Telling Your Parents ("Coming Out")
With this information we are trying to help you about how best to approach your parents with what maybe regarded by them as news they may well find shocking. You must be prepared for the possibility that this shock may result in a reaction that you may feel to be rejection. Try to understand that this will hopefully become acceptance given time, so be patient and try not to give way to anger if your news results in what you feel are hurtful responses.
Many parents have difficulty with openly discussing sex. You will probably be aware of the level of their ability to speak on this matter and should take account of this in your approach. Obviously you will have worked out that your existence need not indicate that your parents are very knowledgeable about sexual subjects. Perhaps the amount of sexual knowledge they have imparted to you should be a guideline.
How to tell your parents
There is no single, sure-fire way of telling your parents that you are lesbian or gay. Just as no two families are exactly the same so the method, even the words, will vary from one family to the next. But many reactions are common to all families, and knowing this, it is often possible to work out the best method for your family. Very few parents imagine that their children could possibly be lesbian or gay. Even those who may have had suspicions still feel shocked, sad or angry when confronted with the fact. Try to understand this. You have had, perhaps, several years to gradually come to terms with the fact that you are lesbian or gay. Your parents, when you tell them will have had no time at all. Although teenagers sometimes find it difficult to accept that no one knows them as well as their parents there is no denying that they have watched you develop from birth to the present moment. So they will find it hard to accept that there is a side to you they never knew about.
In the immediate reaction there are certain things that nearly all parents say. These include "How can you be sure at your age?" "I went through a phase like this, you'll grow out of it". "You haven't tried hard enough with the opposite sex", and, ominously, "What about this HIV?" These are difficult things to answer if you feel at all unsure of yourself. Read on and we'll help answer such questions.
If you are young and under the age of consent legally, after a recent equalisation of the law in the United Kingdom, 16 for both homosexuals and heterosexuals (Age of consent in other countries) remember there are two aspects to your situation. The first one is your homosexual feelings, and the second one is your sexual experience, if any. You should therefore carefully consider to what extent you are going to reveal yourself to your parents. Be very careful in countries where homosexuality is illegal.
Homophobia (hatred or prejudice against homosexuals) has many forms but it is based upon ignorance and can be dispelled by knowledge. Remember your parents will have to consider how they will deal with relatives, neighbours, friends, and perhaps their employers or the local church who may become aware that you are lesbian or gay. Try to understand this concern, perhaps point out that you too have to deal in greater measure with the hatred of others. Your parents' reaction may be to become overprotective. Remember that to balance all the homophobia, there exists a lot of positive and enlightened thought and attitudes.
It is best that you are as confident, and indeed as happy about yourself as possible, before talking to your parents. This can be very difficult if, for you, being happy about being lesbian/gay depends upon your parents accepting the fact. If that is indeed the case for you, you may need the advice of a sympathetic counsellor, but be sure that you approach one who can accept lesbian/gay attitudes.
For others, the confidence needed to approach their parents can come from several sources: from joining a lesbian/gay youth group or a social group if you are older; from having lesbian/gay friends or Social Media friends (eg Facebook) who may be in the same situation. Or perhaps from talking to parents who already accept their lesbian/gay offspring or from getting to know a family where one or more of the children are accepted as being lesbian/gay. It is for you to decide which of these will give you the confidence to approach your parents.
Who to tell?
Meanwhile, you can start by making a positive decision. Do you want to tell both your parents at this stage, or only one? Most of us find it easier to talk to one parent rather than the other when something is bothering us. It might also be that one of your parents could not accept the fact at this moment, or that for them, the news might come better from the parent you have talked to. Decide what is right in your particular family.
Decide, too, if there is a relative or family friend it would be better to talk to first, either for advice about how to tell your parents, or for help in telling them. By making these decisions you are already starting to bring under control what has until now been nothing but a problem.
Sons and daughters frequently try to get a guide by watching their parents' reactions to, say, a TV soap opera, play, or documentary that features homosexuality, or hearing their response to press media news or perhaps by noting how they get on with someone known to be lesbian/gay.
This is not a true guide. Parents might say "Look at those queers", not dreaming for a moment that this could mean you. Similarly accepting someone as lesbian/gay in the next street or at work is not the same as accepting your own child as lesbian/gay.
Usually, it is most helpful to think of your relationship with your parents and what happened when other things have been difficult for you.
When is the right time to tell?
Choose your moment. All families have times that are right for talking, and these are usually better than trying to create a moment. Sometimes events may make this choice for you. When something is on your mind, it can build up to such a point that it simply spills out. Let it happen. Your unconscious mind often knows best about these things.
Also be prepared for one of your parents making the first approach. They may have found something that alarms them or feel that you have something on your mind. You will be caught off guard and feel trapped. Admit that you are lesbian/gay and say you would like to talk about it. That is enough to start with. People want to tell their parents that they are lesbian/gay for many reasons, but mostly these are to do with honesty and love. Just occasionally you may want to tell them so you can hurt them, perhaps when you are in a bad mood. This rarely works, and usually rebounds badly. Neither is it fair. Your parents have not made you lesbian/gay, even if mistakenly they think they have. They will realise that you are talking out of temper and your words will carry less weight.
