficiencies – for example my kitchen is easily large enough for two (or more), and you pay for a bathroom whether it’s for one or two. Possessions once acquired you are loath to part with. The result is that if you delay forming a partnership with someone until you both have got a lot of possessions, there becomes an inertia against moving together. Result is as you grow older you have a lot of possessions which makes moving into a home or sheltered housing very difficult – quite apart from who would want to live in amongst a lot of heterosexuals where nobody understands.

  5. Sir Ian is inspirational!

  6. Another Hannah 26 Jun 2011, 12:23pm

    You have to admire the Guy for pursuing what’s important rather then what’s trendy. I still think far to little is done about LGBT homelessness and using the legislation that’s around to enforce rights. While I think Aids charities are important, there are state benefits for this, and the NHS does an adequate job. Some LGBT face homelessness just for coming out, and other face prejudice just because there isn’t proper legal aid funding to stop some form breaking the law. Charities that deal with these two issues would be much more useful, and push openess and freedom and quality of life much more than just throwing money at things that don’t actualy push things forward much.

    1. Dan Filson 26 Jun 2011, 1:00pm

      “While I think Aids charities are important, there are state benefits for this, and the NHS does an adequate job” – quite a lot of people will disagree with you, as to whether (a) Aids charities do all that is needed, (b) state benefits recognise the half-well half-sick existence of people living with HIV, (c) the NHS does an adequate job throughout the UK (I don’t doubt there are places where it does a first class job). I am always wary of people who use the phrase “throwing money at things” as if the alternative to a mean, tight-spirited under-resourced operation is inevitably one where money is thrown at it. Prudent but astutely targeted good resourcing can very often produce better results than under-resourced provision.

      1. Another Hannah 28 Jun 2011, 4:43pm

        inadequately funded is what everything else is. we have the lderly here worried about what will happen when they get sick, prejuduce that isn’t tacled through the courts. they are all getting nothig at the moment, and they seem to me pretty important. in the things I have faced in my life I had never got any help from gay or trans charities – in fact help came from heterosexuals. because of this ignoring other problems and that I now owe the heterosexuals who helped me, they will get my loyalty. LGBT does not just mean people with aids, though i hope they get help and treatment as i said and do. many LGBT people ar ejust left with the problems of for example homelessness while i have seen charities giving other people money to the pub. It isn’t fair and will lose cause s support

  7. Another Hannah 26 Jun 2011, 12:32pm

    Incidentally I think that fear of homelessness has another indirect result. It stop many form coming out.

    1. That is what I thought the article would be about.

      1. Another Hannah 28 Jun 2011, 4:38pm

        implied though not explicit

  8. I remember reading the interview with Sir Ian about his recent coming out back when. And it was a really, really big thing then. I know how very impressed I was with his courage and the sheer truthfulness, I guess you can call it authenticity.
    All the work he is doing for the LGBT communicty, it’s just great! I was delighted when he was knighted. He’s just a really great person all round.

  9. Ian is amazing. He always speaks out for us. He is such an inspiration and role model.

  10. Ian is a great guy. His story shows us how far we have come since 1988 and the introduction of section 28 by the tory government, which forced him to be honest about his sexuality publicly. But when you think that the current tory government voted in majority to keep the legislation in place in 2003, you realise how far we still have to go.

  11. Martin Legan 26 Jun 2011, 4:00pm

    I have no idea if Jesus would vote for or against same-sex marriage,
    but I do know that he would not condemn homosexuals like society still does. When Sir Ian was a teenager, he would have been burnt at the stake if he
    had revealed his homosexuality to society.

    People should show compassion towards others who are different to them, and who suffer because of it.

    For inspiration, everyone should read “The Lottery Code” for free from

    1. “burnt at the stake”?!?
      I know Sir Ian is getting on a bit now, but I’m pretty sure its been several hundred years since that particular punishment was on the statute books. He surely can’t be that old ;)

    2. Martin, what the heck are you on about with this lottery thing?

    3. Oh my…
      More hidden prophecies from a non existent god. I don’t think I’ll waste my time reading it, I’ll just wait for the film. Hope Tom Hanks stars in that one too.

  12. I read the interview. What Sir Ian has done for ACT and Stonewall is wonderful

  13. Hodge Podge 27 Jun 2011, 1:37pm

    As a young Wiganer with (older) religious parents, I’m in a very similar situation to what Ian was. This town isn’t nice.

