Coming out as LGBTQ+ is a process of sharing aspects of your identity–which may include your sexual orientation or gender identity–with specific people in your life, such as friends, a therapist, or your parents. Coming out to parents is a vulnerable situation to be in, and can bring up a range of emotions. Taking some time to think through how you want to share this information, as well as considering different possible outcomes, can help you feel more supported and prepared.
Why Does Coming Out to Parents Matter?
Coming out as LGBTQ+ can be an exciting step, and is even celebrated on National Coming Out Day on October 11th. It is important to remember that coming out is a unique decision for everyone, and you should not feel pressured to come out to anyone at any point–even people who may be a big part of your life, such as your parents.
If and when you are ready to come out to your parents, it can be a liberating, confusing, and emotional experience, and there is no right way to do it. It is about doing what is right for you, and will also depend on your relationship with your parents. For some folks, coming out to parents who are accepting can be an important way to gain support, and can even improve the relationship. For example, if your parents respect and validate you, coming out to them could enable them to use the correct pronouns for you, validate your gender expression, or understand to whom you are romantically attracted.
On the other hand, coming out to your parents when they do not have a supportive reaction—or when they are confused or even unintentionally invalidating—can be an extremely painful experience. This is why it is so important to make sure you feel safe and have support. You can chat, text, or call The Trevor Project 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to speak with trained professionals who understand the difficulties of being LGBTQ+, and who are there to provide non-judgmental help.
Before You Come Out
Before coming out to your parents, it can be helpful to take some steps to prepare and cope ahead for different reactions they may have. Remember, you do not have to come out if it is not right for you, or if the timing is not right.
Before coming out to your parents, consider the following:
Clarify Your Goals
Before you have a conversation, it can help to know what your goals and priorities are. For example, is your goal to gain their support; to improve your relationship; to feel like you can be more authentically yourself in your family of origin; or maybe a combination of these and/or others? Knowing what you hope to get out of the conversation can help you be more effective in communicating. You could say, “I really wanted to share this with you because it would mean a lot to me to have your support…”
Cope Ahead for Different Possible Reactions
While it is impossible to know exactly how your parents will react to your coming out, you might consider starting to understand how they feel about the LGBTQ+ community beforehand. You could do this by talking about LGBTQ+ news stories, bringing up friends or celebrities who have come out, or watching shows/movies with LGBTQ+ characters in them.
If they have strong negative reactions, it is understandable that you may not feel ready and/or safe to come out to them. It can also feel really disappointing, scary, and invalidating when parents have negative reactions to others in the LGBTQ+ community. However, remember that support is available if you need it.
Make Sure You Have a Support Network
Think about the people in your life who can be there for you before and after coming out to your parents. Can you talk to your therapist beforehand, or a trusted friend who is an ally or has been in a similar situation? If not, remember there are national LGBTQ+ resources like The Trevor Project, and you can also look into local LGBTQ+ resources. Who is someone you can call if things don’t go as expected?
Be (Somewhat) Prepared for Questions
While it is not your responsibility to educate your parents fully on what it means to be pansexual, gay, transgender, etc., explaining what your identities mean to you will help parents understand and be able to support you more effectively. You may want to do some research just so you feel more comfortable putting into words your experience. Ideally, parents will seek out further information themselves after you come out to them, so they can be more educated as well.
8 Tips for Coming Out to Your Parents
If you have thought through the pros and cons of coming out to your parents, have decided you feel safe and are are ready to have the conversation, here are a few tips that may help:
1. Choose Timing That Works Best for You & for Them
For an important conversation like this one, it can help to pick a time and place that is free of distractions to talk, possibly when your parents are in a reasonably good mood. If your mom just got home from work and is super stressed out, it might be better to plan for a weekend morning when everyone is more relaxed. Or, you may want to say it more spontaneously when the moment feels right.
2. Remember It Is an Ongoing Process
Coming out to your parents can be a big deal, and at the same time is a journey that continues after you have that first conversation. As time goes on, your parents will hopefully learn more and gain more support themselves, so they can show up for you in ways that are helpful. In the meantime, you may also grow more confident in who you are and be more open to talking to them about it. Be patient if things feel a bit awkward at first.
3. Manage Your Expectations
There is no way to know exactly what your parents will say, or how surprised they may be. While you have probably been thinking about this a lot, chances are that your parents have not been, so it may catch them off guard. Remember your goals in sharing this with them, and manage your expectations, as it may not go 100% according to plan.
4. Direct Them to Some Educational Material
If your parents need more information and LGBTQ+ resources, telling them about a group like PFLAG–an organization dedicated to supporting families of LGBTQ+ people–may be beneficial. Maybe they will want to get involved in advocacy, join a local chapter to meet other parents, or just learn more about how they can support you.
5. Be Clear About Who They Can/Cannot Tell
Let your parents know if you are not ready to come out to others, such as friends or grandparents. Hopefully, you can trust your parents to respect your boundaries and your decision to not come out to those people. The reality is that this will be beyond your control, and parents do make mistakes. Because of this, it is a good idea to cope ahead of time. Still, it is still necessary to be clear about your boundaries, and explain why they are important.
6. Practice Self-Soothing
Even if all goes according to plan, this conversation with parents can be a difficult one. What are some things you can do before, during, and after to check in with yourself and practice self-soothing? For example, to relax beforehand; can you take a shower while listening to your favorite music, or work on a painting? During the talk, maybe you want to have a fidget toy with you, or wear a lucky sweatshirt that makes you feel more comfortable. Can you plan to call a trusted friend or watch your favorite movie right after?
