Coming out to your family members is one of the most liberating experiences in the world, but it can also be incredibly terrifying – especially if you can’t gauge how they will react to the news.
There is no one way to come out – how and when to come out may even vary depending on who you choose to confide in. But if you feel like it’s time and you’re not sure how to handle it, this short guide might help make coming out easier for everyone involved.
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What You Should Know Before Coming Out To Your Parents
Anyone thinking of coming out hopes for the best possible outcome. However, different people react to news in different ways, and there is almost no way of guaranteeing a positive reaction. This is not meant to scare anyone from coming out but rather is a reminder to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
So, before you come out to your parents, keep these things in mind first:
Some People Need More Time Than Others
Most LGBTQ people have a fair amount of time to realize, learn about, and accept their sexual orientation and/or gender identity before coming out. You also go through a period of unlearning a lot of things that society has ingrained in you about queerness. Perhaps you’ve even had to combat internalized homophobia.
So, when you come out to an unsuspecting family member or close friends, you have to bear in mind that they may need some time to process things as well. While some may be able to understand it immediately, others may take weeks, months, or even years.
You Have To Be Ready For Anything
In the same vein, you have to be ready for any and all possibilities when making the personal decision to come out. Even if your parent/s have close friends who are gay, they may not be as receptive right away to their child being gay – possibly because being gay is not what they envisioned for their child.
Bear in mind that coming out may change your relationship with your parents or loved ones for some time. For some people, the relationship changes permanently.
It’s Important To Have A Solid Support System
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer on how to come out to homophobic parents. If you have reason to believe that your parents may reject you or kick you out of the house, you have to have a backup plan, especially if you’re a minor or not yet financially dependent.
That’s why it’s important to have a solid support group of people you know and trust to take care of you if push comes to shove. Find an aunt or uncle, an older sibling, a godparent, a neighbor, a social worker, or a teacher you can confide in who will accept you wholeheartedly and give you the emotional support and care you need.
Coming Out Is A Lifelong Process
Coming out is not a one-and-done thing. Your parents and siblings may accept you, but that’s not the end of the road. As you get older, you’ll have to come out to new friends, extended family, schoolmates, and coworkers – if you wish. Being out is a continuous process.
But remember this: as you get older, and as society becomes more and more accepting, coming out will get easier.
How To Come Out As Gay Or Lesbian To Your Parents
So, you’re ready to come out to your parents. Here are some do’s and don’ts.
Note: Consider this as your base guide for coming out to your parents. This guide should apply whether you identify as bi, pan, genderqueer, non-binary, or trans. But if you’re looking for more tips that are more specific to your sexual orientation or gender identity, you can go further down this article.
Learn The Basics Of SOGIE-SC
SOGIE-SC stands for sexual orientation, gender identity, expression, and sex characteristics. These are concepts that may be familiar to most LGBTQ people but are oftentimes completely alien to straight, cisgender people.
As such, it’s important to take the time to read up on what each term means and how they relate to each other. That way, when people have questions or reinforce certain stereotypes or myths about LGBTQ people (like “all gay people are feminine” or “trans women aren’t real women”), you can help them understand you and the community better.
Here’s a quick rundown of key terms as defined by the Human Rights Campaign:
- Sexual orientation: This defines who you’re attracted to on a romantic or sexual level. One’s sexual attraction is independent of one’s gender identity.
- Gender identity: This defines a person’s innermost concept of themselves, as in whether they identify as male, female, both, neither, or fluctuating somewhere in the middle. Your gender identity is not necessarily the same as your sex assigned at birth.
- Sex assigned at birth: This is the sex that doctors or midwives assign to children at birth. This is based on your external anatomy. Your sex assigned at birth may be different from your gender identity.
- Gender expression: This is how you express your relationship with gender. This can be expressed through clothing, behavior, mannerisms, etc.
- Cisgender: These are people whose sex assigned at birth is aligned with their gender identity.
- Transgender: These are people whose gender identity does not match up to the “cultural expectations” that come with the sex they were assigned at birth.
- Gender binary: This is a system that categorizes gender into two distinct categories: male or female.
- Non-binary: These are people who do not subscribe to the gender binary and whose conception of their gender identity is along the spectrum of gender rather than strictly either male or female. Some non-binary people identify as trans. Non-binary is also used as an umbrella term for other identities such as agender, genderqueer, and gender-fluid.
Figure Out When And How You Want To Do It
When planning how to come out, you have to consider timing, location, and mode of communication.
