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on psychiatry and psychology

Talking to your Parents about Homosexuality

Abstract: Coming out as a homosexual is a gradual process where telling your family might be one of the last steps.

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Talking to your Parents about Homosexuality

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Written by: Hanna Molander; psychology student at Linköping University
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 12 Jan 2009.

How can I tell my family I’m gay?

Answer:

Realizing that you are gay, accepting this and then letting other people know is often a long process, called coming-out. How long it takes to come out is very individual. Some homosexual people never show their true sexual identity. This is a matter of generations and a matter of culture. There are more people living as open homosexuals today, than ten years ago. In some cultures it is more accepted than in others. I presume that, since you are thinking about this, you live in a society where it is possible to be open with your sexual orientation. Whatever it looks like, it’s an opportunity to think about your life and what you want it to look like. Most people describe coming-out as a positive experience that made them feel stronger and more secure in themselves.

Many homosexual people are afraid of telling their family, friends and colleagues that they are gay/lesbian. A lot of the times they hesitate because they don’t know how people will react. There are a several studies showing that homosexual people rarely get negative reactions from friends and family, they seem to take it much better than expected.

A first step towards coming-out is to gather as much information as possible. In that way you will be a bit prepared for the possible reactions and questions you’ll get from people around you. They will probably respond based on a lifetime of information from a more or less homophobic society. If you've done some serious reading on the subject, you'll be able to assist them by sharing reliable information and research. There are gay organizations, cafés and restaurants where you can meet people who might be going through the same thing as you are. If you live in a small town with no range of gay places to go, or if you want to be anonymous, there are websites on the Internet that works as a forum where you can meet up, ask questions and get support from other gay people.

The next step might be to tell someone you really trust. In the event your parents' reaction devastates you, there should be someone that you can turn to for emotional support. You need to be aware of the fact that your friend might react negatively. Although, a lot of the times, the thoughts and the worries beforehand, are often worse than the actual reactions when you do come out. In an open society, like many western societies today, it’s not unusual that a gay person gets help and support in the coming-out process from a long trusted straight friend.

It’s a bit more complicated telling your family than telling your friends. You only have two parents and if they don’t accept you, you can’t get new ones. This is why parents often are the last ones to know. But, some parents are not very surprised the day their child tells them s/he’s gay or lesbian. They had already suspected their child was carrying around questions about his/her sexual identity. Before you tell your parents, there are a few things you could give some thought: Are you sure about your sexual orientation? Don't raise the issue unless you are.

Confusion on your part will increase your parents' confusion. Are you comfortable with your own sexuality? If you're wrestling with guilt and depression, you might be better off waiting to tell your parents. Coming out to them may require a lot of energy on your part and you will need a positive self-image. What's the emotional climate at home? If you have the choice of when to tell, consider the timing. Choose a time when they're not dealing with such matters as the death of a close friend, pending surgery or the loss of a job. What's your motive for coming out now? Hopefully, it is because you love them and are uncomfortable with the distance you feel. Never come out in anger or during an argument, using your sexuality as a weapon. What is your relationship with your parents? If you've gotten along well and have a respectful relationship, chances are they'll be able to deal with the issue in a positive way. What is their moral societal view? If they've showed and open-minded and flexible attitude towards other changing societal matters, you may be able to anticipate a willingness to work this through with you. Is this your decision?

Not everyone wants to come out to their parents. Don't be pressured into it if you're not ready. If your parents don’t understand you at first, have some patience. In time, most parents learn to accept the child's sexual orientation. Your parents need to adjust to this new situation. Just as you did, they need time to accept your choice. Anger and hurt are probably the most frequently expressed feelings. They are often surface feelings that seem spiteful and cruel. In order for your parents to make progress it is better that they say these feelings out loud than bury them and attempt to deny their existence. This will be hard for you to handle. You need to keep in mind that parents go through a coming-out process of their own. As a parent you have to deal with questions like “should we tell people at work”, “what if we never have any grand-children”, etc. Since living in a homophobic society has forced you to experience many of the same feelings (isolation, fear of rejection, hurt, confusion, fear of the future, etc.), you can share with them the similarities in the feelings you have experienced. When you come out to your parents, they will need to learn from your experience. This might not be easy. You'll want them to understand this important part of your life right away. Their emotional reactions will get in the way of their intellectual understandings. They sense the separation, which you've probably been aware of for years, for the first time. It's a traumatic discovery. With understanding and patience from all parties, that relationship can be restored. In fact, in most cases it improves because it's based on mutual honesty and trust. Some parents never get this far. They love their child without finally accepting their child’s sexual orientation.

If you are interested in reading more about this you can visit a website regarding this issue, for example http://www.comingoutstories.com or http://www.rslevinson.com/gaylesissues/comingoutstories/blcoming.htm.

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