Think it Through, First
Can't wait to come out to your family during this holiday season? Try to slow down for a moment, if you can.
It seems as though people are coming out of the closet earlier and earlier these days. Depending on who you ask, the average age of a person's realization of their sexual orientation is somewhere in the person's early teens. This makes sense for a number of reasons, most importantly the influence of mainstream media. Thanks to the visibility and normalization of same-sex attraction on TV and in movies, many people assume that their coming out will be positively accepted by their family. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of sharing one's sexuality with family without first thinking about the reality of possible consequences to the way in which one comes out.
For example, it might not be best to come out by introducing your boyfriend or girlfriend to your family. You may want the support from your significant other, but this could put your parents and your boy/girlfriend in a very awkward position, especially if this has not been discussed with your significant other beforehand.
Similarly, it might not be best to share your excitement with family at Thanksgiving dinner by saying something like, “Please pass the butter. Oh, by the way, I'm gay.” It really isn't necessary to come out to everyone in one's family all at once, and you may feel on the spot if your family reacts negatively.
Finally, it is almost never a good idea to come out to your family during an argument when emotions and tensions are high. Wait until there is a calm moment to sit and talk with your family and answer any questions they may have.
Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Ask yourself what the worst case scenario may be if you were to come out to your family. If there is any reason for you to hesitate or you find yourself feeling uncomfortable with the idea of coming out during this holiday season, keep in mind one word: Safety!
Ask yourself these questions before coming out:
1. Do you live on your own?
2. Can you support yourself financially?
3. Who can you go to when you need to talk?
4. Do you have a place to stay in an emergency?
5. Are you prepared to answer questions about your sexuality?
If you cannot answer these with confidence, it might not be the right time to come out. A therapist who is LGBT-affirming can help you address your concerns about coming out and help you think about the safest way in which to do so. They can also help you develop a much needed support system that you may not be able to find elsewhere.
How you come out is really up to you and your understanding of your family, but try to be creative and sensitive to the possibility that your family may have mixed reactions to your coming out.
Also keep in mind that family members have their own coming out process to go through. They may go through an initial stage of denial and bargaining. Some may even question whether your sexuality can be “cured.” They may benefit to learn that same-sex attraction stopped being considered a mental illness over 30 years ago and that therapies aimed at changing one's sexual orientation are considered unethical.
You may need to be patient and help your family become comfortable with having a gay or lesbian person in their family through gentle education about LGBT culture and exposure to LGBT media and the community.
Organizations like Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) are a great place for your family members to get support and education, especially if you feel unable to do this yourself. Your family may even surprise you and join PFLAG at the next local Pride parade.
Stephen Brewer, M.A. is a registered psychological assistant (PSB33858) in Mira Mesa and is supervised by Angela Spenser, PhD (PSY15450). He runs a LGBT and Kink friendly practice, specializing in addictions, trauma, HIV/AIDS, and men’s issues. He can be reached at 619.377.3120.