At the time I am writing, our local Pride parade was this past weekend. I was reflecting on the process a lot of our clients go through when coming out to family and friends. It can truly be a terrifying process. No one is given a clear road map for where they are going or what to expect. Obviously, this is a very broad topic. This topic could easily be a whole series of articles, and there would be no way to capture every experience. But whether you are thinking of ways to share your identity or be open about your sexual orientation, here are some thoughts to help you when coming out to family.
Focus on Your Needs Over Their Reaction
This is definitely easier said than done. We are talking about family, you love and care about these people. I have spoken to people who have agonized over whether their family would react well or not. At the end of the day, we just can not control other people’s actions. Focusing on how to get a certain reaction from your family will only leave you feeling like you are spinning your wheels.
Coming out is supposed to be about sharing a part of yourself with family that has not been shared before. Coming up with a script is really important. But you do not want the script to be about their reaction. You want it to be about sharing yourself. Ask yourself, “What do I need in order to feel seen?” Also, here is a helpful link for coming up with your coming out script.
Do Not Feel Pressured or Obligated
Coming out should be on your terms. You can take as much or as little time as you need. There is no “You need to come out by this age” type of limit. At the same time, I have never talked to anyone that would say they were completely ready when they came out. Instead trying to feel ready, try to think of what you need in order to feel prepared for however the talk might go. Make plans for the various ways you could imagine the talk going.
Second, you do not owe anyone that you come out to them. If you know that someone will respond with abuse or hatred, you do not need to feel like you have to come out to them. Which relationships matter to you, and which do not? The answer to that question will tell you who to come out to.
Know Your Safety Net
In a perfect world coming out to family would be a bonding, intimate experience, and for some it is. But we do not live in a perfect world. Sometimes people don’t respond with love and acceptance. Know who has your back no matter what. Know where you can go if you need to crash with a friend for a few days. Let them know beforehand that you will be coming out to family so that they know to support you throughout the process.
It is hard to know what you need in the coming out process. If you are trying to figure out what your needs are or if you are looking for support in the process, The Marriage & Family Clinic is here to help.
About the Author
Ryan Hicks is a licensed therapist and marriage counselor at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in working with couples in high conflict and working with couples in the LGBTQ community. When he’s not working with couples, you’ll find him rock climbing or taking in the great outdoors of Colorado.