    (I’m trans as well though so god knows what I’m going to do there)

  14. Spanner1960 27 Jun 2011, 2:03pm

    I am 50 and my parents are in their 80’s and they still don’t know I am gay. They never ask, so I don’t tell, it’s as simple as that. Often I think coming out is something of a selfish act; it might make you feel a lot better but it can put a lot of strain on others, particularly family. Everyone that knows me apart from my direct family knows I am gay, but I make an exception with them as I just feel it would be damaging.

    I really think everyone has to judge their situation by it’s own merit. I know in my case, it would cause more problems than it solved, and sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

    1. Deeside Will 27 Jun 2011, 2:27pm

      If I were you, Spanner1960, I’d still tell them. If you don’t, there will probably come a time when you’ll wish you had, but it will be too late by then: they’ll be gone.

      1. Spanner1960 27 Jun 2011, 3:51pm

        Will: Oh, that time will come soon. I already feel bad not telling them, but like I said, if I did, it would be for selfish reasons, which is why I would prefer them to go to their graves not knowing.

        1. Quite right Spanner, while honesty is undoubtedly the best policy as a general rule, sometimes with parents (and, for that matter, with children) there really are some things best left unsaid. I doubt your parents don’t have some inkling, but many people of their generation may just prefer not to deal with it in so many words.
          I made a point of coming out to my parents while still in my teens, but my only (older) brother never did – and, to my surprise, my very liberal and kind and “modern” parents clearly preferred to cling to the possibility that he wasn’t gay, although he very obviously is. Disappointing, but I suppose they found it comforting in some strange way – and who are we to deny them whatever weird comfort they cling to?

          1. Spanner1960 28 Jun 2011, 1:06am

            Rehan: I think the bottom line is there is a vast gap between “suspicion” and “conformation”. You could mince in waving a rainbow flag and they would still think it was “just a phase”.
            When the reality hits home, it can have massive repercussions. I guess if I was in my teens or 20’s and told them, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but that was a lifetime ago for me, and them. There’s far too much water gone under the bridge since then.

          2. @Rehan/Spanner

            I agree usually honesty is the best policy and I am so grateful that I am out to my parents – although I stewed for quite a long time and worried that the outcome would be disastrous for me.

            I do however see that this is not the position that everyone is in and everyone should make their own personal judgements and decisions about disclosure.

            I haven’t come out to my one remaining grandparent but I am sure she has guessed – but there is no need to discuss it with her – it wouldnt benefit her or me. I know this is different to parents – but I entirely empathize with Spanners position – and some people don’t need to “know”.

  15. I am a Mancunian four years younger than Sir Ian.I hit Canal Street in 1961 aged just 18 but met my late partner a year later.He told his parents – his father was a Unitarian minister – with bad result.My parents I never told but it must have been pretty obvious to all the family – I had been living with my partner for 36 years when my mother died.I have only ever once heard a word of critiscm in my family.Only the most fanatic religious zealots would maltreat their children for coming out and any such child would be best advised to rub them out of his life.My concern is that there is far too little encouragement for gay teens & twenties to form stable long-term relationships,monogamous or open.Sex is nice but not the be all & end all.Dinkies usually do well in life.

  16. I can still vividly recall my mother telling me,(when she learned of my being gay,at 16),that if my father ever found out he’d “Nail your balls to the wall”. That was back in 1976,& the only time my mother made any reference to my sexuality,good Oirish cat’lic,so she was. Whenever I’ve told young nieces/nephews about how the age of consent for gays back then was 21 they are aghast! Don’t know what this has got to do with Ian McKellen,lol,but there you go! Ah yes,that’s what I meant to say.Mum died in ’82,and before his death in ’83 dad actually let on that he’d known all along,but that he’d felt it unwise to mention it “Because of your mum’s beliefs”! I mean,christ,who’d have thunk it,lol!

  17. Bobby McMillin 7 Jan 2012, 8:06pm

    Coming out is a personal journey that has no right or wrong actions. When I was much younger it angered me when people wouldn’t come out, due mostly to the belief that visibility is very important to the LGBTQ community. Now I finally realize that everyone is following their own tempo and that is perfectly acceptable. If you never get there this does not imply cowardly behavior for no one can understand the complexities that make you, you! Sir Ian McKellen exemplifies this point ten fold.

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