Telling friends and family that you’re gay or bisexual or identify as transgender or intersex can be a stressful time. You’ve likely just come to accept yourself for who you are, and when coming out you are essentially asking friends and family to do the same. So any negative feedback or experiences during this time can be a setback for your self-acceptance and self-confidence.
If only ‘coming out’ was like it is in the movies; one conversation and everyone knows. Friends and family may be confused or upset at first, but they work it out by the final reel. And the LGBTI teen always has an active support group of other kids at school.
While coming out is different from how media portrays it, more and more people are finding that their loved ones receive them with open arms. Here’s just a few tips to reduce your anxiety and make the coming out process less stressful for you – as well as how to keep your self-acceptance and self-confidence strong in the face of setbacks.
1. Come out when you’re calm
There are times where the words “I’m gay” just come screaming out at top volume, and that’s okay. If you can control the circumstances, however, you may have better success. If you come out when you’re upset or fighting, the perception may be that you’re just saying something to be hurtful.
It’s not fair that the burden is on you to be calm when you’ve got something so momentous to say. But if you can act like this is just another piece of news, your family may not have a big reaction.
2. Have a fall-back plan
Unfortunately, even the most loving or accepting family can react badly when their own kid comes out. Although many families eventually make peace with their LGBTI loved one, there can be some hard times between initial sharing and settling down.
If you still live with your parents, it’s a good idea to know where you can go if they’re very upset or angry and you need some time away to allow them to calm down. This might be an aunt or uncle’s home, or a best friend’s house. If you can set aside a little bit of money, just in case, this may be a good idea as well.
3. Break the news gently
Although some parents swear that they knew their child would eventually identify as LGBTI long before their child came out, many parents have no idea. One way to slowly break the topic – and gauge their eventual reaction – is to start introducing conversation about it into the home. Mention a policy or law that could affect LGBTI people, comment on a book you’re reading by an LGBTI author, or leave a psychology book about LGBTI people on the coffee table. This might give your family some idea of what’s on your mind and make your disclosure less surprising.
4. Know their first reaction is not their forever reaction
Many parents react to the idea that their child is LGBTI with shock or surprise. Even if they are accepting, they might not have considered that this would be something that would personally affect them. They have been dreaming about your future since before you were born, so realising that how they thought about your wedding or the family you might one day have may not look as they had imagined can take a while to process.
They may ask a lot of questions, some of which seem ignorant to you. “Why would you choose to be like this?”; “Have you been with someone (of the same gender) yet” or “How do you know you are gay if you haven’t tried to be with someone of the opposite gender” are common questions to hear.
It’s best if you can try to stay calm and have prepared responses to the typical questions. You might reinforce, for example, that sexual orientation and gender identity are not choices, but ingrained and biological. You could also reiterate that no one asks heterosexual or cisgender people if they’re sure about their identity. You can also remind them that changes to laws governing civil partnership, adoption and surrogacy and/or sperm donation have revolutionised the options LGBTI people have for their future choices, and should you choose to, you can still lead a very similar life to the one they had always imagined for you.
5. Remember that coming out is a lifelong process
At some point in our society, we may stop making assumptions about someone’s sexual orientation and gender identity before we ask. But for many communities, that time is far in the future. Until then, remember that you will probably come out over and over again – to new employers, friends, and loved ones. Like any skill, this gets easier.
And also remember that if you feel unsafe, it’s okay to not come out. If you are putting yourself in danger or exposing yourself to harassment by disclosing this information about yourself, only you can decide what you want to do. No one ever has the right to come out for you, and no one should ever share that information without your permission.
If you or your loved ones are struggling with managing a family reaction to coming out, we’re here to help.