How to come out to your parents

by Emily Rizzo
February 1996

I don't think there's an easy or simple way to come out to your parents. In fact, telling them is going to be one of the toughest things you will ever have to do in your life. There are, however, ways you can prepare to make it a less uncomfortable experience for everyone.

  1. Decide if you are ready. What do you expect your parents' reaction will be? If they withdraw their support financially or emotionally, are you prepared? There is nothing wrong with waiting until you feel the time is most advantageous for you.

  2. Know what to expect; this means reading up in advance. Parents go through a complex set of reactions and follow similar paths toward acceptance, although some get stuck along the way. PFLAG has a wonderful pamphlet called "Read This Before Coming Out to Your Parents." In addition, there are several good books available on coming out, one of the best I know is Michelangelo Signorile's "Outing Yourself."

  3. Contact your local PFLAG chapter; check out the national PFLAG directory now online. Find out when and where they meet and get a hotline number your parents can call if they want to talk to someone right away. You might want to go to a meeting yourself beforehand; some PFLAG chapters run mini coming out groups for gay, lesbian and bisexual people. While you are there, pick up some brochures for your parents.

  4. Gather your materials. In addition to the PFLAG information (pamphlets, meeting information, and a hotline number), buy a book or two for your parents. There are a number of books written just for parents: ("Now that You Know" "Beyond Acceptance" are just two titles). Also buy them a general book about homosexuality; Eric Marcus' "Is It a Choice?" in Q & A format is written specifically for gay-friendly straights. Before you turn these over to your parents, read them yourself!

  5. Pick your time. Make sure you will have their full attention for a couple of hours at an otherwise stress-free time. Don't come out over the Thanksgiving turkey or at your sister's wedding.

  6. Be calm, mature, and in control. For the next few hours you will be the "parent" and they may act immature, irrational and say some nasty or stupid things that they will no doubt regret later on.

Finally, don't expect acceptance overnight. It took you years to accept your own sexual orientation and your parents are going to need months or even years to deal with your news.

Is all this fair? Of course not!

Why should you pander to your parents' prejudices? Because we live in a world permeated with free-floating homophobia; and we are all, gay and straight alike, raised to be homophobic. The whole reason you are coming out to your parents is to build a closer relationship built on honesty and trust; isn't that worth the extra time and effort?

Emily Rizzo

Emily Rizzo will answer your questions in The Parent's Corner each month. Due to the volume of mail, we cannot guarantee that every question will get a personal response. Responses will appear in the next monthly issue of Oasis. The confidentiality of respondents is guaranteed, and questions can be anonymous or identified by a first name, age and location. Emily can be reached at oasis-emily@oasismag.com.
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