Coming Out to Parents, By Washington Silk
With all of us staying at home these days you or someone else you might now be stuck in the closet at home with loved ones. We thought we would offer some thoughts about coming out to your parents or loved ones during this time. Here are my top 10 thoughts on coming out of the closet.
- You are the expert of you and your situation. So you know best about what would work for you. Trust yourself and what you need.
2. Safety First. Ask yourself, is it safe for me to come out to my parents? If there is a chance they could kick you out of the house, come up with a back up plan (like a friend/family member you can stay with, although I know it’s extra hard in the time of COVID to do that) and pack a to-go bag just in case. If you experience violence relating to coming out please reach out for support. You can get support from the Waterloo Regional Police through 911 or their non emergency line 519.570.9777.
3. Remember what motivates you when your feelings become overwhelming. Coming out to parents or loved ones can be a really intense experience. For many people it can be a big combination of feelings, such as worries about disappointing parents because your life will likely be different than what they dreamed, fear of being rejected, feeling numb or angry because it shouldn’t be a big deal, stress from the unknown, feeling like you are the one that sucks because you should be able to just say it, and feeling like a flower stuck in a bud that needs to bloom. When people push down big feelings like this it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and then to put it off. Your feelings are valid and I think that it can be really helpful to remind yourself of your motivation for coming out. Every time a feeling gets too much (and you want to run away!), remind yourself why you are doing it.
4. Tell your parents or loved ones what you need. I think it is important to know what you want out of this or what would be the best for you and communicate that to your parents too. For example, “Parents I have to tell you something that is very stressful for me. I know it might be stressful for you too but after I tell you, I need to know that you still love me…” or “I need a hug…” or “ I am going to tell you something and then I need some alone time” or “I am going to tell you something and I want you to keep it private.” Some parents may want to play it cool and not make a big deal out of it, so they might not know what you need out the situation. Or other parents might have no idea how to respond or might need time to process the information.
5. Plan ahead if you can. Fact check with your head and gut about what might happen. With your head, look at the facts. Have your parents said anything either supportive or negative about LGBTQ2+ people? This can help give you information about maybe who to come out to first, who can be your ally with difficult family members, etc. Look at the facts in the past about how information spreads in your family, would your parents maintain your privacy if you wanted them to or would they tell other people? Do you have any influence over this? If not, how would you feel if other people knew? Do your parents usually need time to process information? If so, their initial reaction might not be what you need so take this into consideration regarding their responses. For example, “You might need time to think about this, because I have known for 5 years and you have known for 5 minutes, so I will give you time to think about it but I would like to talk more about this next week because it has been a bit stressful for me and I need your support.”
6. Honour your feelings. I think it is easy for people to downplay their feelings like, “my parents are very supportive, so its stupid that I feel so scared” or perhaps, “I am kinda pissed that I even have to come out..” or “I feel really numb about everything and I don’t know why…”. Your feelings are valid and are a helpful tool to help you understand the world around you. Your feelings say this a big deal, potentially very stressful for your heart, mind and body. Think about what are the things that have helped me when I am stressed? Then plan to do those things. For example, I feel better when I talk with my friends. So plan a friend hang out for afterwards.
7. Pick a medium that works for you. You can talk in person, text, send an email or write a letter. All get the job done.
8. The afterwards! People often think there will be a big feeling of relief after coming out. That may or may not be true. I don’t think it’s easy for us to let go of all the stress that has built up over months/years of hiding it. So give yourself time and intentionally do your best to unlearn that stress. For me, every time I am around my grandma I worry she will get upset about how masculine I look. She knows about me but I still try to hide it to make it easier for her. It took me a long time to learn that I am not responsible for her feelings. So even though I’m not 100% comfortable I have to “practice” being myself around her, eventually I get more and more comfortable.
9. Coming out is not just a one time experience. As you grow up, or as the situation changes I encourage you to reflect on your feelings, boundaries you may need to set and how your needs might change over time. Remember, you are the expert of you.
10. Lastly, remember other people’s feelings are not your feelings. Your parents might need to go on a journey of self reflection. This is their journey. One of my favourite mantras goes like this, “That is yours, not mine.” It reminds me that not to personalize or take responsibility for other people’s emotions or actions. It can be helpful to remind yourself of that mantra so you don’t feel it necessary to change/hide your feeling or behaviour just to make other people feel more comfortable.