Emily Rizzo

November 1997

Sparing Parents Pain

Q. I'm 19 and living away from home at college and I've finally accepted that I'm gay. I want to come out to my parents but I'm worried that I'll cause them pain. We've always been a close and loving family and I feel guilty that I'm going to disrupt their lives by my news. I don't think they'll react badly but I do think they will be disappointed in me.

A. Not wanting to cause pain to your parents is one of the most common excuses for not coming out, but in the long run it's counterproductive.

Yes, your parents will probably experience some initial pain and disappointment in the short term, but the good that will come out of telling them will far outweigh the initial negatives.

Virtually all parents go through a series of stages when their child first comes out: shock, denial, grief, understanding and acceptance. Not all parents make it all the way through the process; some get stuck in denial, but most work on through and eventually come to understand that their knowing the truth about their child is beneficial.

You say that you are a close family: these are the parents that do best with accepting a gay child no matter what their previous feelings about homosexuality are. Such parents, when faced with the contradiction between their own child and their preconceived notions about homosexuality, are more likely to believe their child.

If you don't come out to them, there will be less and less of your life that you will be able to share with them. You won't be able to tell them about your partner, your friends, groups you join or going to a gay pride march. Eventually, you will be stuck with nothing to talk about but the weather. You will drift away from them and they will lose you as surely as if they kicked you out of the house.

So how can you tell your parents to cushion the shock? First of all, explain to them that coming out is an act of trust and love; that you want them to see you as you really are, not just as the person they think you are. Explain to them what you are feeling. Tell them how you felt when you first realized you were gay and how long it took you to accept yourself. Be honest with them about your reluctance to tell them because of the pain you might cause.

Also, have some informational books handy and also information about the nearest PFLAG chapter. PFLAG National has an excellent web page at www.pflag.org which contains a list of all chapters, many of which now have e-mail. Take a look as well at the unofficial PFLAG-TALK web page at www.critpath.org/pflag-talk/ which is the home of the two support lists PFLAG-TALK and TGS-PFLAG (for transgendered people and their families).

Finally, give them time to deal with the news. It might take them a little while to "get over it" but in the long run both you and they will be happier for the telling.

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