Coming Out – When Is The Right Time?
For some gay and bisexual people, coming out to family members might bring a measure of relief. For others it might seem like a terrifying prospect. For our readers who are struggling with whether to come out or not, or how to come out if they are ready, consider the following:
How Do I Know If I’m Ready To Come Out?
One of the many things to think about when it comes to figuring out if you are ready to come out is to think about the reactions you may get. If the reactions of your family members are not going to be all that positive, consider whether you are truly ready to deal with that. It can be painful, frustrating, and disappointing to have relatives hold a negative view of you because of your sexual orientation, act in a disapproving way (no matter how subtle), or act intentionally hurtful or cruel. Adolescents are still growing in so many ways socially and emotionally – to feel they don’t have their parents there for them can be especially difficult during this phase of life. So if you feel you are not ready to take on any negative reactions, consider waiting on coming out until you feel in a better place to deal with this possibility. You could meet with a school counselor, private therapist, or talk to your doctor in the meantime so you can figure out how you want to handle any issues that might come up when the time comes to tell them.
Another consideration in whether to come out or not is to think about whether you are questioning your sexual orientation or you are sure about it. If you are in a questioning phase and are worried that your parents might not be supportive or helpful in this process, it might be better to wait on telling them until you are sure of where you are at and to think about which people around you could be available to you as you try to process the thoughts and feelings coming up for you (i.e., a school counselor, private therapist, doctor – someone who could maintain confidentiality about the issue).
One definite consideration in coming out is how safe it is for you to do so. FX recognizes that some of our readers live in parts of the world where it is actually illegal to be gay, and by coming out it could jeopardize their freedom and/or physical safety. If you have any reason to believe you could be in any kind of danger by coming out, then FX strongly urges you to consider keeping your sexual orientation to yourself. We appreciate what a difficult thing this is to do – to keep a part of yourself hidden from those around you – but we think the first priority needs to be safety.
What Are Some Tips On Coming Out To My Parents?
- As with any important conversation, don’t bring this topic up with your parents when anyone is rushed or distracted. Wait for a time when you are alone and just hanging out without interruption – and be sure to check in with them that they have some time at that moment before starting up a talk. If such a time doesn’t seem to be presenting itself, then ask your parents if they can set aside some time for all of you to talk.
- Think about what you want to say ahead of time. You can write down some of the main points you want to make and even practice with a friend.
- Acknowledge that your parents might be upset or surprised initially by starting your conversation with something like, “Mom and dad, I have something to tell you. You might be surprised, disappointed, or even frustrated by what I have to say, but there is something really important that I need to talk to you about. So are you okay about listening to what I have to say and hearing me out?”
- At some point in the conversation, provide a point when you began to question your sexual orientation. For example: “When I was in middle school, I started to realize I didn’t have the same feelings for boys/girls that my friends did. And once I started high school I knew I was gay.”
- When an important talk between people doesn’t go well, often it is because one or both of the parties is not really feeling heard or understood. If your parents are having trouble conveying their feelings, or you are not feeling understood, then say something like, “I know you may have some complicated feelings about homosexuality and not all of your feelings are going to be positive, but this is really difficult for me too, and I need your support right now more than ever. And I really want all of us to feel heard and understood.”
- Tell your parents about PFLAG, a group where they can get their own support and guidance as they adjust to what may be an unexpected situation for them. You can share the mission statement of PFLAG with them: “PFLAG promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, their families and friends through: support, to cope with an adverse society; education, to enlighten an ill-informed public; and advocacy, to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights. Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays provides opportunity for dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity, and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity.”
- Be patient with your parents and remember that they may need some time to absorb the news. They may have their own feelings about homosexuality that they will need to work through. They might also have their own fantasies about what they thought your life was going to look like with things like marriage and family – and these fantasies will need to be adjusted now. There may be initial surprise or disappointment, but after some time to process everything many parents will be able to come around and be supportive.
What not to expect from coming out:
Gay and bisexual teens may have their own negative feelings about their own sexual orientation. They may feel ashamed about it or feel different or less then in some way. Some teens who are experiencing these kinds of thoughts and feelings may expect coming out to validate who they are and make them feel better about themselves. It is important to remember that nobody but you can validate your life or who you are. If you are dealing with your own negative emotions about your sexual orientation, the best thing you can do is process these feelings with a trusted adult, such as a therapist, who has experience dealing with these kinds of issues.
The Importance of Support
There are going to be a lot of thoughts, feelings, and adjustments for you in thinking about whether or not you might be gay and in coming to the realization that you are. If your parents are able to be there for you with love and support during these times, that is wonderful. But the fact is that some parents will not be able to do that. With some parents, the lack of true support may be more quiet and subtle – and other teens may have parents who will be outright hurtful or rejecting. If you have parents who continue to have a negative reaction about your sexual orientation, FX wants to remind you of two things:
- Your parents’ negative reactions don’t mean anything is wrong with you. It is okay to be gay and it doesn’t mean you are any less of a person than the next. It might mean you will have challenges in your life that you will have to deal with that a heterosexual person might not (such as dealing with homophobic people who can be prejudiced or hurtful) – but it doesn’t mean other people are better than you. Your parent’s reaction is a statement about them – the prejudice and anger that, unfortunately, they have learned and carry with them.
- As with anything else that can be difficult in life, support is going to be crucial. If your parents cannot be there for you as you need them to, then consider who else can provide you the support and guidance you need. You can consider talking to a school counselor, private therapist, your doctor, a teacher, or any other trusted adult who can be there for you with guidance and support. You can also lean on your friends, as well as to reach out to peers who are also dealing with issues around their own sexual orientation. Keep in mind that you will find adults and peers out there who are going to be better role models than others when it comes to various issues connected to being gay and coming out – so think about who you are getting connected to and how helpful they are going to be in guiding you in a healthy, positive way.
Consider the following resources that might be useful to you:
- If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.
- If you need some additional support, if you live in New Jersey you can call 2NDLFOOR, a confidential and anonymous helpline for teens and young adults, at 1-888-222-2228. If you aren’t from NJ, please call your local United Way or 211 for assistance and support.
- The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center is the largest multi-service organization on the East Coast and the second largest LGBT community center in the world. They work to provide various types of services and education related to important LGBT issues. They also offer YES (Youth Enrichment Services), a program to help end isolation for many LGBT youths. FX thinks it would be helpful for you to check out their website. If you do not live in the New York City area to get directly involved with The Center, contact them and tell them where you live so that they can give you recommendations about possible resources in your area.
- Centerlink (formerly known as The National Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Centers) serves over 165 LGBT community centers across the country. These communities serve over 1.5 million people with direct services, educational efforts, and working towards social change.
- The primary objective of Campus Pride is to develop necessary resources, programs, and services to support LGBT and ally students on college campuses across the United States.
For more information questioning sexual orientation, assessing readiness to come out, where to go for issues around sexuality, and how to deal sexuality issues with your doctor, read Rice University’s webpage on Coming Out. You can also read Planned Parenthood’s information on Coming Out.