How to Come Out to Members of Your Family: The mere thought of sharing with your family that you are questioning your sexual orientation can be anxiety producing. You have no way of knowing how they will respond. Will they be in shock? Will they be upset? Will they try to talk you out of exploring your desires? And will they still accept you? This confusion may even create a need within you to keep that part of you a secret. However, keeping the secret from your family members can be as painful as not coming out at all. How can you prepare yourself for being honest with them? And, how do you even go about sharing something so personal with them?
At this point, you hopefully have a support system (straight friends, gay, lesbian, and bisexual friends) that knows you are exploring your own sexuality and can affirm that all those parts of you are positive and healthy. It would be helpful to share with them that you are planning on coming out to some family members and that you need their support. Many people will have their own stories of coming out and can help you anticipate the myriad of possible responses. Good friends, mentors, as well as people who have struggled with their own hardships in life will likely be more than willing to help you through this process. If you feel isolated, and are not sure who to turn to, you can always hire a therapist to support you.
You likely will feel uncomfortable about disclosing this information to your family. It is very normal and to be expected. Remember to continue breathing and taking deep breaths. Consider seeing a therapist if the uncomfortable feelings in your body become overwhelming or if you are prone to anxiety or panic attacks.
Prior to disclosing identify which family members you want to tell first. In some families sharing openly with your parents is a good start, especially if you have regular contact with them, while in other families, siblings might be more accepting of your sexuality. If you had to choose, consider what is more important to you: Telling someone who will embrace you simply because you are you, but has a big mouth and would tell everyone, or telling someone who is less accepting of being gay, lesbian or bisexual, but can give you the space to disclose to each family member on your own time line.
Before talking to your family, write out what you want to say, and then rehearse it. Give yourself permission to imagine all the possible outcomes. If you are telling your parents, try to tell them at the same time or as close together as possible. Parents typically don’t hold secrets from one another. It is also a good idea to tell other immediate family members (siblings or other family members that are like immediate family) soon after.
Just remember that when you disclose your thoughts and feelings you have had many days, months and possibly years to have rehearsed this moment. You definitely have taken the time to sort out your feelings. In contrast, your family members will likely be caught off guard. How your family initially responds to your disclosure is not necessarily their permanent feelings. Family members may need a few days, weeks or months to sort out their thoughts and feelings. Sometimes it takes a while to have feelings and thoughts evolve.
Having the Discussion
Have the discussion with your parents in a comfortable, private atmosphere such as your home. If the discussion is difficult, it will be much easier on everyone if it is in a place that is already comfortable for everyone. Stay as positive and as confident as you can. Your parents and family have a certain idea of who you are and likely have certain expectations of your behavior, more so than anyone else in your life. As a result, no matter how liberal and accepting they may be about homosexuality, it is likely that there will be some mixture of shock, confusion and even anger or sadness about your news. Change is difficult for all of us and this is a big frame shift for your family. Remember, you probably had similar feelings when you came to terms with being gay or lesbian. Try to remember that they will need time to adjust and that their initial reaction will likely change.
If your parents react poorly, it is advisable to give them the space that they need to respond to the news. By giving them space and being nonreactive, it will help them to fully express and deal with their feelings. Giving them space may mean leaving them alone to deal with it.
Be prepared for many questions. You can share with them what you have learned and even bring them some books you have if you think that it would be helpful.
After the Discussion
One discussion about you being gay, lesbian or bisexual is likely not going to be enough. Your family members have an adjustment period to this new big news about your sexuality. They will need to keep talking about the concept of sexual orientation and their feelings about your sexuality and you will likely need to keep talking about it as well both for them and for yourself.
Family members may be resistant to continuing discussion about it and may even appear to ignore that you disclosed that you are gay, lesbian or bisexual. Allowing your family to ignore it will likely feel like you are back where you started – like that large part of your life does not exist. Continue the discussion and share your life with them – gay, lesbian, and bisexual group activities that you are a part of, discussion about gay friends, partners, etc. If they change the subject frequently, ask them if you can talk to them about your life and how you would really like to share this part of yourself with them.
If after some time, your family continues to struggle with your news and/or you find yourself having difficulty coping with your family’s reaction, it can be very helpful to see a therapist. A professional can help you express the feelings that you are having, guide you to guide them through this process as well as help you cope with disappointment with how they have responded.
Coming out to family can be difficult and scary. While the path may be rocky, the benefits of living an authentic life and sharing it with your family are worthwhile.