7. Empathize With Your Parents
Remember that, even if your parents are part of the LGBTQ+ community themselves, they may not be expecting this conversation. Consider how they are feeling, too. Perhaps they are feeling a bit intimidated, because they are not as educated as you about being transgender, or maybe they are feeling relieved and excited. Maybe they don’t know how they feel yet—their emotions can be as varied as yours have been on this journey.
8. Go Easy on Yourself
You are a human being, and so are your parents; coming out does not have to go perfectly. Try to go easy on yourself if you get flustered; or, if you feel like you weren’t able to come out exactly as you had planned or how you saw it in a movie. It’s okay. What really matters is that your identity is valid, and you deserve to feel loved and supported exactly as you are.
Common Questions & Reactions Many Parents Have
There is no way to know how your parents will react to you coming out, but many parents will make comments or ask questions when you share this news with them.
Some that you may encounter, and possible replies, are:
- “How do you know you’re bisexual?”
- Answer: I am physically and romantically attracted to more than one gender.
- “Are you sure you are gay? Have you really tried dating [insert opposite gender]?”
- Answer: Being gay is not about whether or not I have tried to date [opposite gender]. It is about who I am physically, emotionally and romantically attracted to.
- “That’s against my/our religion.”
- Answer 1: There are actually many followers of our religion who are also LGBTQ+, and I found a group I’d like to check out. Do you want to come with me?
- Answer 2: This is one of the reasons I have decided that our religion is not right for me. I want to be part of a faith that celebrates me for who I am.
- “Is this because you have been hanging out with [insert names of LGBTQ+ friends]”
- Answer: Having friends who are also LGBTQ+ has been really helpful to me and makes me feel supported. My identity is completely personal and unique to me.
- “Are you too young to know that for sure?”
- Answer: There is no right age or amount of experience needed to come out or to know these parts of my identity.
- “Why is it important to tell people or come out?”
- Answer: Straight people don’t need to come out, because most people already assume it about them. For LGBTQ+ people who decide to come out, it is important to be seen for who we are. Right now, I’m only ready to come out to our family.
- “Do you think this might be a phase?”
- Answer: My identity is real and valid and not a phase.
- “You will always be [insert sex assigned at birth] to me.”
- Answer: I hope you can read and learn more about being transgender, so you can understand more about my experience. Maybe you could try reading The Transgender Teen as a way to start learning more.
- “How can you be a lesbian when you have always been so feminine?”
- Answer: Sexual orientation (who you are attracted to) is different from gender expression (how you express your gender or present yourself). There’s nothing wrong with my sexual orientation or gender expression, or with the two co-existing together. I am proud of who I am.
Advice for Parents
If your child has come out to you, remember that you don’t have to be completely prepared right now. The most important thing is to make your child feel loved and supported. Your acceptance is critical, especially because LGBTQ+ youth are at higher risk of experiencing mental health challenges, including suicidal thoughts and behaviors.1, 2 Positive reactions from parents matter.3
Here are some ways you can support your child after they come out:
Do your best to put all distractions (including your own worries) aside for now, and focus on what your child is saying. Validate how much you appreciate your child opening up to you by saying things like, “I’m here for you, thank you for trusting me” or asking open-ended support questions like, “how can I support you?” or “how are you feeling?”.
Remember, your child is in a vulnerable position by sharing this with you, and they are looking to you for support and acceptance. They may also have been questioning or struggling with their identity for some time. Show you understand by making eye contact, reflecting back what they say, and empathizing with how they may be feeling.
Your child is still your child. Remind yourself that thoughts like “I don’t know anything about my child” or “what else have they been keeping from me?” are worry thoughts. Your child is here, talking to you right now, and you have an opportunity to show them that they still have your unconditional support no matter what.
Notice Your Own Emotions
Noticing and labeling your own emotions can help you manage them, rather than
express them to your child. If you are feeling anxious or scared, remember that what your child needs to see and hear from you is acceptance and love. After the conversation, reach out for support (a therapist, a friend, a co-parent) or use healthy coping mechanisms to take care of yourself and your feelings, too.
Let Go of the Need to Be Perfect
A parent who is present, loving, and accepting is much more valuable to a child than
one who says and does everything perfectly. There is no right way to parent, and there is no perfect thing to say. Just remember the goal of communicating acceptance, and come from a place of compassionate curiosity. You can even model this with statements such as, “I don’t know much about pansexuality, but I want to learn more and support you”.
How a Therapist Can Help
A therapist can help parents and children navigate this conversation by providing a safe, neutral, and non-judgmental space to express feelings and improve communication. Parents and children may be especially sensitive around topics of identity, and may start to make assumptions about what each other is thinking or feeling. Family therapy can help slow things down and clarify what is actually being said, as well as identify what still needs to be said. You can find an LGBTQ+ therapist a number of ways, including an online therapist directory.
Coming out to parents can be challenging, but it can also be worth it in the long run under the right circumstances. When parents are accepting and validating, or are open to learning more about your identity, coming out to them can make it easier to be yourself around them.
Unfortunately, parents are not always ready, or do not always have the skills to be supportive and accepting yet. So, you should only come out to them when you are ready and feel safe to do so. Your mental health and wellbeing are top priorities, and you deserve to feel loved, supported, and validated. Even if you have not found them yet, there are lots of people and communities out there waiting to welcome you just as you are.