Coming out to your family and friends can seem like an insurmountable task. Unfortunately, we still live in a culture where being part of the LGBT community is often stigmatized. In some situations it can create rifts between you and your family, or even be dangerous.
Even if you feel that your social group may have a positive reaction, a fear of the unknown often causes people to hold back on the process for far too long. Ultimately, coming out is important and the first step to living as your true, authentic self. We’ve compiled this list of pointers to make the process as easy and painless as possible.
Make Sure You’re in a Good Mental State
Coming out can be a tumultuous process, and you may be opening yourself up to criticism and attacks even from those close to you. If you’re unsure of the reaction your family will have to this new revelation, make sure that you have a clear mind and that you’re feeling as good as you can feel given the current situation. Starting the process with any sort of guilt or self-doubt is only going to add to the stress if things go badly. You can’t control the reaction of your family and friends, but you can control the lens through which you view your sexuality. Learn to love yourself and live proudly, and hopefully your friends and family will follow suit.
Choose the Right Time and Place
Like all of these tips, choosing the right time is about taking charge of all the aspects of the coming out process that you can control. Make sure you choose a physical environment and a period of time where your family and friends will be most likely to respond positively to this important news. Opt for a private, comfortable area and (if possible) a time where your family isn’t struggling with other issues. Learning about and accepting your sexuality can be an all-consuming process, so try to avoid overlapping your coming out with other stressful experiences that have the potential to shift their reactions to a more negative place.
Set Yourself up with a Support Network
This article is about coming out to your family and friends, but these are two separate groups of people that can have widely different reaction. Odds are that you have at least a few people in your life that will be supportive and accepting, even if a lot of people close to you might not have the response you were looking for. It’s no secret that coming out can be divisive and even ruin some of your relationships, so surround yourself with positive people to help cushion the blow. If you don’t have a support system in place and your loved ones react badly, you could find yourself struggling and even isolated. The last thing you need after accepting yourself is to be shunned by others, so set yourself up for success as much as possible.
Ensure Your Own Comfort and Safety
As important as it may seem to come out right here and right now, there are some practical concerns you should take into account before giving the news to your family. Many young people are dependent on their families for financial and housing support, and you should avoid the possibility of making your life more difficult if said support were to be withdrawn. Getting a negative reaction from a loved one is always hard, but it will be a lot harder if you suddenly don’t have a place to live or have to drop out of college. Sometimes it’s worth it to wait until you have more independence and you have the ability to remove yourself from a negative environment.
Be Prepared to Educate
Many people have had very little exposure to aspects of the LGBT community and may have preconceived notions that are very likely to be inaccurate or just straight up harmful. Many straight people unfamiliar with the community tend to hold onto the thought that homosexuality is immoral, hypersexualized, or otherwsie at odds with their world view. Be prepared to educate and respond to their arguments. Staying calm and collected and showing your family and friends that this is just a normal part of who you are and that it doesn’t have to change everything will make the process a little less stressful.
Be as Patient as Possible
Most of this article has been focused on how to avoid negative situations, which is unfortunately often a real concern. Regardless of your family and friends’ reactions, it’s definitely possible that they’ll come to accept you in time. Even the more understanding people will often need some time to process this revelation, especially if they were completely blindsided by the news. Sometimes you won’t get the initial response you were hoping for, but that doesn’t mean things will always be that way. Have patience and allow your loved ones time to sort out their own feelings and accept you for the way you are.
Many people view their initial coming out as a huge turning point in their life, and it definitely is. But the process extends far beyond the initial conversation. Tying in with the patience section above, realize that you’ll be “coming out” to various people for most of your life. Sexuality is often not something we wear on our sleeve and it doesn’t always come up in conversation, but it’s an important part of who we are and how we relate to others.
Heterosexuality is viewed as the “default”, and when you’re different it can sometimes be hard to fit in. Coming out to family and friends is a huge accomplishment and if you prepare correctly it can be a huge weight lifted off of your chest, but living safely and happily as an LGBT person is an exercise in confidence and education. Be ready to re-apply the tips in this article at various points throughout your life, but take solace in the fact that it gets a little easier each time. As you mature into a strong, confident member of the LGBT community this initial turning point in your life will transform into a memory of the point where you began living as who you truly are.