The right words
There are no standard phrases or words for telling your parents that you are lesbian/gay. Many people start by saying they want to tell their parents something that fear has forced them to keep hidden, or that there is something on their mind that they find very difficult to talk about. If your parents have wondered whether you are lesbian/gay that is when they will ask you, making this probably the easiest way for the subject to come up.
Perhaps a good approach to take would be to say, "I've known for "X" years that I'm lesbian/gay and I've been too frightened to tell you. I didn't want to hurt you and I was worried you might reject me. I hope you don't, because I don't feel any different about you". However, there are not many daughters or sons who would start a conversation like that. Indeed, it's enough to say, as most do, "I'm lesbian/gay", or "I think I'm lesbian/gay", or "I've known for a while I'm lesbian/gay", or whatever words come most easily to you. Tell your parents why you have not told them before. Usually this is because children fear rejection by their parents, or have not wanted to hurt them. You may have got used to these fears, but they will be new to your parents.
After this point it is difficult to give specific advice, because parents' initial reactions can vary. There are, however, two points nearly all gay children have in common, which are best mentioned early on. The first is that coping alone is extremely difficult and so pressure has built up inside you. This may help your parents to understand moods and reactions of yours that seemed out of character at the time.
Still the Same Person
The second point is that you still love your parents. You are the same daughter or son they thought you were and it is a measure of your love that you have been able to tell them about yourself after such a difficult time.
If either you or your parents hold religious beliefs it may be helpful if you contact the appropriate religious organisation to obtain some literature and help. We recognise that in the case of certain religious beliefs there are difficult, even dangerous problems and advise you to contact a supportive religious organisation before "coming out" to parents. Our links page should prove helpful.
Not Only Sex
If they think that being lesbian/gay is just a matter of sex, explain that it is not. The love, happiness, trust and affection that your parents hoped you would find in marriage will still happen, but with someone of your own sex. Just as in marriage, sex will be part of this love. When your parents are in shock, they may not completely understand this at first. Nevertheless, it will help them to hear it at this point.
Three difficulties parents may have in understanding homosexuality
The first is choice. Many believe this is something you have chosen to do, or have been persuaded into by someone already homosexual. Try to point out how unlikely this is.
Adolescence is difficult anyway. Someone who thinks they are lesbian/gay has had to face the thought of rejection by their friends as well as parents; scorn, or worse, from those they mix with day by day; isolation; immense difficulty in finding other lesbian/gay people and. maybe even aggression. Would you have taken on these pressures if you did not have to? It is most unlikely. Emphasise that you do not choose to be lesbian/gay. It might be helpful for your parents to read Our guide for families and friends of lesbians and gays Ask them to consider it before discussing further. Say how much their love, acceptance and support will mean to you as encounters and problems are faced.
The second is you may hear your parents express the fear that you are under the sexual influence of another person. Agree that it is true that some people can so respond, but it will only be lasting if this reaction is natural to them. Point out that heterosexuals too are subject to similar reactions in their relationships and can also be unwise.
This leads on to the third thing that most parents find very difficult. Often, from memories of their own childhood, parents will ask about a "homosexual phase" when someone has fantasies about, a "crush" on, or sex with, one or more people of their own sex before settling down into a heterosexual (male-female) relationship. Parents call this a passing phase of homosexuality. This has nothing to do with homosexuality, but is just an experiment with sex that could have happened with almost anyone around at the time, male or female, and is usually forgotten very quickly.
When young people hero-worship someone of their own sex to the point of wanting sex with them, this too is very different from homosexuality. If the fantasies were to come true, most people, unless they were in fact lesbian/gay would actually find it totally unsatisfactory and would not pursue it.
There are people who are equally attracted to sexual relationships with the opposite sex as well as their own. They are termed bisexual and this feeling is obviously natural to them. They should be accepted as such, neither condemned nor applauded for their orientation. It is all a matter of determining for yourself your own sexual orientation.
This leaves a very small minority of people who have relationship involving both sex and affection with someone of their own sex. These are one-off relationships which happen with a particular person at a particular time, probably never to be repeated, and not to be confused with searching for lovers of your own sex.
Parents may find it difficult if you relate well to the opposite sex. You may have good friends, or have gone out with someone of the opposite sex, so parents will assume you are attracted to them. If you took someone out as a cover-up, say so. These are simple explanations of something your parents find very baffling. Explain also that you can enjoy friends or companions of both sexes at a social level without a sexual link.
In their shock your parents may say things they do not mean or afterwards regret. Don't be frightened; we all do this. When the shock wears off parents will often say "Why did this happen to us?" or "Where did we go wrong?" There is a limit to how much you can explain about yourself, and sometimes this is where the limit is reached. If you have not previously given them the booklet referred to, then consider telling them about the parents' organisations that exist, run by parents who have undergone similar experiences.
With pressures of any sort it is often easier to talk with someone outside the family. But it is important that a sympathetic ear is sought and, regretfully, some members of the medical and religious bodies can be opposed to lesbians and gays. If your parents do not wish to contact Parents' organisations straight away, they may do so later.
