How to come out to your parents and siblings
When your Mom discovered a stash of gay porn under your bed, you told her that it is for a school project. When your Dad questioned you about that Grindr app you accidentally charged to his credit card, you explained that it’s an online yellow page for men. When your younger sibling saw you holding hands with another guy, you said you are working on a social experiment with a school buddy.
You are unhappy with and nervous about how you have handled these close brushes with the world outside your closet. You are aware that your parents and siblings are probably already suspecting that you are keeping something from them. As you consider the possibility of disclosing to your parents and siblings that you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, here are a few tips that can help you survive coming out to your parents and loved ones:
1. Assess your own expectations of your coming out experience.
Not all coming out stories are the same. You can read about coming out stories online or talk to others who have come out to learn from a variety of experiences. Weigh your expectations against your relationship with your family and with how they react on LGBTI-related concerns. Remember that people respond differently to different sexual orientations and gender identities, and in many contexts, trans people face unique challenges in coming out. A more nuanced expectation is critical in identifying possible outcomes and can help you prepare for these outcomes.
2. Find the ideal venue to come out.
It can be a quiet and private place where you and your family can talk openly and intimately without being disturbed by others. Depending on your family’s reactions, your coming out could lead to an animated conversation about your sexuality or a very uncomfortable situation. Either way, where you come out should be a conducive space for your desired outcome for coming out.
3. Find a safe space.
Gauge whether coming out to your family would lead to physical harm. If this risk is implausible based on your assessment, then your home could be a safe space for your disclosure. If not or if you are unsure, then coming out remotely, via email or by writing a note to your family, is an option to take yourself away from situations that can lead to harm. Do not come out if it means putting your life at risk.
Tell us what you think.
4. Timing is important.
Breaking this news during big events, such as family reunions, birthdays, weddings, or family vacations could turn out celebratory of disastrous.
5. Prepare what you want to say.
After gauging the risks and possible outcomes, go through the act itself. Consider how you can affirm that you are still the same person that they know, and why you want to share with them this aspect of your identity. Mentally preparing for your coming out is critical to help you relax as you go through one of the most challenging situations for many LGBTs.
6. Prepare them for your coming out.
Slowly introduce the topic to make it part of your conversations. It provides an opportunity to understand how they feel about it without exposing yourself yet. You can see a movie with LGBT themes with them, or watch TV shows of LGBT celebrities like Ellen.
7. Determine the possible risks.
Always consider the risks of physical harm and violence, and plan how that can be eliminated or mitigated. Think about where you can stay and where to find different types of support, from financial aid to psychosocial assistance, if the outcome is not positive. If the risks are too high, do not come out.
8. Find support for yourself prior to coming out.
Talk to your friends about your plans because they can be a strong source of support. Keep them in the loop even after you’ve come out. There could be groups near you that can provide help and resources about coming out.
9. Be ready to educate, to guide, and to step back.
How your family will react depends on their level of awareness of LGBTIs, as well as their tolerance towards issues around sexual orientation and gender identity or expressions. Some might be open towards non-discrimination but feel uneasy about sexual intimacy. Others might be accepting towards your sexual orientation but would insist that you follow traditional gender roles. You will need to take an active role in guiding them to process the news, and this is unlikely to happen overnight. Provide them with resources that can help them understand SOGIE (Here’s how to explain SOGIE to newbies). At the same time, they will also need the space and their own time to process the news, so be ready to step back when necessary.
10. Connect them to other rainbow families and support groups.
Learning that they are part of a bigger community can help them address their own prejudices or apprehensions about you being LGBTI. Remember that your disclosure can also expose them to unfair treatment and SOGIE-related abuses, and thus it is important for them to find support, too.
Coming out to your family is not a one-time event. There will be instances where you and your family will need to address coming out in a different context – in your school, or in the workplace – where the risks of disclosure need to be collectively addressed. But coming out to your family and finding support within your own home is a life-changing experience for many LGBTIs.