Coming out to your parents is the hardest thing you could ever do.
Personally, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. At the time I jumped into it and before I knew it, I was in over my head. Since 2013, I have worked at SHOC as the Gender & Sexuality Counsellor and have helped many students to come out to their families.
Having an idea of when you should do it, what to prepare, what to expect and what to do afterwards is important. The information below is based on my own personal experience of coming out, research in the field and from countless students I’ve supported during this process.
Do it when you are ready
There is no rule saying that you have to come out to anyone, but often people find that there is a weight lifted from their shoulders once they do.
Coming out is hard, but it is even worse if you are not ready, or if it is taken out of your control and someone outs you instead.
Being comfortable with and having a greater understanding of yourself is the best way to prepare yourself to come out.
Before coming out, you need to have a plan and be sure that you are prepared to do it. Having your own support network of close friends and/or partner(s) is vital. This is not something that you need to do alone, so having others around you, especially afterwards, can make a huge difference.
Talking with friends about their coming out experiences is good, but support from a neutral person like a psychologist, counsellor or other professional that you trust and are out to can make a huge difference.
Be prepared for the need to support yourself financially after coming out. You may need to find somewhere temporary to stay for a few days until long term living arrangements can be made. Having a good support network and a professional to talk to can provide an important safety net at this time.
Think about how you want to do it, coming out in person, via letter, email, or even a video are all options. I do recommend having a professional person, someone neutral, to speak with so that you can discuss and discover which will be the best option for you and your family.
Have information and resources for your parents. They may have questions and answering them while they are emotional might not be the best idea. Providing prepared information allows them to read over it afterwards when they are feeling calmer.
Expect the unexpected
Hearing that their child is not heterosexual or cisgender can be very shocking and confronting for parents. There can be a strong grief or loss reaction, so give your parents some information on professional services or support groups they can contact.
Parents and family may not accept the information which you have just told them and instead, choose to believe that it is not true or that there is another reason for this. Many parents believe this is something which can be fixed or solved. Having information and resources for your parents is the best way to navigate any denial that they may have.
You may be asked questions like “Are you sure?”, “Aren’t you too young to know?” or “Have you given being straight or cisgender a try?”. How you approach the topic with your parents can help with any resistance you may encounter. Therefore, knowing how to start the conversation and the best approach for your parents is important.
They may embrace you with open arms, accepting the information that you have given them, thanking you for it and celebrating it with you. You may have thought that it would not work out well, and be surprised when it does.
Check in with someone afterwards
No matter what happens when you come out, it is always good to check in with your support network or your professional person to talk with afterwards. If the experience does not go as planned, then it is good to debrief. Regardless, it is nice to have the support that they can offer you.
Be aware that it may take some time for everything to settle and a new way of being to take its place. There will be change after you come out to your family, it is hard, but you never have to do it alone.
I have written this blog to let you know that if you need someone to speak with about coming out, or anything else related to your gender and/or sexuality then I am here to help.