There is a time, too, to stop talking. This usually comes naturally, often when everything has been said and perhaps repeated. At this point let the subject go. Let a little ordinary life resume. This in itself will help. It is then best to let your parents bring up the subject if they choose to do so. Several things can happen at this point. Your parents may gradually accept the fact; they may want to talk about it at a later date, perhaps in a guarded way, or perhaps less bewildered than they were previously. They may try to ignore what has happened, or, they may even, after a little while, pretend nothing has happened. Whatever occurs, remember they have had an immense shock. The time people take to absorb shock varies with every individual. Be aware of your parents need for this thinking time of their own, but if after this, it seems that what you have said is being ignored or forgotten, talk to them again using the knowledge and experience you gained the first time. If this does not work, or seems impossible, it is time to get help from outside. Remember you have access to advice from the many Lesbian and Gay switchboards listed in the 'phone directory, and also to Lesbian and Gay advisory organisations that exist. Contact them and explain your dilemma. Even when things turn out well, parents sometimes feel a delayed shock later on. They, like anyone else, can find that something they have accepted in their minds is difficult to fully accept in their hearts. Here again, if you realise what is happening, it will be easier to cope with.
If you have thought along the lines suggested in this page and understand that your parents cannot come around overnight, it is reasonable to say to them that you have been honest with them, that you have tried to live your life in a way that respects your family, and as they tried so hard to understand, why let all this go to waste now? It is better, surely, to talk things over again, particularly as it was helpful the first time.
In some families, talking directly about your lesbian/gay orientation is not helpful. It may be better to gradually let your parents know that you are lesbian/gay, allowing them to realise at a pace they can take. Sometimes it will be fairly clear that this is the best way. In other families, it may take a discussion with someone outside the family to work out that this is the best approach for you. If you are in a permanent relationship, try to gently introduce your partner into your family when you feel that they are most at ease with the idea of a same sex relationship. Remember that it can be difficult for some parents, especially fathers, to cope with physical displays of affection. Same sex partnerships often highlight the fact that there will not be grandchildren, and many parents will regret this. This is another unfair emotional burden that is put upon lesbians and gays.
As an unmarried person your parents are legally your next of kin. Should you die suddenly, perhaps in illness or accident, have you left a Will properly drawn up to protect your partner? Although this will protect any disposition of property, unfortunately, as the law stands at present. your parents could insist on directing your funeral and may try to deny that your partner exists. So building up a happy and accepted relationship with your family is most important to you, to your family and to your partner.
Younger lesbian and gay persons are, in general, more vulnerable to problems arising from rejection. However, in our experience, much of the advice given above applies equally to the older person who wishes to be honest and seeks the acceptance and love of parents who have been unaware of their sexual orientation. Equally it provides a basis for "coming out" to brothers and sisters and other members of the family. It is simply because of the unique position of parents that we concentrated upon this particular aspect.
AIDS is almost certain to be a major worry with your parents, and indeed it should be a matter of deep concern to you to ensure that you practice safer sex with your partner at all times. This of course applies just as much to heterosexual as well as homosexual activity. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a viral infection that can lead to the development of AIDS (Auto Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
The commonest cause of infection is by unprotected sex with an infected partner (who may be completely unaware that they are infected). It is passed on when blood, semen, or vaginal fluids are exchanged during intercourse, or by using shared needles in intravenous drug injection. Rarely, it can result from blood transfusions where the donor blood has not been properly screened, but this is unusual in the UK
The only real safeguard is to ensure that in all sexual acts, which involve vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse, a protective sheath (condom) is used to prevent actual unprotected contact. If using lubrication a non-oil based "KY" type must be used; oil, Vaseline, baby oil and similar products will break down the latex sheath. So make sure for the sake of yourself and your partner that at all times you use a sheath in any act of intercourse. Also be able to reassure your parents of your continued intention to use "safer sex" methods (as indeed should your heterosexual brothers and sisters). Lesbians also need to be aware and take care.
There are many pieces of advice in this booklet. Don't think that you have to remember them all. The points that are the most helpful to you will stand out and should enable you to approach one or both of your parents with confidence. Homosexuality is part of you, it is not all of you. It is not as important, for instance, as the type of person you are. However, it is impossible to become a full, happy human being if your sexuality is denied, particularly by those who love you. By helping your parents to see this last part of you, you will be helping to strengthen the bonds between you, and greatly raise everyone's chance of happiness.
For further help we have also have...
- A Guide For Families And Friends of Lesbian and Gays
This information has been written primarily for parents but is also useful for families and friends
- Our Kids Are Alright Booklet (PDF format - Get a free PDF reader - Site looks cheap but excellent PDF reader)
LGF's excellent booklet for Parents of Gay and Lesbian Children produced with help from us.
You can also watch...
- Parents Talking About Their Lesbian and Gay Children Video
A video of Parents describing their feelings when discovering they had a lesbian or gay child
Or have a look at...
- Our Photos and Movies
Photos and movies of Manchester Parents Group and our activities.