I came out in my late twenties. It happened one evening in July. In my infinite wisdom, I’d written an article for DAME Magazine about my bisexuality, without ever processing how public an online publication was. Strangers could see it — and so could my friends and family.
Which was a problem only because I wasn’t out yet.
On publication day, I agonized over what to do. Did I want to personally come out to certain people before sharing the article, or did I want the article to do it for me?
In the end, I decided to come out to my immediate family. That evening, I mentioned to my mom that I’d written a piece about Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy.
That part wasn’t surprising; I’d been a big Guardians fan for years. Haltingly, I continued with the part that terrified me: The article was about how I’d had a crush on Gamora. A not-platonic, definitely sapphic crush. You know, the I’m-actually-bi type.
And then I waited. The silence was the worst part — until my mom broke it with something along the lines of: “Yeah, we already knew. Glad you figured it out.”
And here I thought I’d been sneaky!
My coming out was, overall, easy. My friends accepted me. My family accepted me. I simply adjusted my label and moved on.
But even in an LGBTQ+-friendly environment, coming out was still scary. I waited until my late twenties not because I didn’t know before that, but because it felt safer to stay in the closet. I’d hoped that the longer I waited the more confident I’d become. Maybe some well of courage would materialize.
Unfortunately, that never happened. My coming out was the farthest thing from confident: It was clumsy, nerve-wracking, and full of stumbles. (Nick Nelson’s coming out in Season 1 of the 2022 show Heartstopper is a good approximation!) Of course, I’m lucky that the worst thing I had to worry about was an awkward silence. So here’s some advice for all you parents about navigating your own kid’s coming out — a primer, if you will.
Ask if you should keep this information on the DL.
One of the best questions my mom asked was, “Are you ready to share this with our larger family?” In my case, the article I’d written made this a moot point, but I appreciated her asking. The question gave me the opportunity to set boundaries.
If your child asks you to keep their coming out a secret, respect their wishes, even if you don’t understand why. It’s important to validate that your child was right to trust you, as noted by this 2018 study.
Look into support groups — for both you and your kid(s).
Pride centers and local LGBTQ+ organizations typically offer both support groups and events. This can foster a sense of community among queer youth and may help lower harrowing statistics such as those found by the Trevor Project, which estimate that “at least one LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13–24 attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the U.S.”
Support groups aren’t just for kids, either. They’re also a great resource for parents. Many organizations, such as the LGBTQ Center in Indiana, have parent-centered groups. This is a great way to learn more about the larger queer landscape and better support your individual child’s needs.
For those who don’t have local groups, the internet is your friend! Look for non-profits and educational networks. There are general groups like GLAAD and PFLAG, and also focused organizations like the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network.
Avoid the sticky line, “I/We love you no matter what.”
As Glennon Doyle wrote in her 2020 memoir Untamed, “‘no matter what’ is what we say when someone has disappointed us.” Though this line is meant to make the recipient feel loved and accepted, there are better ways to express the sentiment. Consider something else in its place, such as “Thank you for sharing this,” “I’m proud of you,” “I’m here for you,” or simply “I love you.”
Ask what kind of support they want.
Every kid is different, in their personalities, interests, emotional growth, and, yes, in their coming out, too. After your child has disclosed their identity or identities, it might be helpful to ask if there’s anything they want you to do or change. Transgender or nonbinary youth may ask you to use a new name or pronouns. This may be hard if their birth name had special familial significance, but remember that coming out is much harder for them than for you — so difficult, in fact, that a 2019 Yale study found that 83% of queer individuals hid their identity from some, or all, of the people in their lives.
Openly supporting your child via their requested changes shows your love and acceptance, and can help reverse that statistic. According to the Trans Youth Equality Foundation in Maine, affirming your child’s identity can help them feel safe, heard, validated, and respected.
Don’t be taken aback if they come out again in the future.
Growing up is hard without the added difficulty of parsing queer identity, which is underrepresented in media and outright shamed via anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. This adds an extra layer to the process of coming out. Your child may be ready to talk about only part of their identity at first, or, alternatively, a label that fits one day may feel too rigid the next. (Am I bi? Pan? What’s the difference? What’s the bisexual umbrella?)
A 2014 study found three primary reasons for an additional coming out: participants wanted to reinforce their identity, clarify it, or share further details. Even if it feels unnecessary to you, know that it likely took just as much courage the second time. Be supportive and kind.
Coming out can be scary, but parents have the power to ease some of that discomfort. You don’t have to have all the answers, and it’s okay if you don’t understand everything right away. The most important thing you can do is remind your kids that they’re safe and loved — and that you’ve got their back.
Natalie Schriefer, MFA (@schriefern1) is an academic editor. Her writing often focuses on pop culture, sexuality, and coming of age. Say hi online at www.natalieschriefer.com.