The Other “Big Talk” – Coming Out to Parents, Friends, Enemies and Strangers

Which is the worse parenting flaw, missing cues or jumping to conclusions? Overreacting or underreacting? Most of us will probably do both. Should we ask direct questions? How do you figure out the timing?

It’s Their Story – Just Wait for It

“One day in ninth grade my son came home one day and said, out of the blue, that he had joined the LGBT club at his high school. I was not really ready for THAT talk and had no sense of what to do or how. My wife and I told him that was great, we were proud of him, loved him, the whole caring parent shtick. He seemed perplexed by our outpouring of interest, enthusiasm and concern over his decision to join this particular school club. We were puzzled because he did not seem at all interested in matters of sexuality — he was far more interested in Legos at that time than in dating boys or girls. We could bear the suspense no longer. So we finally asked him outright if he perceived himself as gay and he said, oh no, but that it seemed like a fun club and lots of his friends, including some who were gay, had joined. The perfect reason to join any club in high school, as it turns out.” – SW

“He didn’t really come out to me, he just told me that he was dating this guy. It wasn’t really a surprise. I know he had gotten the message from me that it would be OK. I was torn because a lot of my friends thought I should ask him. Two queer identified friends felt strongly about it, because they thought if he needed support he should know I was ready to help. But I had gay friends who were like his uncles, and we watched shows with gay themes, so I was sure he knew it was OK with me. His principal (a lesbian) asked me, and thought I should ask him, but I didn’t want to put him on the spot. Later he said, ‘I appreciate that you gave me the space to bring it up myself.’” – LM

Photo: David Castillo Dominici

Photo: David Castillo Dominici

Not Smooth = Pretty Normal

“Talking to parents means moving deeply into the parents’ attitudes about sex and gender roles, which can be uncomfortable. Everybody needs their parents’ love and doesn’t want to lose it.” -AR

“It’s a really stressful decision to come out, and if there is no reaction it’s a disappointment. When I came out to Mom and Dad it was ok, but Mom cried and worried that it was misplaced feminism that was somehow her fault.” – EL

“A very important message for kids is to give parents time to process and adjust to the news, just as it took THEM some time to get used to it.” – SF

“It took me 4 years between realizing that I was queer and coming out. I don’t think it will take my parents quite that long. It’s been 2 years and they may still not be fully there, but it’s ok.” -AA

“I wish one day my parents would just know without a conversation. I will never be able to talk about it with my father. He doesn’t have an education beyond 8th grade. He has invested so many hopes in me. In my family we’ve never really talked about sex or relationships, even though they have supported my career. But they are not big on verbal encouragement for any aspect of life, the support is more subtle. – ZI

“When I came out to my parents I was tipsy and did it in an angry response to my dad’s teasing. It didn’t go well. There was stomping and door slamming. My dad laughed and thought I wasn’t serious or that I was a BUG [Bisexual Until Graduation, an insulting term]. He invalidated the relationship I was having by saying I just needed to spend more time with cute boys. So, no party should be inebriated when someone comes out, and it shouldn’t be in a moment of anger.” -KL

“My advice to parents [about a coming out announcements] is ‘Shut up and listen. This is not about you. If necessary, be reassuring. It might be a surprise, and not what you envisioned for your kid, but I think of all the things you might have to deal with, like a disability or mental illness, and this is SO not an issue compared to those.” TS

“I would just say, listen, listen, listen. Try not to get triggered by anything. It’s hard – they are shattering your image and expectations of them.  Also, understand who is talking to you developmentally. That prefrontal cortex with all the judgment isn’t complete till age 25, so take it with that in mind. Be there for them, but don’t expect them to help you. Go to other parents for that, to get educated. Show that you are not shutting them down or shutting them out.” – LB

“I tell other parents, look for help for your son and for yourself. Look for another parent in this situation who can show you that everything will be fine if you walk in the right pathway. I went to a friend I had known for years, she was the first person I told [about my son being gay]. Her father-in-law in El Salvador had treated her son badly and had been pushing her for years to make her son more masculine, saying things like ‘You’re not doing your job.’ I knew I could get answers and support from her, and I have cried with her more than once.” -MS

What Do You Say? It Doesn’t Have to be “Perfect,” just Honest

“The ‘I knew it’ reaction to coming out talks is a double-edged sword. It’s good that they knew it and it didn’t change your relationship, but if they jumped to that conclusion because you played with trucks or otherwise bent gender roles that just reinforces the pigeonholing that is already too strong.” – GM

You’re afraid they don’t want to touch you anymore, so hugging is a great reassurance. Hearing your parents say, ‘We still love you, you’re still our daughter’ is a big deal and you need that even if it seems obvious. You need to know that they still see you as a whole person, not just gay. -KL

“It’s universal that kids will complain about how their parents reacted, but that’s ok. Don’t feel shame or guilt over your first reaction. Deal with it honestly, and then just be supportive.” – AR

“When I came out [to my parents] I sat them down at the dining room table with 2 friends beside me. My dad said, ‘We knew that.’ My mom said, ‘What took you so long?’ They were actually a little offended that I had told my nanny and the parents of some friends before them. I’m not sure what I wanted them to say, so I guess that was as good a reaction as I could expect. As I went to bed that night, my mom hugged me a lot, and my dad, ever practical, wanted to know how this would change my college search. “ -PO

Coming Out to Peers: Expect the Unexpected

“When I started high school, I only knew a handful of the kids so I had to make friends from scratch. When I came out to them at the end of the following year, they said things like,’We all thought something was a little off about you, but after you came out you were so much more comfortable and confident.’ I didn’t know what would happen. Some stopped talking to me, but my closest friends were incredibly supportive. Most had questions, because I was the first gay person they knew. It does change friendships. I wasn’t afraid anymore that I’d slip up and reveal it. It’s not just that one part that you have to hide. I worried that they’d see in my clothes or music or mannerisms something that would make them wonder. So I did all these different things I wasn’t totally comfortable with. I joke that my music got 100% gayer after I came out. Before I had 2 lists on YouTube: “Songs I’m Ashamed Of” and “Songs to Download.” I didn’t have show tunes on my phone because I was afraid someone would find it. After I came out I just didn’t have to do any of that any more, and actually my friends and i got closer.” – AA

“My first 2 years in high school were horrible. I didn’t want to go to an all-boys’ school and it was in a new neighborhood….I didn’t make many friends, hanging out instead with my friends from the old school. But it was great when I came out. I finally decided when I had a boyfriend that I should come out at school. The big ‘dumb jock’ texted me to say that if anyone gave me a hard time, he had my back. People said it felt like before I had a kind of wall between us, and it had come down. I had teachers come up to me and congratulate me. When I announced my intention to start a GSA, the headmaster took me out to lunch. The GSA took off, now 36 kids regularly attend. A single sex school removes the posturing you have to do for the girls, so it makes for a more accepting environment. It made coming out a lot easier.” – PO

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