Coming Out / To Family

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Hey, my name is Virginia and I'm 14. I'm not sure of my sexuality, but I know I'm not straight, which I'm very open with at school and with all my friends. However, I'm not out to my parents. I sort of decided I wouldn't tell them until I was 100% sure, but I feel like they should know since so many of my peers do. I know you're not supposed to come out until you're ready, but can I be out to my school and not my family?

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

Hellooooo Virginia!

The short answer here is: you can absolutely be out to your friends at school before being out to your family, and there is nothing wrong with making that choice if it is what feels best to you right now.

However, there is a little more to this dilemma, which I am going to take in two parts. First, let’s talk about waiting until you are “100% sure.” I get it, I reallllllyyy get it, but I don’t know that there is a guarantee that you will ever get to 100% on the SURE-ABOUT-IT meter, you know? Some of us do get there, but not all of us, and as someone who hasn’t ever felt SURE about one word lasting for my lifetime, I can tell you it is okay to never make it to 100%! I’ve been talking about this a bunch lately, but I think it bears repeating – our desires and identities and sexualities can change over time, and that doesn’t make any identity on our life’s continuum any less valid than any other identity! Meaning, if you come out to your parents today as ‘not straight,’ that is enough of a descriptor, and you don’t have to stay inside of those particular words forever.

Your parents likely don’t expect that you will only talk to them at the ‘end points’ of your life journeys. For starters, most of these journeys don’t have clean ‘end points,’ and I’d imagine most parents would want to be a part of the experience, the questions, and the beautiful parts that come in the in-betweens. If you think that your parents will be accepting of your sexuality overall, then telling them you don’t know exactly who you are yet, but that you know you aren’t straight, is a damn fine way to come out!

Second, I want to talk about the conflict you might be feeling in keeping something about yourself from your parents. This kind of decision is a really hard one to make, because you are negotiating between wanting to feel ready, and also wanting to feel like you can be open about who you are with people that you probably interact with a lot, and who also probably mean a whole bunch to you. It really is a tough call to make, which is why it is so personal to each person’s experience, and why it is so important to check in with yourself often about how you’re feeling.

The way I view it, you are weighing the feelings against each other to see which is the best decision for your heart and your wellbeing at the moment. If the weight of keeping something from your parents starts to be the bigger, more cumbersome feeling, then I think it is good to consider coming out (even if, as we talked about up there, you aren’t 100% certain of your identity just yet). Now, of course, if you are afraid that your parents will be very upset, or take extreme measures, this becomes a very different conversation (and one that involves having a clear plan in place before taking action), but your message doesn’t seem to suggest that this is part of your fear, Virginia. It seems, rather, that this is about timing what is right for you, what’s right for them, and when you should shift to a place of conversation with your family.

If you can, journal about it, or even just spend a few minutes before you fall asleep each night checking in on how you’re feeling. Make a system, even! Maybe you keep a notebook by your bed and you rank your “I want to tell my parents” feelings next to your “I’m not ready” feelings using a numbered scale or by putting a tally in the column that feels stronger to you. Then, over time, you’ll be able to see if those feelings change or if, perhaps, you really are more ready than you’d initially thought.

The bottom line is that there is no “wrong” answer here. This is your process, first and foremost. Your parents will have a process, too, but for now you have to do what makes you feel most comfortable, most safe, and most balanced.

<3

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“Hi, I am 17 and identify as bisexual. I’m wondering if any of the parents who write for The Parents Project could give me advice on coming out to my parents. I think I would be comfortable telling my mum, but I worry that she will tell my dad. I don’t know how he will react. He has been bad at talking to me in the past and is generally very confrontational.”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Carmella Van Vleet Says:

Wow. What a great question. I know that many young people are in your same position. I’m honored to offer what advice I can as a parent of a gay teenager.

A little background: I’m a children’s book author and sometimes I do workshops with kids in schools. When I go into schools, I typically wear my rainbow bracelet to show students I’m an LGBTQIA ally. I’ll never forget the first time someone came up to me after a workshop to share his story.

