Coming out in families

Coming out will be a different experience for different people. Some young people will have struggled with their sexuality or gender identity, and may find it difficult to tell friends and family. Others may find it liberating to be able to express themselves freely. But whatever the situation, coming out to a parent, sibling or other family member can be extremely stressful.

Understanding what your young person is feeling

Conversations about sexuality or gender mean revealing very personal feelings and desires that your young person may still be coming to terms with, and they fear others may not understand. Deciding to tell a family member about being sexuality or gender diverse brings with it a risk of rejection and loss of family connection – it can be an incredibly scary thing to do.

This means that young people preparing to come out will really notice when parents or other family members show inclusive and positive feelings towards same-sex attracted or gender-diverse people. Your young person may not have had close contact with another person who is like them to get support and advice, so it's important that they know you are there to support them.

“My sister told my dad while I was in my room, and when she had finished explaining to him, my dad called me upstairs while my sister walked down crying. I was expecting a bad situation, but my dad hugged me and asked why I didn’t tell him this myself, and I am his son and he will love me no matter what.”

Sometimes young people are ‘outed’ before they are ready. A parent or sibling may have found a young person searching for LGBTI information online, or they may have been outed at school. If this has happened, it’s likely that your young person will be anxious about how people are going to react. It will be important to acknowledge and understand how distressing this may be.

It’s useful to remember that not every young person will want to celebrate their coming out. Some may disclose their sexuality or gender identity because they want to, others because they need to. It’s important to recognise this so your child or loved one can guide you in relation to how they feel about coming out and what they want and need at this time.

Some young people may be feeling isolated and/or particularly excited to meet other young people like them. It is important to check with the young person what is important to them, and remember that families can play a key role in supporting young people to connect with their peers.

When a young person in your family comes out

Some parents or family members may feel a sense of relief that their child has told them – whether this is because they had a sense they might be LGBTI, or just because they’re pleased their child felt comfortable enough to talk to them.

Some parents describe feeling shocked, paralysed or like ‘a bomb has dropped’ on the family. Some people feel a sense of shame, sadness and/or grief. These feelings and reactions are not uncommon.

If you feel you need to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, be honest with your young person about this. Discuss with them who you could talk with, so they know who else is aware and they have some control over the situation. It can be useful to talk with a health professional, counsellor or other families who have similar experiences.


REMEMBER

Your child or loved one needs to know they are loved unconditionally, especially when they’re asking fundamental questions about who they are, or changing the way they present themselves to the world.

It’s crucial you remind them repeatedly that you love them and are proud of them.

As a family member, you are in a really strong position to provide reassurance and a supportive environment.

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