Coming Out as LGBTQ to Friends and Family: How to Gain Self-Confidence and Set Better Boundaries
Since June is Pride Month, I wanted to devote special attention to the often difficult subject of coming out as LGBTQ to friends and family. To many of my clients, the very thought of telling friends and family that they identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer elicits profound feelings of angst and trepidation.
I remember when I first came out to family and friends at sixteen years of age and how fearful I felt of how they might react to the news. Would they completely disown me? Would I be left with no emotional support? How would I be able to cope if the people I had known for all of my life suddenly made the decision to no longer include me in their lives?
Years later, I now reflect back upon that time in my life and almost regard it as comical. I came out at such a young age because I actually had little choice in doing so. I lived with my father and stepmother in a rural part of Texas, and twenty-six years ago sexual orientation was still considered a taboo subject to many. I had an innocent crush on another boy, with whom I attended high school and had heard rumors that he was gay. I mustered the courage one night to call him and ask him out on a date. He respectfully declined and assured me that he did not feel at all uncomfortable with my request. The next day, everyone at my school was talking about it: students, teachers and staff. The last two years of high school were challenging, to say the very least.
I decided that I had better tell my father about my sexual orientation before he heard it from someone else, as he was a police officer in the community, and virtually everyone knew our family. I remember just how terrified I felt, sitting with my father one morning on his bed, and telling him that I was gay. He remained calm during our conversation but explained to me that he did not understand but still loved me. Later, I think he began wrestling with the issue a bit more. He tried countless times to convince me that I was, in fact, straight--even taking me to a local church and having the pastor talk to me about it.
For several years the discomfort persisted around the issue, with neither my father nor I openly discussing it much. When I finally began dating seriously, though, I decided that I was not going to allow our family to continue avoiding the issue. For a while it remained an uncomfortable topic for all of us, I think. When I married my husband, though, things changed for the better. My father even admitted years later that he was wrong for having felt so adamant about it. Now my family welcomes my husband openly. Imagine my shock one day when my husband confided to me after visiting my family that my father secretly told him, "I want you to feel free to call me dad"! My husband shares a bed with me when we visit, my family sends him birthday and Christmas gifts, and they truly regard him as a member of the family.
Avoidance is truly what perpetuates--what feeds--our anxiety. Tiptoeing around the topic of sexual orientation for many years is what kept both me and my family in a state of "walking on eggshells" around one another! The decision to come out as LGBTQ is a personal one, and I earnestly feel that an individual needs to do that in his or her own time. However, I truly believe that we teach people how to treat us, and by setting better boundaries with family and friends about how we expect them to treat us (and our significant others!) the stage is ultimately set for us to grow in self-confidence and to embrace our identity as an LGBTQ person.
If you are currently experiencing difficulty in deciding to come out as LGBTQ to family or friends, I would consider it an honor and privilege to speak with you about it. Feel free to visit me online or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment.
To all of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, I wish you a Happy Pride Month and much love.