“How do I come out to my parents?” This is one of the most common questions we get from LGBTQ+ Christians who contact us. We thought it would be a good idea to seek the wisdom and advice of our Generous Space community, drawing on the experiences of real LGBTQ+ people and their parents. We’ve compiled all their ideas into a paraphrased list below. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this conversation!
– Build confidence and support by coming out to a few other safe people first. Like it or not, our parents’ opinion about us tends to have an especially large impact on our identity and self-esteem. It’s usually a good idea to begin the coming out experience by talking to other people in your life. Choose those whom you’re fairly certain will react well, who will support you as you talk to your parents. Talking to them first will help you practice articulating your experiences and answering some common questions.
– If you still live with your parents or depend on them financially, consider postponing the conversation. You may want to wait until you’re more independent, or at least until you have a back-up plan, in case this disclosure affects your housing/financial situation. Even if you’re not dependent on your parents in these ways, count the potential cost and ask yourself if you have people in your life who can support you emotionally if you experience rejection. At New Direction, we’d be happy to connect you with supportive people who live near you, or at very least connect you to our online community.
– Trust your instincts as you consider how and when to come out to your parents… you likely know them better than most people do. There’s no one-size-fits-all, “right” way to come out. If you’re already out to other family members (siblings, aunts and uncles, etc.), seek advice from them about how and when your parents might best hear this news from you. For context, you might want to think back to other times your parents have dealt with surprising revelations, conflicts in the family, or difficult issues with you or your siblings. What can you learn from those past experiences?
– It’s okay to come out in a letter or email, especially if you expect a negative response. This may feel less personal than meeting them face-to-face, but face-to-face meetings can bring lasting harm in some cases. Some parents, in their initial shock, say and do things they immediately wish they could take back. Sending your parents something in writing lets them experience their instinctive emotional reactions without you being present to witness them. After they have collected themselves, you can follow up with a conversation in person to answer some of their follow-up questions.
– Write down what you want to say, either in point form or long form. Even if you want to come out to your parents in person, if you practice by writing things down, it will help you collect your thoughts, and you may end up wanting to read aloud portions of what you’ve written to ensure you’re covering your bases. Consider how you might explain certain terms and ideas, and list the parts of your story you want to include when you talk to them.
– If you choose come out to your parents in person, consider the best location and time. Choose a day without pressing commitments so that you have plenty of time together. Find a place where you feel safe and comfortable, where you won’t likely be interrupted, and where there’s freedom for you to leave easily. For example, rather than choosing your home, or their home, you might want to pick a “third space” like a coffee shop or an outdoor location where you and your parents don’t feel constrained to remain together if there is awkwardness or a need for personal space following your conversation.
– Have one or two safe people on stand-by to pray for you and help you debrief. Let them know ahead of time once you’ve scheduled a conversation with your parents, and have them remain available that day so they can be present with you afterward and help you process what happened. If you’re feeling especially anxious, you may want to invite one of these people to accompany you for moral support during your meeting with your parents.
– Prepare yourself spiritually for coming out. Center yourself on God’s unfailing love for you. Find comfort by reading the psalms. Meditate on the unchanging reality that you are God’s beloved child. Breathe. Focus on showing up and telling the truth, and rather than imagining a thousand potential scenarios, try to let go of the outcome, realizing that it is entirely outside your control. Trust God to work in the lives of your parents just as God has worked in your own life.
– Instead of trying to “soften the blow,” be as honest and transparent as you can be. For example, don’t say “I think I’m gay” if you are very sure you’re gay. Check to see if they know what you mean when you use terms like “gay” or “bisexual.” Be clear about your attractions and relationships. When you seem to be obscuring parts of your story, fear can lead your parents to apply their worst stereotypes and misconceptions to your life. This can easily be avoided if you’re open with them from the start.
– Talk about how your faith has played a part in your journey with your sexuality/gender identity. It’s common for parents to assume that coming out means abandoning faith, so explain where you’re at with God. Mention any Christian books or blogs you’ve read on the topic. Tell them if you’ve spent time praying, or if you’ve sought wisdom from other Christians, whether LGBTQ+ or straight. Don’t be afraid to share ways that your faith has deepened, shifted or changed as you’ve wrestled with this. You may even want to suggest some faith-based resources for them to consult.
– Be clear if you want your parents to keep this news confidential, or if you’re giving them permission to tell other people (and whom). They might also appreciate knowing whom you’ve already told. It’s best if you can suggest at least one other person your parents could share the news with, so that they don’t feel so alone as they process it. Be aware that when you come out of the closet, your parents may be tempted to enter their own closet. Like you, they may be afraid or anxious about telling other people the news because of the impact it will have on their relationships and communities. It might take time for them to “come out” with their new identity as parents of an LGBTQ+ child – try to empathize with this experience.
– Give parents plenty of time and space to process this for themselves. When it comes to your sexual orientation or gender identity, you’ve probably had lots of time to face your fears, explore how this fits with your faith, and find answers to your questions. But for your parents, that journey has just begun, and it won’t happen overnight. They may need to grieve the death of the specific dreams they had for your life, or adjust their ideas about who God wants you to be. If you’re trans, your parents may need time to let go of their close attachment to your birth name and gender. Be as patient as you can be with them, and give them space seek help and resources.
– Set boundaries if your parents’ responses are causing you pain. Even if their intention is to love you, their opinions and reactions may not be well informed and your conversations may be too emotionally charged or spiritually manipulative to be beneficial to any of you. If things are becoming unhealthy, suggest other places where they can process their emotions and find information, and set boundaries around how often you will communicate with them, and which topics are off the table, at least in the short term.
– Remember that first reactions are not necessarily enduring reactions. Many parents in our community initially responded to their child’s coming out with resistance, confusion, and fear, but over time, once they learned more and worked through their grief, they were able to accept their child. Sometimes parents seem to react well initially, but then the shock wears off, and in follow-up conversations they can be more hesitant, disapproving, or slow to accept the news. If you’re frustrated with your parents’ initial responses, continue to pray for them and maintain hope that they will learn to love and accept you as you are. But even if they don’t change…
– Give yourself permission to seek joy and peace regardless of their opinions. Acknowledge that you can’t control their responses, and that their responses are neither your fault nor your responsibility. It’s not your job to convince them of anything or to save them from their fear or shame. Keep good boundaries, and even if you can’t keep the door open at all times, at least keep it unlocked.
– We have a God who “sets the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:6). If your family responds negatively, pray for God to provide “chosen family” for you, including surrogate parents and brothers and sisters in Christ who will care for you. Contact New Direction for more information about accessing support in your city.
– Recognize that your coming out is a gift, an invitation for others to learn more of you and love more of you. Not everyone will see it as a gift, but as you accept yourself, and refuse to be scandalized by yourself, you will create space for others to accept you.
New Direction has several Parents’ Support Groups, some that function online, and some that meet in person. We also have resources available that are designed specifically for parents, and as staff, we are sometimes willing to act mediators in difficult conversations between parents and their LGBTQ+ children. If your parents are seeking help, feel free to point them our way.
And if you have any further advice or wisdom of your own to add to our list, please leave a comment below!