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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.
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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