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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.


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"I want to get a tattoo or a piercing, but my parents won’t let me. How do I explain to them that this is how I want to express myself?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Allyee Whaley Says:

When I was 13 years old I wrote my parents a 10 page paper on why getting my belly button pierced was an expression of my true self, with lots of facts and research supporting my argument. My parents didn’t really know what to do with the paper, but they did end up letting me get my belly button pierced. Then my nose. Then my lip. Then my eyebrow (you get the picture). Tattoos were always off the table. Around 16, I went behind my parents back and got a tattoo anyway, and my parents felt like their trust was broken. Now almost a decade later, I am covered in tattoos and piercings, my hand is fully tattooed and all hope is lost that I will ever fit into mainstream society. And guess what? My parents still totally love me and support me. But not everyone grows up in Oakland, California with feminist queer parents who always encouraged us to be fully and authentically ourselves, so here are some things I would keep in mind when navigating this path:

1.     Always try and partner with your parents first. If you want a specific tattoo that means something to you, explain what it means and why it is important. My first tattoo was a quote (that I misquoted, on my arm), “For Failure Isn’t Falling Down, But Staying Down.” I was def a “wild child” who was committed to being the best at being the worst, but I was trying to turn things around. I explained to my parents this was the first quote I ever heard that made me feel like I could change, that I could be more, I could be happy. I explained that every time I wanted to give up, I couldn’t, because I would look down at my arm and be reminded of my commitment to betterness. As mad as they were that I lied to them, it was pretty hard for them to fight this explanation. I definitely don’t think tattoos haveto have meaning to be important, I think body modification in itself is a meaningful practice, and has been throughout human history.

2.     It is super important to weigh that people with tattoos & piercings still do face discrimination, especially if you count in other forms of oppression working with them (race, religion, ability, orientation, gender, location, etc).  Only in recent years has the culture around tattoos shifted in America, as they are becoming mainstream. Parents often don’t support their kin getting tattooed, not only because they don’t want them to suffer (from the pain of body modification), but because they often don’t want us to be seen as “society’s deviants”. A lot of people say this is why family can get initially spooked when LGBTQ+ young people come out, because they instinctively want to keep them out of harms way and they know by being LBGTQ+ they will live a harder life. The same logic can be applied for tattoos/piercings. If you let your parents know you have considered this reality, it can help them understand you are weighing all the consequences and still think it’s important.

3.     “But what if you regret it?!” – the number one argument against body modification. The most common response to this argument tends to be, “tattoos can always be covered, they can always be removed,” but I think it is important to point out to your parents that body modification can also teach us a hell of a lot about acceptance. I think it is pretty normal to have different feelings towards our tattoos/piercings as we grow. For years my lip piercing was such a part of my identity, my face, my reality, I never once thought to remove it. Now that it’s been out for years I laugh at old pictures of myself like “why world!!!!” but I don’t regret it. I appreciate how much it meant to me, it showed the world from the get go that I was different, I was badass. Body modification has taught me to not only accept myself, my past, my future, but celebrate each part of my journey as uniquely my own. Beyond regret, let your parents know that body modification can also be a tool for radical self love & care. Getting tattooed was one of the first times I realized what it felt like to actually love myself.  With each new piece, I stare in the mirror filled with joy thinking, “damn, look at how awesome I am!” Tattoos and piercings were also one of the first things to show me how to physically care for and nurture my body (because body modification takes lots of daily care, anywhere from 2 weeks-9 months, and beyond). Radical self love, radical self acceptance, those are things body modification can teach us if we let them.

4.     Not all parents are going to be okay with tattoos or piercings. Some might never be okay with them. Your safety and the value of your relationship with your parents are super important to weigh as you decide to embark on this lifestyle. I have adult friends to this day who hide their tattoos from their parents. Most of the time my friends hide their tattoos so they can retain their relationship with their parents, and therefore also their community/culture/religion. That is their choice and something they have considered the pros and cons of, so I encourage you to do the same. Some parents might say stuff like “if you ever get a tattoo, I will no longer speak to you.” This is something to weigh: is getting a tattoo/piercing right now worth losing XYZ?

5.     If all else fails and you decide to go behind your parents back and get one anyway, please consider a few things. Any tattoo/piercing shop that is working on someone under the age of 18 without their parents consent is doing something very illegal, and could lose their license for doing so. From my experience, these shops tend to also be doing other illegal things, including but not limited to, not being up to health codes, as well as not being very experienced at giving out tattoos or piercings. These things increase the chance of infection, injury, transmission of things like HIV through needles, and very very very worst case scenario can lead to death (usually from infection). Also, they tend to not give out very good tattoos, but hey, that’s relative, right? All this to say, I’m totally a harm reduction gal and if you weigh all these things and still think it’s worth it, then go for it. That is your choice. I know my first tattoo saved my life over and over again when things got dark– I wouldn’t take it back for the world. I also would have gone about it TOTALLY differently if I was to get it now, but whatever, that’s all a part of growing up, learning and changing.

Wanting a tattoo and/or piercing is totally normal. You may or may never convince your parents to let you get one while you live under their roof/they feed you or finically support you. They may never acknowledge, support or appreciate your body modification even after you move out. If you’re lucky, they may come around one day, but if that day isn’t soon enough for you, it’s up to you to weigh all the pros and cons and move forward. It is your life, your body, and your choice.

Allyee Whaley has long strived to create balance in the universe by listening attentively, advocating ruthlessly, and loving compassionately. She is an openly polyamorous queer based in New York City who will talk your ear off about anthropology, human sexuality, social justice, and mystical creatures. Please help support her and all of our incredible contributors here on Patreon.