Gay & Lesbian Services of Western New York

Timing of the Coming Out Talk

A 16 year old female recently asked about the idea of coming out to her family as she was also interested in being more out at school. Her hesitation specifically involved the timing of this ‘news’ given that one parent was having a health crisis and the family was also dealing with an out of wedlock pregnancy with another sibling.

I have written before about the process of coming out but I have not focused so much on timing issues as this question suggests. I have never been one to promote the idea of the “right time” for talking about something important. Seems to me that the right time tends to be illusive and often never arrives. That said, I do believe that timing is important and that certain times for talk are better than others. In the situation presented by the questioner, I definitely would wait until the family’s problems and stress have settled down. The revelation of one’s sexual orientation is often stressful enough for the teller and the family. Even the most receptive and open family may still be overburdened by other stresses and this information may be the proverbial straw. You always have to ask yourself a series of questions to help determine the timing of the telling, regardless of who you are telling. Below are some ideas to think about.

Why do I want to inform? Why do I want to inform now? What is my motivation? How do I expect the information to be received? Have I thought about the possible reactions and how I would handle them? What if it goes bad, really bad? Then what? Where can I go if I have to leave my family home? What if all hell breaks loose? What if it goes well? Am I prepared for that? (You may think this an odd thought but it is not uncommon to have spent a lot of time preparing our individual coming out speeches. I remember when I told the response was, “So?!” I was actually annoyed that I had spent so much time in anxiety about this moment and it seemed over in a second!) Have you thought how to respond to typical parent reactions like, “You will be harassed and maybe hurt at school.”; “Are you sure, maybe this is just a phase?”

Most people I have talked with come out to one person in the family at a time usually starting with the parent or sibling that seems most potentially receptive. This seems to make sense, right? Well, it does, but there may be hidden consequences that can be difficult. For instance, you tell your mom and she says, “Don’t tell your father, it will kill him!” Now what? OMG…the revelation of your identity is potentially lethal to a parent?! The other side of this coin is when you swear silence from the person you told, now they are stuck with your secret and have to lie directly or by omission to other family members.

If you have considered the above possibilities, thought it all through and are now ready to take a very scary and courageous step, at least do it at a time that other family stresses are not the current focus. If it seems reasonable to you, consider talking to both parents at the same time. I know that can seem harder but then they potentially have each other then with whom to talk their feelings through.

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