Coming out to biased parents: The realization and acceptance of one’s own sexuality is an exciting and anxiety-provoking journey. Initially you may want to tell every person you know that you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or queer (LGBTQ). Telling others can be a challenging process, especially to biased parents. Sometimes some people are able to tell their parents right off the bat that they are LGBTQ, but what do you when you have parents that may not be too accepting? Here’s a guide to navigating coming out to biased parents.
Before you start upon coming out to biased parents, it’s important to make sure that you have some security in your life. If you are very dependent upon your parents, coming out to them may prove to be too risky. Security comes in many different forms, such as close friends who provide support, financial security, or housing security. If you don’t have these things in place, you may want to take the time to establish each of these before coming out to biased parents.
Once you have your own security established., one of the first things to do with your biased parents is get an idea of where your parents are at in relation to LGBTQ topics. You may what to explore this by talking about major points:
- How they feel about popular gay topics such as the recent passing of gay marriage across the country, transgendered issues (e.g. transgender bathrooms, bullying at schools), or how one can still be fired for being gay in most states
- How they feel about popular gay icons (i.e. Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John, Michael Sam, David Denson, or Adam Lambert)
- If they have any gay friends, colleagues, or if there are any gay family members
- If so explore how they feel about them. Do they approve of them? If they approve of nobody, then why? If they approve or accept one person, what’s special about them?
If they seem ambivalent towards LGBTQ topics then ease the conversation on them. A good start may be talking about a fictional character in a movie, or a book that you may read. Another way of going about this may look like bringing up that you have a gay friend. You can talk about how they do well for themselves (maybe they’re a lawyer or a doctor) and they are in a healthy and loving relationship. By connecting the idea of being gay to being in an intimate relationship, it makes the person seem more human. It may be silly, but it’s easier for biased parents to warm up to this than it is to something that is fictional. It’s important to do it in an open way and be mindful of the fact that what they may say is of no reflection upon you, just their viewpoints. If they seem really closed off to any mention of the subject then it may not be best to disclose to them. If the ambivalence continues, the next part is to ask yourself: what does coming out to them mean to me?
Sometimes people may use the disclosure of personal information, such as coming out, as a way of bonding and connecting with their parents. In these cases communication may be broken between your parent and yourself. It’s important to be mindful of how open or closed off communication is with one’s parents. Here are some questions to assess the strength of your communication:
- How open are you to your parents about things happening in your life?
- Do you tell about a recent promotion?
- Or that you are having a fight with your friend?
- Or maybe about your recent trip?
- Or do you just tell them fluff and nothing deep?
- Do you go to your parents for advice?
- Such as: advice on that fight with your friend, what to do if you’re single, that you may be pregnant, or have an STD; perhaps it’s about sexual dysfunction
- Or do you keep it super technical and talk about financial things and nothing that is too personal?
- Do your parents provide social support to you?
- If your friend decides that they’re fed up with you, do you turn to your parents for comfort?
- Or if you missed that promotion
- Or do you keep these things to yourself and not reach out to your parents?
- When you tell them certain things, are they receptive or critical?
- Do they pass judgment right off the bat?
- Or do they give solid advice and save the judging?
- How often do you talk to them?
- Is it everyday, every week, once a month?
- Even if it’s every day, what’s the content of the conversation? How your dog fluffy went to the groomer today or about the struggles you’re having at work?
- After talking to them do you feel better? Or do you feel worse off?
- Do they have their own support system of people whom they can go talk to?
- Do they go out with friends often? Or call them up?
- Are there family members whom they are close to and rely on for advice and support?
If it happens to look like your communication connection with your parents is erring on the side of boring or removed, then you may need to take time to bridge that communication. It may take awhile so patience in this process is important. Being open with your parents about their reactions and pointing out how you feel when they react a certain way can start interesting discussions. It’s important to talk about how you want to be connected to them and most importantly their care for you. It will be a frustrating process, but with time and patience this connection can be built. If this connection cannot be made, then it may not be the right time for coming out.
Now if you are a person who doesn’t feel like they have to tell their parent, that’s fine as well. You may feel pressured by friends or others to come out to everyone or else you wont have a healthy relationship/connection with that person. As mentioned before, if there is a healthy level of communication and connection, that need to disclose might disappear. If you still feel like you would like to tell them, then make sure you assess all the risks involved with coming out. Make sure you understand the risks and have your own securities in place before coming out.
Initially biased parents may react poorly or in a shocked manor. Often parents will be struggling with a sense of loss as they integrate this new image of you as well as reconciling the hopes and dreams that they had for you. They might be also struggling with their own biases. During this time it’s important to allow your parents that space to process. It may take awhile unfortunately, but when you can start the conversation again, begin with your own hopes and wants from your relationship with them. It’s important to be open minded during this time, as difficult as it may be, as it will allow your parents the opportunity to sort through things with you. Continue to go with the fact that you would like to be close to them, their love for you, and that despite you coming out, you are still the same person.
Coming out to biased parents can be a long and frustrating process. Starting the conversation with them and slowly moving through the process with them can help them ease into the idea of being LGBTQ. Hopefully the tips above can help you through the process. If the conversation hits a stall or goes poorly, then we encourage you to reach out to The Center for Growth/Therapy in Philadelphia to schedule an appointment.