What impact did coming out have on my family?
That is an interesting one because when I thought about coming out, I thought (at the time) it was all about me. I hadn’t even considered the impact on other people and what they might have to go through. I had years to process and come to terms with my sexuality and my family were hit with it between the eyes on Christmas Day! To find out how I came out, click here to read my previous article.
It was in the year or two that followed that I came to realise the impact coming out had on my family.
The Language Of Sexuality
After I came out, my family had to find a way to talk about my sexuality and partner to their friends and our wider family. They had the challenge of finding the ‘right’ words to use that felt comfortable to them, whilst having concerns about how people would react to the ‘news’.
I remember a chat with my mum where she asked me the best words to use when she was talking to other people about me and my partner. Is it acceptable to use the word lesbian? What about gay? And how about dyke? Is that a positive word to use? What ARE the positive words and what are offensive words? And do I say girlfriend or partner?
After that conversation, she became more confident about explaining my sexuality and relationship status to others. It was a turning point for her I think.
I came to realise that none of them (my mum, dad and 2 brothers) had any support through this process either and they had to figure it out as they went along, just as I did. And I’m sure my brothers were teased, maybe even bullied because of me.
The Grieving Process
I had time to make sense of being gay before I came out to them. In coming out, I think I expected them to be ok with it right from the start. But actually, just like me, they needed the time and space to make sense of it too.
It is like they went through a grieving process – where they let go of the person they thought I was and the future they had dreamed about for me. They had to break down the thoughts and ideas THEY had been conditioned to think would be in my future. Would that mean no big white wedding, kids and grand kids? They definitely went through a grieving phase around that. It was a time of uncertainty for everyone and involved lots of conversations, whilst we found our feet as a family unit.
What I Wish I Had Known Back Then
I wish I had known upfront they would have to go through all this. I would have been more present with them, more open (instead of defensive) in our conversations about it and I would have stepped up to support THEM more.
Advice For People That Have Come Out To Family
Talk to them often – not just about being LGBT, about anything. The more you talk, the more that communication channel is open. I found that was vital.
Be open and honest with them and let them know how they can support you, and ask what support they need from you.
Answer any questions they may have.
Explore the language and words that are comfortable for them to use when talking to others about you.
And listen, some people may have a negative response towards you. Don’t take it personally. It is something within them that is causing conflict or uncertainty. Give them space and time, and when you feel the time is right, talk to them again. Offer them love and support, not animosity and frustration.
Most importantly, keep talking.
I’d love to hear your experiences.
What did you notice about what your family went through when you came out to them?
What do you wish you had known back then?