Coming out (2/2)

Coming out to parents

Dealing with parents tends to be the toughest part of coming out. These two special people are unique in that they created and raised you and are fully invested in your wellbeing. You are a part of them and a reflection of their values. Your development into a healthy and happy adult is largely down to their parenting skills. If a parent holds negative views on homosexuality they might think that having a gay child is a failing on their part. They might think they did something wrong that made their son or daughter turn out 'wrong'. But being gay has nothing to do with good or bad parenting.

Good parents want their child to be safe and happy. They often have fixed ideas about what form that happiness will take in adult life, typically defined by heterosexual union, marriage and children. There's nothing wrong with these things of course but the traditional expectations of parents can be a terrible burden for a gay child. Most parents assume their offspring is going to be straight, but rational and open-minded mums and dads understand that romantic love and happiness aren't defined by the gender mix of a couple, nor are those things exclusive to heterosexual people. Some parents take longer to reach this conclusion. You can help your parents to get there by making good and healthy choices in life and in your choice of partner. Be patient and calm when they ask questions or express misconceptions that may be offensive to you. Your parents are being presented with concepts they may never have considered before. It's a lot to take in.

To predict their reaction, think about how your parents have behaved toward gay people in the past. What were they like when they saw a gay person on TV or when they’ve seen gay person in the local area. Maybe someone else in your family is gay. How have your parents behaved toward that person? And more generally, think also about how they have handled any problems you've had in the past. Are they usually supportive and understanding? Do they encourage and support you in your studies, work, personal interests and goals? Do they overreact and become emotional and unpredictable when faced with problems, or do they behave rationally and fairly? The answers to these questions will guide you in your decision to come out to your parents.

I don't mean to scare anyone, but I'd advise some readers to consider their finances and accomodation before coming out to parents, if that reader has a real reason to think that the reaction to their news would be overtly negative, hostile or even aggressive. For those readers, I recommend that they do not come out until they are financially independent and have somewhere else to stay. I would never encourage someone to come out if that likely meant crippling financial problems, homelessness or physical danger. Although representing only a tiny percentage of cases, I have had emails from those who have been kicked out of the family home once their sexuality was revealed, and that sometimes means children under 16. It wouldn't be right of me to pretend this doesn't ever happen, much as I think coming out is a positive and wonderful thing to do. Remember, even parents who aren't happy about their son or daughter's coming out rarely go this far, regardless of whether they've make offhand remarks before like, "I'd throw them out if any of mine were gay".

"The day I stopped trying to label myself, everything seemed so simple suddenly. The people around me just accept that I'm me, and really that's all I am. My only advice for other people is don't stress! Sure, I was so lucky that everyone around me were supportive. But it really isn't as bad as you think it is, you are you, nothing more, nothing less. As long as you're honest with yourself, that's all that really matters. Rushing to try and label yourself sometimes just confuses you more." - Shelly

Coming out to parents once you are living away can be beneficial, even if you aren't expecting as negative a reaction as the one I've just discussed. Being apart gives your parents time and space in which to process your news.

Many parents are supportive of their gay child, even if it takes a while for them to adjust and understand. Don't let your imagination and catastrophic predictions paralyse you from being open about your sexuality at home. If the idea of coming out to your folks is sending you into a panic, talking it over with a friend who knows them may help you to develop a more balanced and realistic outlook. The openness and honesty inherent in coming out can propel familial relationships to a new level and bring people closer. I wish that for everyone.

To better understand how your coming out might affects your parents, see Advice for parents and friends.

If people react badly to your news

  • If after you come out to someone they refuse to talk or seem hostile, consider sending them an email or letter. This will enable you to say everything you want in a structured and planned manner, while avoiding the anxiety and emotional intensity of a face-to-face. It gives the recipient time to think about things without feeling confronted.
  • Just as it took you a while to get used to being different, it can take the people you come out to time to adjust. They had an idea in their heads about who you were and now they have to reevaluate. They may feel they have been deceived. Giving people time to digest the new information can make a big difference to their attitude toward you. Don't push. Get in touch a few days later.
  • Some people view homosexuality in a negative way - hence websites like bgiok existing - and may have all sorts of strange ideas about what it means to be gay. Take a look at the gay myths and stereotypes section to see the kind of things some people genuinely believe about gay people, and check out the religion section where I discuss what some relgious groups think on the topic. Against these kinds of bigoted views it can be hard to get through to someone and reeducate them, but it's worth trying when you care about that person and want them to continue to be a part of your life. Sometimes seeing a real gay person (i.e. you!) can challenge the stereotypes and negative beliefs that those close to you may hold.
  • Sometimes you have to accept that someone is homophobic, won't change, and that the friendship has come to an end. This can be painful when it's someone you care about. But is it better to hide your sexuality in order to keep a homophobic friend, or to be honest and allow people to value you - or not - for who you really are? Real friendships do not depend on a both parties being heterosexual. Real friends are the ones who care about you just as much after you come out as they did before.

" for my parents... well... I did tell them but I think my Mum thought it was just a phase and ignored it." - Emma

"I took my Mom into the living room, and I told her that I was gay. She started to cry saying that I couldn't do this to her, that I can't be gay, that I was joking with her. I usually do joke to her about this. My Dad walked in, saw my Mom crying, and finally I told him. He was saying that it wasn't right, but he'll live with it. He kept repeating that it wasn't right, that it wasn't right, and I just hated it, I hated it." - Carlos