I write this because I wish I had read such an article before I did.
1. All parents are different. And this means a whole bunch of different things. It means just because my parents reacted silently, it doesn’t mean yours won’t have a screaming match with you. It means that sometimes you just can’t quite put your finger down on one universal fact that all parents share, so try not to expect anything extremely specific. It means just because they’ve often declared their admiration and respect for Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres, it can mean diddly-squat when it comes to their own flesh and blood being interested in breaking out the rainbow paraphernalia. And it means that even though they voted against legalizing gay marriage, they can make exceptions when it comes to their offspring needing love and support. Which leads me to my second point.
2. “I just need you to love me.” Right now, I know what you need. You don’t need them to jump for joy or say it’s okay, or even approve. Right now you need them to say, “I still love you.” And to be honest, that’s the bare minimum you should be aiming for when telling your parents. This takes time, you’ve suddenly presented yourself to be something they never ever expected, or maybe suspected but wished wasn’t true. Their minds are racing with a billion thoughts. ‘What will people say?’ ‘What will my parents say?’ ‘They’ll die from a hate crime’ ‘They’ll die from AIDS’ ‘They’re just confused’ ‘This is a phase’ ‘What about grandchildren?’ ‘Who hurt you to make you like this?’ ‘What did I do wrong?’ Simply your coming out will explode their lives of everything that’s been routine of what they’ve planned for you, to have that wonderfully safe, reliable, familiar picket fence. And you know what; maybe you still want that, maybe you never did. But right now the important thing is to keep things simple. Don’t hope for that lovely beautiful hug where they accept everything that you are and they’re ready to start jumping into parades with you. If at the end of this conversation you can manage to calm all their fears and confusion and questions, and they can say with a clear, organized mind, “I still love you,” I think we’re all off to a great start.
3. All parents are the same. I realize this opposes the first point, but it is true. All parents are, in the end, the same. At least the parents who you’re terrified of coming out to. They want what’s best for you. They haven’t rested a day in their life, a shitty job for 40+ years to buy you that iPhone with unlimited texting, they call and ask how you’re doing, they wonder if you’re dating anyone, heck maybe they even set you up with that nice kid down the street. All in all, your parents love you, and it’s beyond horrible to fathom the idea of them being disgusted with you, hating you, kicking you out of the house. And for many LGBTQ youth and adults, this is a reality. I can’t tell you what parents want to hear when you’re coming out to them, aside from you admitting this is a very cruel joke. They don’t want you to tell them you don’t want what they want, you want this crazy ‘lifestyle’, you’re off doing these immoral acts with god knows who and hey. People are going to know. Their parents, their siblings, their friends, their neighbors, their bosses, their co-workers. Absolutely anyone who comes to them with pictures of their own kids or ask how you are, they are going to know they’ll have to out you at some point: When you’re queer, your parents are queer, too. And no parent is ready for that. Think about how long it took for you to work up the courage to tell them this. Now you’re telling them they’re gonna have to do it, too.
4. You can have that picket fence. I realize this is a hard point to sell if you’re in an unhappy place where it’s illegal or just plain dangerous. But there’s a terrible notion that you can’t have a steady, honest, monogamous queer relationship, and that’s just nothing but a bunch of crap. So this paragraph I write for us romantics who want that damn picket fence whatever color and shade our honeyboats want. And you know what, even if you’re surrounded by a whole bunch of pansexual hirs who date each other and break up and date each others’ exes only to suddenly U-Haul with the purple-haired new kid, it doesn’t mean anything about you. You, and your parents, are what this conversation is about. You want that relationship, you want that trust, and comfort, date and marry your best friend, have 2.3 kids? Do it. Because you still can. Because it just means you’re going to be looking for your ‘One’, just like the rest of us. And if your parents are wondering ‘why’ you ‘have’ to flaunt your sexuality with a family, just tell them what I’ll tell mine; “I want that picket fence because you taught me family is important. You taught me what a loving relationship. You taught me how to raise a good, generous child. And I want to do nothing more than spread that love.”
5. Be Strong. And this one I cannot stress more. You must be strong, my friend. You must be strong, because this is going to change your relationship with your parents forever. It will never be the same, because you won’t wake up straight one day. And that’s what they need to remember. You’re not going to be straight. If you’re bi or pan, you’re not suddenly straight just cos you happened to date an opposite sexed member. You are who you are. And they need to come to terms with that.
Things will be said. They will say things they’ll regret. They’ll say things they won’t. They may say things they never thought they could ever say to someone they love. They’ll be quiet, they’ll be loud. They will make you cry. They might cry themselves. They will surprise you, they will disappoint you greatly. You might not be able to think of them the same way again. You might regret it. It might get worse. It might get much, much worse, before it gets better. It might never get better. This is something you need to wrap your head around, not because your parents are monsters, but because the world is scary, and when people don’t understand something, they get scary.
When you come out to your parents, you temporarily switch roles with them. You will be the patient listener, who answers all their questions, possibly ridiculous as they may be, followed by a multitude of ‘whys?’ You will be the understanding one, who thinks far in advance, who is listening to everything they’re saying when they’re saying nothing at all. And you will lose your temper, but realize it’s only because they love you. Be kind to them, even if they don’t deserve it, even if they don’t want it. Be kind to yourself, because you, my friend, are a beautifully brave soul. If nothing else, remember that.