In a perfect world, no one would need to come out. People would not assume a person is heterosexual, or cisgender, or neurotypical, or any of those other things considered “normal” when in fact they’re simply common. However, I have yet to be elected as Queen of Everything and establish such a utopia, so we’ve got to work with what we have.
So, since some of you might be going home for Thanksgiving to tell your folks about your newfound (or newly-accepted) status, I thought I’d give you my sage advice. These tips are from my own experience, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for everyone — this is a deeply personal process, so please do what works best for you.
Also, an important disclaimer: this is for people who WANT to come out to their family/friends. You are under absolutely no obligation to do that – you don’t owe an explanation to anyone, no matter your relationship. Still being closeted, or being closeted in certain groups, does not make your identity any less legitimate.
And if, at any point in the process, you feel unsafe — bail. What’s most important is that you’re okay, because you are an important human.
1) Do it now (if you want)
If it is important to you that your family/friends know about this part of your life, then don’t feel like you have to wait. There’s no “perfect moment.” Also remember that your identity is legitimate even if you’re not in a relationship or transitioning — you don’t need to have a boyfriend or a hormone prescription for your identity to be valid and deserving of acceptance.
2) Reach out for help
If you’ve got supportive friends or family members who you’re already “out” to, reach out to them. Let them know that you’re planning to tell other people, and that you need some support. This might come in the form of a phone call before or after, a backup safe space if things go wrong, or actually physically being there when you tell people. It can be scary to talk to a group of people, even if those people are your family, and having backup — even if they don’t say anything — can sometimes make it a little less scary.
3) Do it how it works best for you
Again, coming out is a deeply personal process — for some people, it’s a sacred moment; for others, it’s as casual as asking their mom to pick up a jug of milk at the store. The actual act of coming out is widely varied from person to person, so the real message here is DO WHAT FEELS RIGHT FOR YOU. If that means sitting your whole family down in the living room and making a grand announcement, do that. If that means sending a group text, do that. There is no one “right” way to come out.
A few pointers, though: be direct, be clear, and let them know what they can do next. For example, you can say, “Mom, I’ve got something to tell you. I’m bisexual. This means sometimes I date people who are girls like me, and sometimes I date people of other genders. It’s been really hard for me to come out to you but I think it’s important that I do because it’s a big part of who I am. I’d really appreciate it if you could support me no matter what and also maybe give me a hug right now.”
I know that sounds hella scripted, but it’s better to sound scripted and have a clear message than to not get your point across clearly and have to deal with a sitcom-esque confusion afterwards.
4) Know that their response doesn’t define you.
Ideally, the people you’re telling will say something like “Thanks for sharing that, kiddo. You know we love you no matter what. Now let’s have some dessert.” But sometimes people don’t have the right response. They might cry, or say you’re lying, or act like you didn’t say anything. The important thing to remember is that their response is THEIRS. It’s on them, not on you. You are a majestic butterfly, and if they don’t appreciate you, that doesn’t make you any less majestic. If they are upset, give them some time to think through everything, and go take care of yourself. You could say something like, “I know this is a lot to handle so I’m just going to go to bed, and we can talk more about this tomorrow?” Again, if you feel unsafe, take whatever steps are necessary for you to be safe.
5) Check in.
If you want, you can also check back in with your family/friends and say something like, “Hey, I know that conversation we had yesterday was tough but I just want to know that I really appreciate you listening to me. Do you have any questions about what we talked about?” This is a good opportunity to educate your friends/family about different genders and sexuality, or to remind them of what language to use with you (in terms of identity labels, pronouns, etc). Even if it goes well, coming out can be an emotionally draining event, so check in with a friend, just to make sure you’re doing okay. Feel free to access counselling if you need it – there’s no shame in needing a little boost to help deal with a tough thing!
Best of luck and gods bless you lovely folks. If any of y’all have a tough go of it and need an ear, I’ll be spending Thanksgiving weekend on Twitter at @leenyree.