As part of my workshop that day for a group of high schoolers, I’d read the opening chapter of a story about a girl whose brother is kicked out of his home for being gay. A young man your age cautiously approached me after class. He told me he was glad I was writing about queer kids and that he’d come out as bisexual to his parents the week before.

“How did that go?” I asked him.

“Not great,” he said. “My mom took it okay but my dad is still mad. He’s not speaking to me.”

I spent the next few minutes telling him what I’m about to tell you now.

First, what you’re doing is a brave thing. It’s especially hard when you’re not sure how your parents will react. Be proud of yourself and never, ever apologize for who you are and for living honestly.

Second, here’s something young people need to know about telling their parents they’re LGBTQ: it’s a journey for them, too. Parents, even the most accepting ones, are put on this new road once their kids come out. It’s like the GPS told us to take a sharp left into a corn field. Getting our bearings takes time.

Maybe you realized a long time ago that you’re bisexual, or maybe you came to this understanding recently. The point is, you’ve had time to process your feelings. But this is likely new (and possibly unexpected) information for your parents. Perhaps they will react strongly and hurtfully at first. If they do, don’t be discouraged and decide this is their final position on the matter. MANY parents who are initially upset come around with patience and education. Just remember that your parents love you and will do they best they can – and they can evolve past whatever their first reactions might be.

So. How should you come out at home? Only you know your parents and situation best, but here are some thoughts.

If you’re worried about how your dad will react, tell your mom first. Pick a time when the two of you are alone and aren’t likely to be interrupted. The “how” part is up to you. Are you a jump-in-the-deep-end person? (“Mom, I’m bisexual.”) Or a wade-into-the-water kind of person? (“Hey Mom, I was reading an article about famous people who are bisexual.”)

After you’ve told her, let her take the lead. Answer questions as best you can. (You may not know some of the answers, and that’s okay. You’re still probably learning, too.) Remind her you’re the same person she’s always known; she just knows something more about you now. Give her time alone if she needs it and revisit the subject later on.

Now, about your father. If you believe that you could find yourself in any kind of physical danger if your father were to find out about your sexuality, then you need to carefully consider if this is the best time to come out. Or you need to create a safety plan so you can leave if necessary. For example, you might need a place to stay. Can you find a friend who’s willing to take you in? You will need to consider how you will get to and from school or work. You may also need to come up with a way to pay for your own expenses.

If you don’t think you’re ready for your dad to know, talk to your mom about this. Explain your concerns and develop a plan together for how and when to approach the situation. It’s probably not reasonable to ask your mother to keep this secret from your father forever, but you are entitled to a say in how and when you come out to him. You might be surprised that she has some good ideas about how to approach your dad. Or maybe she’d be willing (with your permission) to break the news to him so you don’t have to.

If your father confronts you once he knows, then listen and answer questions the best you can. You don’t have to take emotional abuse. If things get heated, tell him you’re going leave to give him time to process things. Don’t say something like, “We’ll discuss this after you calm down,” or “You’re being irrational/old-fashioned/prejudiced” because these will likely make him feel defensive. And don’t get pulled into the yelling. You’re trying to defuse this situation. (Yes, you’re being the mature one here. Little secret? Sometimes parents can learn from their kids.)

If he gives you the silent treatment for a while (like the dad of the young man I mentioned earlier), that’s okay. It may hurt, but give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s working on it. Try emailing or texting him some helpful articles or resources. This kind of non-confrontational communication can be useful because it gives everyone time to think before they speak.

Again, coming out is a huge step for LGBTQ young people. Try to remember that it’s a huge thing for your parents, too. With time, patience, and love, you’ll all navigate this unfamiliar territory peacefully.

Good luck!!

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Carmella Van Vleet is a wife, former teacher, and the mother of three young people (ages 22, 20 and 18) who she thinks are pretty cool despite the fact they insisted on growing up. Carmella is also a full-time children’s author who’s committed to including LGBTQ families in her work whenever possible. You can visit her at www.carmellavanvleet.com.

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