Timing is important because you want to make sure that the person you’re telling is in a headspace where they are relaxed and able to process the big news. Location matters because you want to make sure you come out in a place where both you and the person you’re telling feel safe and in control. Some people feel safer coming out to their parents in a public place, while others prefer doing it in private.
Finally, choose the mode of communication that feels most comfortable for you. Some people prefer to come out in person, while others may feel safer and more comfortable over the phone or through a letter.
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to come out. Do what feels safest for you.
Test The Waters
The Trevor Project’s guide to coming out suggests “testing the waters” or figuring out how someone might feel about LGBTQ people and concepts to gauge how they might react to you coming out. Here are some ways you can do this with your parents or loved ones:
- Bring up an LGBTQ celebrity who has recently been in the news and ask how they feel about them.
- Discuss a piece of legislation or political issue concerning the LGBTQ community.
- Bring up or introduce friends who are out to your parents.
- Talk about SOGIE-SC and see how receptive your parents or loved ones are to the concepts.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
Whatever the outcome, coming out can be an emotionally overwhelming and exhausting experience. If you need some help coping with the experience or a moment to decompress after going through a whirlwind of emotions, here are some things you can do in the name of self-care:
- Call or chat with a friend who understands the journey.
- Seek the guidance of a counselor or a therapist.
- Go to your “safe space”, a place where you can get away from an unsafe or stressful situation to find peace and clarity.
- Do a mindfulness exercise that can help ground you in a time of heightened emotions. This includes journaling, starting an art project, listening to or making music, exercising, gardening, and doing puzzles.
Discuss Who Your Parents Can And Cannot Tell
Most people tend to think about the very moment they have to come out to their parents but fail to consider what happens after. Before coming out to your immediate family, you have to ask yourself whether you’re okay with them telling other people or if you want to take it slow and be out to just a select few first.
Not everyone will be mindful enough to know that you may need some time to be open to everyone else, so it’s best to remind your parents and close friends/family who they can tell about your news.
How To Come Out As Bi To Your Parents
Coming out as bi or pan to your parents shouldn’t be very different from coming out as gay or lesbian. But, unfortunately, pansexual and bisexual people are far less likely to come out to their parents because of all the myths and stereotypes surrounding their sexuality.
When figuring out how to come out as pan to your parents, consider the possibility of having to answer the following questions and assumptions:
1. “If you can choose who to love, why don’t you choose the ‘straight’ option?”
Bisexuality doesn’t mean that you can choose who to love – it means you’re capable of being attracted to more than one gender. Who you fall in love with is something that is beyond your control, much in the same way that gay and lesbian people can’t choose to fall in love with people of the opposite gender.
2. “This is just a phase.”
Bisexuality is not a phase, a ploy for attention, an experiment following years of bad luck dating people of the opposite gender, nor a stepping stone to being gay. Bisexuality is real and its own thing.
3. “Does this mean you’re sexually promiscuous? Are you polyamorous?”
Bisexuality and polyamory/promiscuity are completely different things. Bisexual people may be attracted to more than one gender, but being bisexual doesn’t make one any more or any less interested in sex or multiple relationships than the next person. Bisexuality is about who you’re capable of falling in love with.
How To Come Out As Transgender To Your Parents
Coming out as transgender can be a little scarier than coming out as gay, lesbian, bi, or pan. Again, there is no right or wrong way to come out, but there are some things you can do to make the process easier for yourself and your loved ones.
Come Out To Yourself
Filmmaker, comedy writer, and trans advocate Lewis Hancock writes that “self-acceptance is the first step towards living your life authentically.” Before you can come out to the people in your life, you need to love and accept yourself wholeheartedly first.
Be Prepared To Answer A Lot Of Questions
This is true for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ but especially so for trans people who are so often misunderstood.
Many parents tend to take the news personally or have a lot of fears that you may get hurt or put yourself in danger by being out. One way to assuage those fears is by introducing positive representations of trans people, whether it be a popular vlogger living their best life or a successful celebrity or filmmaker who has broken boundaries in Hollywood. Show your parents that it is possible to be trans and have a happy and full life.
Not everyone will get your name and pronouns right in the beginning. Some relatives may even continue calling you by your deadname. This is, understandably, hurtful. But for some, it’s unintentional and a result of years and years of knowing you as the person they thought you were, not the person you are today. When this happens, reiterate how important it is for your well-being that you go by your preferred pronoun and your chosen name.
The Bottom Line
Coming out is a personal experience and everyone goes through it in their own way, but there are some things you should keep in mind before telling your parents about your orientation or gender identity. If you’re ready to tell them, we hope this guide will help make the process a little bit easier.