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January 29, 2020

How Do I Come Out to My Family?

Hey, Bonita…

Hey Bonita,

I'm quite a mess when it comes to being honest with people. Last time I was honest about a big thing, I threw up and hyperventilated. Honesty might be my worst fear, but lately, I've really been fed up with keeping everything in. I'd like your advice on a particular problem: How do I come out?

My parents are very accepting, but I just have such a hard time saying things without bursting into tears or chickening out. Every time I'm with them, all I want to do is shout “I’m gay,” but I choke up.

I'm afraid they'll say I can't be sure and dismiss it, or that things will change between us. The last thing I want is to sit down with them, start crying and then blurt out “I like girls,” just to have my parents invalidate me and make things awkward.

Closeted and Confused

Hey C&C, 

Coming out isn’t going to be easy, no matter what. Even if your family is supportive—or even dismissive, in a “Yeah, we know” kind of way—the tension of preparing to say the words will be nerve-wracking. It’s part of it. I look forward to a future where young LGBTQIA people don’t have to come out—where they have always been their authentic selves, and “coming out” stops being this huge, strangely public part of our narrative. It’s almost as if we’re expected to make a spectacle of it—to sit the entire extended family down in the parlor and let the sound of “Mom, I’m gay” rattle the rafters. Please know that you don’t have to make this happen in any way that is not comfortable for you. This is your story and your life, and you are the only one who decides how things go.

Personally, I tried to make my coming out very dramatic, because that is what I’d always seen in the media and had heard from the few queer people I knew who’d been disowned by their families. (I’m from a very small, very rural town in the Deep South. Georgia doesn’t have a town that compares, believe me.) I sent my parents a letter telling them I was a lesbian—I’m actually bi/pan, but a lesbian identity felt more legitimate to me in 1998—and my dad called me to tell me it was a phase. My mom just said that she loved me no matter what and that it wasn’t a big deal for her. Dad only took about a year to get over his wack position on my sexuality, and now, 22 years later, I can say with full confidence that my sexuality is not an issue in any way, shape or form for any of my family members. They love me, and I always knew that they wouldn’t abandon the real me. 

I feel like you have a similar confidence in your parents. You describe loving and accepting people whose worst might be similar to what my dad said. I dismissed it when he said that, because, frankly, I knew he’d say something like that, and I went on with my life. While I can’t speak for the effect a comment like that might have on you, today I don’t feel dismissed or invalidated by it. I can see my dad for the human that he is, and of course a man born in a slum in 1951 isn’t going to have the understanding or even the vocabulary to discuss sexuality with his rebellious daughter. He wasn’t trying to hurt me, and he has always done the best he can for me.

Some people just bring home their new partner. Some people delightfully share a crush with their most compassionate parent, then let them inform the one they’re really worried about. Some people send home a handwritten letter. Some people shout “I’m gay” at brunch. It really is up to you how this goes down, and I think making the choice of how to do it is stressing you more than the actual task at hand. You just need to make your decision, and then follow through. Trust yourself, trust your confidence in your family, and get ready to truly be yourself.

Need advice? Email advice@flagpole.com, use the anonymous form at flagpole.com/getadvice, or find Bonita on Twitter: @flagpolebonita.

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