5 Tips for Coming Out to a Parent

April 22nd 2016

Aron Macarow

Coming out can be a difficult, sometimes lifelong process. And telling a parent that you're gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, or any other identity in the LGBTQ alphabet soup can be even more stressful. Perhaps that's why only 56 percent of LGBTQ adults say that they have come out to their mother, and less than 40 percent have told dad, according to the Pew Research Center.

Despite that statistic, most people who come out ultimately have positive experiences, and many regret not coming out sooner. Plus, 40 percent of adults who came out to their mothers experienced stronger relationships since they told her about their sexual orientation or gender identity. But revealing one's sexual identity is ultimately a very personal experience, and it's important to know whether it's the right time for you — regardless of whether others have had good experiences or not. So how do you tell when the time is right? And what else is helpful to consider before you initiate the conversation?

As someone who has come out to family twice — as both queer and as transgender — there are definitely things I wish I had known as I planned what to say and when to say it. ATTN: spoke with Dr. Ron Holt, a psychiatrist who has dedicated his career to educating and empowering the LGBTQ community through his project Audacity of Pride, and we developed a list to help you as you think about your coming out process.

1. Think about the timing.

When asked what the number one piece of advice was that he would give to someone who is considering coming out to their family, Holt told ATTN:, "Be sure you are ready to come out." This includes asking yourself questions that will help you determine if it's the right time to tell someone. He suggests asking yourself: Am I comfortable in my own skin right now? Why am I coming out now? Am I prepared to tolerate a negative reaction? Is it safe to come out at home, and do I have a good support network in place? Ultimately, there's no right or wrong answers to these questions and no one else can tell you when it's the right time. Creating a list of pros and cons may help, but in the end, the decision still rests with you to decide if you feel ready or not, as the Trevor Project's Alessandra Rizzotti reminded us: "[Y]ou don’t owe coming out to anyone but yourself. It’s also okay to not be ready."

2. Think about the timing again — but this time for your family.

Are you planning to come out over Thanksgiving dinner or during an upcoming family birthday? You might want to think again. "Coming out can have a wide-ranging impact on a family," said Holt. "For some, it may bring the family closer together rather quickly as there are no more secrets between you and your parents. For other families, it may cause division as parents are not yet ready to hear their child is different than what they imagined." Pick a time that's comfortable for you, but also one where the conversation can be given its due, free of other distractions. And pick an occasion where, if you feel like you need to get some space, you can leave. There's no right or wrong time, since this can vary based on your family and your relationship to them. As Rizzotti points out: "When coming out to your family or trying to figure out the right time to come out, trust your instincts. If you’re concerned about your safety, consider taking time or maybe even waiting until you’re not living with family before coming out."

ALSO: What it's Like to be a Trans Person Graduating High School

3. Develop a self-care plan.

Holt points out that it's best "to be prepared for all reactions, including being shown immediate unconditional love and acceptance to the potential of being asked to leave." This means having a place to stay, a friend to speak with, or other plans in place particularly if the reaction is negative. Need help organizing your thoughts around your coming out decision? Try out the the Trevor Project's Coming Out Constellation worksheet. What's important is that you realize that this is a big moment with emotional ups and downs, and that you will want to set time aside for you to stay healthy no matter what the response.

4. Arm yourself with answers in advance.

Think through and prepare for questions and concerns that your parents may have in advance. "Most of the time parents give us hints as to how they feel about the subject through comments they make when seeing LGBT people on TV or in the media," says Holt. "Listening to their comments over time may help you determine how they will respond when you decide to come out." Even if you don't think you know how they will react, you can still do a great deal of reading online to prepare for a multitude of responses. You might find some great suggestions.

5. You can come out in many different ways.

While many people envision coming out in person over dinner or with a heart-to-heart conversation, there's no right or wrong way to come out and the best method depends strongly on your individual circumstances. "It just depends on what feels best for you," Holt tells ATTN:. He suggests that it's OK to write an email or a letter to your parents, particularly if you are worried or anxious about their immediate reaction. "It can give both you and your parents the time needed to process feelings before discussing," he says.

The bottom line?

Do what's most comfortable for you on a timeline of your choosing, and know that you ultimately don't need parent permission or approval.

"Throughout my 16 years of community service speaking to thousands of youth and young adults on LGBT issues, I have seen numerous reactions," says Holt. "Coming out can truly lead to better health and internal happiness. It may take time for a parent to accept, but often just letting go of the secret can be very freeing for the person coming out."

And sometimes, it can go exceptionally well, like this Twitter chat provided to ATTN: with permission from the Trevor Project: