I'm a 20 year old gay college student. I came out very recently and have just started telling my closest friends. With the holidays coming up, I'm slotted to go home in a few days. I want to tell my parents over the break, but I'm scared out of my mind. Do you have any tips on how to do this? My parents are pretty middle of the road when it comes to politics. They usually vote Republican because of economic reasons, but they're good people and don't discriminate against anyone. Also, I want to be honest about my orientation to new people I meet, but I don't want to be weird or obnoxious about it. Help?
--Tip Toeing Out the Closet
Coming Out Conundrums
Congratulations on tackling that first hurdle in your journey towards queerness! Coming out to your family may prove to be one of the most challenging experiences in your life, depending of course on the kind of family that you have. The fact that you've chosen to take the opportunity of the holidays to drop the gay bomb on the 'rents makes for a sticky but workable situation. Now I can't tell you specifically how you should reveal your queerness to your parents, as I have very little knowledge about their political, cultural, and religious views on the subject. But I also want to point out that while your parents might be "good people," you should be prepared for a possibly negative reaction. You mention that "they don't discriminate against anyone." And while that may seem like the case... they probably do, because, frankly... everyone discriminates against someone. And given that you have some reluctance or anxiety over coming out to your parents, it's likely you've already picked up on some homophobia (subtle as it may be) in your parents. But enough about them, here are a few helpful hints with coming out to your family on the holidays.
- Make your coming out schpleel personal. Nothing's worse than a bulk e-mail to the relatives with "I'M GAY" splashed on the front. Sound familiar, Lance? It's best to talk to small groups at a time, so take Aunt Ethel and Uncle Dan out to coffee, or sit your cousins down for a one-on-one. It's probably a good idea to avoid the big communal family intervention setting where you have everyone gathered to kill multiple birds with your big gay stone.
- Choose a location and time where you will have control of the environment. Not that you have to be secretive about anything, but with revelations of this nature, it's best to select a time and place where you won't be interrupted by burning pies or newly arrived relatives. Your family members may have questions for you, so it's only fair to allow for enough time to have those discussions before breaking the conversation and being with the rest of the family. Also, if you're afraid that a particular family member may react badly, even violently. It's best to choose a location that is semi-private... like a corner table in a restaurant or coffee shop where you'll be forced to maintain some composure even if the emotions get out of hand.
- Be consistent and if you can, tell everyone. One of the most unfair things a newly out person can do to his or her family and friends is to tell only a hodge podge of people. Doing this will force those that you have told to be accomplices in keeping your secret, which just isn't fair to them. It also increases the possibility that the dissemination of that information will be out of your control. If you aren't able to come out to your entire family over the course of the holiday, or if there are certain people you absolutely cannot tell, then make it clear to whomever you reveal your queerness to who those individuals are.
- Have a support group ready and waiting. Whether your coming out goes well or badly, you should have a group of people who are ready and willing to support you emotionally. Tell your supportive friends what you plan to do and have their contact information ready and waiting. Also, it might be a good idea to have a place to crash for a night if things go awry, or just to let emotions cool down.
- A technique for coming out to new people I meet without blurting out "I'm gay!" to every John and Jane on the street is employing the mention of the ubiquitous ex. If you're having a casual conversation with a new acquaintance, just slip in a tangential reference to an ex-boyfriend/girlfriend. E.g. "Oh yeah, my ex loved that movie. He made me watch it over and OVER!"; "I got a sweater just like this for my ex-girlfriend! Don't worry, you look better in it! *playful wink*"
Well, those are a few tips that I hope you find useful. The internets and its citizens will most likely have gobs and gobs of advice for you, but the most important thing is to be honest. That's all we can really give and expect from people, eh?
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Read the rest of fannie's column at belowthebelt.org