Coming out to your family can be overwhelming. You don’t know the response until you tell them… and then it’s too late. I hope this blog (written with a gay friend) will help. Jacob, this is for you.
This is the most fundamental piece of advice, and also the most important. It is so easy to water down the truth of what you are saying out of fear, but this will never work out well in the long run. Instead, be honest and clear about the truth of your experience and feelings. If you have uncertainties, it is okay to be honest about those, too. You want to get them on the same page as you, so you can go through this together.
Tell a friend first
If you have a close, trusted friend who is outside of your family, think about telling them first. This gives you a sort of “practice run” with someone who you trust, making it easier the second or third time around. Of course, ask them to keep it completely confidential until you are ready to tell others.
Answer some of their questions before they ask them
While some may debate this one, I believe it is much easier to try to answer some of their questions before they have a chance to ask them. Rather than just saying, “I’m gay,” and then waiting for the crickets, tell them a bit more about your journey. Say things like, “I have been feeling this a long time,” or “I know I had a[n opposite sex] girlfriend/boyfriend, but I just did not have those feelings for them.” This kind of preemptive answering can also help alleviate some of the potentially awkward/hurtful questions they may otherwise ask.
For most Christian parents, this is a whole new world for them, even newer than it is for you. Know that, in their confusion, they may say things that feel hurtful. While it is important to acknowledge that hurt, and even tell them (now or later) that what they said was very hurtful to you, it will not help your communication if you storm away because they asked something like “Have you tried just not being gay?” (Sure, I’ll get right on that — thanks, Mom and Dad.) Instead, take a moment to breathe, and remember that you have been preparing for a while, but this is a shock for them. Better yet, forgive them ahead of time. Remind yourself that there is a good chance they will say something wrong, and it doesn’t mean they no longer love you.
Give them time to hear God for themselves
Most Christian parents have internalized from church that homosexuality is a sin and a choice. Those beliefs can be so firmly stuck (from years of repetition) that only God can dislodge them! Give Him time. Offer resources (and here) to help them work through it. I’m not justifying their negative reaction in the least – their job is to love you without condition. But this might help you see how their reluctance here is not at all about you.
Ask for their prayer
This is an easy one, but it says a lot. It acknowledges that you are always their child, and that your coming out has not changed your relationship with God. One of the hardest things for my friends and family to understand was that my faith and my orientation were perfectly compatible; many assumed that I had chosen orientation over faith. Not so! Just be sure to acknowledge what you want prayer for specifically; ask for prayers for protection from bullying or violence, for God’s guidance as you come out to other people, for deeper growth and joy in your relationships. This helps them know that you do not view this as an “issue to overcome”, and in fact, it is even okay to specifically ask them not to pray for change. Instead, ask for them to pray for God’s clear will in your life, and for positive prayers that can help them understand your hopes and desires.
Tragically, some of you may have parents who are very homophobic. I am so sorry for what you have had to go through. If you worry for your safety with your parents, you have a couple of options. First, find a family member or friend (or two) whom you trust completely – maybe an aunt/uncle or church mentor – and tell them first. When you’re ready to tell your parents, you can ask them to come along as a protective presence. (It definitely helps if this person is physically intimidating.) The other option is to tell your parents from a distance, by phone or email/letter. While it is usually better to have this conversation in person where communication will be easier, the exception is when you are afraid for your physical or emotional safety. Do not put yourself in harm’s way. Finally, if you are seriously concerned, I strongly recommend you wait until you are 18 and have the independence to leave if necessary.
Telling them does have to not mean telling everyone – unless it does
If you are not ready for other family or friends to know, tell them to keep it completely confidential. Ask them not to tell your brother or sister, Aunt Bertha, or even their “prayer partners”. Tell them that you will reveal this to people in your own timing, and that it is important to you to tell them personally.
If you truly do not trust them to keep it confidential, that is a different matter. In this case, think about people whom you may want to tell personally (siblings, grandparents, etc) and prepare to tell them all at the same time or within a short period (before or after) so that it comes from your lips and not your parents’.
Do not be afraid
The most often repeated divine imperative is “Do not be afraid.” Almost every time an angel appears in Scripture, it immediately begins with the same command: “Do not be afraid!” When faced with the unknown, our first instinct is fear. Why? Because it is something out of our control. We are afraid of things we may not be able change, but that could potentially change us. The truth is that you cannot control your parents’ response – but you can control yours. They could reject you, waver for a time, welcome you with open arms, or any of a hundred other responses. The fact that you cannot control their response provides you with an incredible opportunity: to cling to the truth of God’s love in the face of possible rejection. Yes, it will be a deep loss if they choose to reject you, and it will be healthy to grieve that loss. But assurance in God means that no matter what they do, they cannot take away His love for you or the truth of His involvement in your life. No. Matter. What. Do not be afraid, for He is your God.
Let me urge you that this is not a foolproof formula for coming out. Some parents will respond viciously, and there is nothing you can do about that. The world as it is and as it should be are two different things, and that includes family. Please tread carefully. (If you have concerns, feel free to email me.)
This blog was written anonymously. Though the author is out to friends, family, and colleagues, possible career ramifications prevent using their name publicly.