Coming Out: You and Your Parents
Grappling with your sexual orientation is yet another profound issue to confront. In a world that strongly enforces and assumes heterosexuality, it is frustrating to continue passing as straight while internally feeling somehow different or knowing that you are either lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Many people wrongly believe that homosexuality is learned or chosen. The exact causes of homosexuality and heterosexuality are unknown and are likely to be the result of several different factors including genetics and environment.
Coming out is a focal point of gay life. And yet, coming out is not a singular event. Rater, it is a process of disclosing your sexual orientation to a widening circle of people, beginning with yourself.
This phase can often take years before full self-disclosure. This period can be described as a time when you are thinking about who you are, coming to terms with it, and deciding what you are going to do about it.
You may be feeling pain, denial, powerlessness, embarrassment, depression, anger, joy, excitement, relief, etc. About the fact that you feel different, that you are attracted to people of your own gender. These feelings are normal; you are just reacting to all the negative messages that surround you about being gay, lesbian or bisexual while feeling the freedom of not being as confused about yourself.
At some point you may decide to speak to someone about your sexual orientation. It is often easier to tell the truth to those people in whom you do not have a great personal investment in their reaction e.g. a new friend, casual acquaintance, professional counselor or therapist. This will enable you to continue your personal exploration without fear of being rejected and socially shunned by those people closest to you. It may be wise to select people likely to respond favourable. As well, consult some of the encouraging books on the subject of coming out. Rob Eichberg's Coming Out: An Act of Love is strongly recommended.
Over time, people become increasingly more public about their lesbian, gay or bisexual identity. In all our social interactions we must decide between disclosing our sexual orientation or choosing to remain hidden, depending on the situation and the people involved.
The benefits of coming out to someone important to you:
- You can share more of yourself & your life with others.
- They have a greater opportunity to know you as you really are.
- You have more of an opportunity to validate more of your own life & your own lifestyle.
- You give the important people in your life a real opportunity to support you, & you become more available to them as well.
- Once you remove the barriers, love flows more easily between you and those close to you (eichberg, 1990).
Guidelines for Coming Out to Parents
For many lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, the most difficult decision to make after accepting their sexual orientation is to come out to their parent(s). It is important to consider the gains and losses of revealing your sexual orientation to your parent(s). On the one hand, parent(s) may inflict rejection and isolation. On the other hand, however, they may be understanding and accepting.
To help you decide whether to come out to your parent(s), it may help to consider the nature of your relationship with your parents: Is it open? Are you honest with them?, etc.
- Is their current love for you based on who you really are or on their beliefs of who you are?
- Is the cost of maintaining their love, as it is, worth it to you?
- How much energy has it taken to create a presence of who you are?
- What will happen if a crisis occurs (health problems, AIDS, accident and your lover is there to support you) and the truth comes out about your sexual orientation?
In many ways, parent(s) are a significant factor in the development of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals' sexual identity, especially in terms of acceptance of one's sexual orientation and general self-esteem. Before coming out tot your parent(s), consider these questions.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Are you sure & comfortable with your lesbian, gay or bisexual identity?
- Do you have a support system?
- Are you knowledgeable about homosexuality so that you can answer questions and/or counter some of the myths and misinformation that your parent(s) may believe.
- What is the present relationship with your parent(s) like?
- Are you prepared to be patient and not retaliate if your parent(s) disappoint you?
- Are you financially dependent on your parent(s)? Do you live at home?
- Is this your decision?
- What are your motives for coming out to your parent(s)?
Important: Never come out to your parents in anger.
So, How are you going to tell them?
The method of actually coming out to your parents is important to consider. You need to decide whether to write, telephone, or meet in person. Letter allow you to express yourself without interruption. You are also in control of how you word your self-disclosure.
If you plan to speak to your parent(s) in person, a neutral territory, by yourselves, with no chance for distraction is best. A private location will make your parent(s) feel more comfortable, especially if they feel the need to express emotions.
Choose a time when your parent(s) are not dealing with serious matters such as loss of a job, illness, death, etc.
Once you come out to your parent(s), allow them their own time and space. Just as you have taken some time to come to terms with your sexual orientation, so parent(s) go through their own process of acceptance.
At this stage your parent(s) need acceptance of their feelings, not attempts to deny them. They need to hear you say their feelings of anger or their tears are normal. It is important for you to realize that by doing so, you are not assuming blame for their emotions. You are validating this period of their process of acceptance.
- Eichberg, Robert. Coming Out: An Act of Love.
- Black, G.G. Are you still my mother? Are you still my family?
- Borhek, M. Coming out to Parents: A two-way survival guide for lesbians and gay men and their parents.
- Mueller, A. Parents Matter: Parents' relationships with lesbian daughters and gay sons.
- Rafkin, L. Ed,. Different Daughters: A book by mothers of lesbians .
- Stanley, J.P. & S.J. Wolf. Coming Out Stories.
This brochure was written by Dot Wojakowski as part of a Challenge Grant, produced and distributed by McGill Student Health Services