Revealing your sexuality to your parents can usually be more anxiety-provoking than coming out to friends.
Finding out that their child is gay or bisexual will often, but not always, come as a surprise to parents. Sometimes their response will be supportive but at other times they will need time to process the information.
Sadly, the response can sometimes be negative. You may encounter disappointment, shame, anger or rejection.
We’re always told that coming out is a good thing to do but what about if you’re a teenager, still living at home, and believe your parents may react badly?
In some countries and cultures, coming out is considerably harder than others. Here is some advice from experts that you might find useful.
Think about talking to someone else before your parents
‘There is nearly always another family member that you can go and speak to. Around 12% of people identify as LGBT+, so most families have a member who can help discuss this with you,’ says Elly Barnes, CEO of Educate & Celebrate, a charity that undertakes awareness training on diversity and LGBTI issues in schools.
‘It’s really important to find someone who you know will support you, and tell them first,’ adds psychotherapist Ruth Yudkin. ‘This might be someone from your extended family, a friend’s parent, or someone else.
‘Make sure there is at least one adult on board who can help out if the worst happens and your immediate family are hostile.’
Similarly, you might want to ask if the person you tell can be there when you talk to your parents.
‘The first thing to remember is that there’s nothing wrong with you, and you’re not alone,’ says Grahame Robertson of the Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT).
‘If you’re thinking of coming out to your family, it might be a good idea to make sure you have a supportive friend or two who can be there for you, just in case the reaction is a bad one.’
Based in the UK, AKT offers emergency accommodation, supported housing, mentoring, carers, training and support for young LGBTI people who have faced difficulties after coming out.
Be clear what you want to tell your parents
‘If you feel like you are ready to come out it is very much important that you are clear with yourself what is it that you are want to tell your parents,’ says Lukasz Konieczka, Director of Services with Mosaic LGBT Youth Centre.
‘Some people think that coming out as bisexual at first and gay later will help them break their parents in easily, but it is a false assumption as it will confuse them and they will just take longer to acknowledge your true identity as they will then definitely see it as a phase.
‘Once you know what is it that you feel like telling them you can proceed to ground testing, what do they say when LGBT characters are on television or in their neighborhoods? Are they aggressive or just ignorant? There is a very big difference between those two.’
Avoid coming out during a heated moment
‘Choose a moment that is suitable and never do it out of spite or in argument as emotions will get better of you and your parents and you might all say things you don’t really mean,’ says Konieczka.
‘Some people choose to come out when they are at university when they have a “safe distance”, make sure you choose the time when it works out best for you.
‘Make sure you have a plan B. Do you have a local social services number? Do you know where to go? Would you be able to stay at your extended family for a couple of days should such need arise? What would happen if your parents did cut you off?’
Get in touch with like-minded people
‘Go online and look for helplines and call them for advice and find like-minded people. Looking for LGBT youth groups in your area,’ says Elly Barnes.
‘Remember: you are not alone!’ says Yudkin. ‘There is a huge amount of support around you, even if it doesn’t come from within your community. There will almost certainly be local support groups who will be able to offer advice and help, as well as online support.’
‘Depending on what part of the world you live in, what is your school doing to support you?’ says Elly. ‘Your school has responsibility to support every student. Does it have counselors. Can you speak to your tutor?’
Be prepared to give your parents time
‘Coming out is a process, it takes time, and your parents are trying to use their own definition of what happiness is and that is often heterosexual wedding and children shortly after,’ says Konieczka.
‘They were planning it since the day you were born so seeing you in a different context might take time to get used to. Make sure you give them time and space. If they are silent about the subject or pretend that you coming out didn’t happen let them digest it for a while.
Some people do experience a negative reaction from friends or families,’ says Monty Moncrieff, Chief Executive of London Friend. ‘Sometimes this is because it’s a shock for them, or they don’t know how to respond.
‘Their reaction might be based on negative stereotypes they have heard about LGBT people, or just because they don’t really know much about being LGBT. They might need some time to understand it.
If you’re family adhere to strict religious beliefs, or have expressed aggressive opinions towards gay people, it’s wise to be cautious, warns Konieczka.
‘If you live in the UK, and if your family is very traditional or conservative I would recommend you to make sure you don’t leave the country. You can’t be forced to. If you fear for your safety always call the Police. Or inform any official at the airport that you are being taken against your will.
‘Remember that forced marriage is illegal in UK and you can always contact Home Office’s Forced Marriage Unit to get protection against it and if in immediate danger always call the Police in first instance.’
‘Keeping your sexuality a secret and feeling like you have to hide your real self from the people closest to you is enormously stressful,’ says Ruth Yudkin.
‘Even if the prospect of coming out is terrifying, you will probably feel a huge sense of relief once you have taken the step.’
There’s sadly no guarantee that your parents will react in a supportive manner, even if you do follow this advice. But remember, ‘Most people who come out find it to be a positive experience in the end, even if there are some difficulties at the beginning’ says Moncrieff.
‘You won’t be a young person forever,’ adds Yudkin. ‘One day you will be independent of your parents and free to live your life exactly as you choose, and their influence won’t be nearly as important as it is now.’