My family is traditional. How do I come out?

Illustration: Nadia Snopek

@AskPeaches: I grew up in the South. My mother and father are very traditional. I now live in New York, where I can be more open as a lesbian. I still rely on my parents from time to time for money and feel it might be time to come out. I’m worried about what this may mean and whether they will continue to help me. When is the right time to come out? How do you start the conversation? What do I do to win back their love if they are not supportive? 

@Jen: Your situation is one many of us in the community have faced. The worry of how our family will react can be all-consuming when they learn about our truth. And it can be difficult, if you still rely on your parents financially, as you’ve described. 

There is no “right” time to come out. But there comes a time when coming out is the right thing to do for yourself. It took me much longer than I had hoped but brought a lot of relief when it was over. The most important thing to remember is that regardless of what anyone thinks, including your parents, the opinion that matters most is your own. YOU must come first! Your happiness and wellbeing depend on it. The burden to live someone else’s imagined life for you should fall on them…Not you. And to the degree that you can be brave enough and be willing to sacrifice the relationship if they are disapproving, then you have to do what’s in your best interest.

That said, this may be a lot easier for you to do, seeing as though you have some amount of independence. You could, perhaps, find other ways to make extra money to fill any shortfall if your parents start withholding financial support. However, what I am suggesting may not be a viable path for someone else who may not have the financial means or feel safe to do so. And so, for anyone for whom this might not be an option right now, I would suggest you delay coming out until you are safe and financially independent.

While your parents may have their own ideas of the life they envision for you, note that you may have your own imagined assumptions about what they may think about your sexuality. You didn’t indicate why you felt your parents may not be supportive other than to say they are “traditional,” so unless they have said things to suggest otherwise, I would give them the benefit of the doubt. While not exactly excited, mine didn’t react negatively, and have since come around. That your parents are still helping you out financially would indicate that they care about you and are still invested in your wellbeing. Sometimes, what holds us back is not the opinion of others, but our own lack of courage and self-acceptance. That internal fight is often the greatest battle to win. When you have done the work to embrace yourself fully, there is no reason to continue to stifle who you are to please anyone else, even your mother and father. 

If you’re indeed ready to be honest with yourself and your parents, then tell them. Find a time when you can be alone, preferably in a place where you have the freedom to leave if the conversation doesn’t end well. (This can also be done over the phone, if you can’t meet in-person.) I would not use this as an opportunity to introduce anyone you are seeing. Let’s take baby steps here. After you have shared the news, assure your parents of your happiness, and express to them that while they may not approve, that you would at least like to have their respect. I think couching it in these terms makes it known that while they might be entitled to have a difference of opinion, where you must have common ground is that they must see your humanity. Allow them time to respond and be prepared if their first reaction is not positive. Your task is not to get them to agree with you, but to share with them a part of you they might have never known or suspected. If they embrace learning this new fact about you then that’s awesome! If not, give them as much time as needed to get used to this new reality, and express your desire to answer any questions they might have. For many of us, it took us decades to find self-acceptance, so it’s unreasonable to think that our parents can arrive at the same place overnight.

If this, however, continues to become an issue with your parents, the most you can do is to reiterate the importance for you to live an honest life, and let them know that the door remains open for them to have a relationship with you when they can become supportive. Again, remember, their struggle to accept you is not your burden. Your burden is to accept your truest and happiest self. You are much better off surrounding yourself with those who can truly love you unconditionally, if your parents won’t.

The @AskPeacheas column is prepared by committee but written from one person’s experience. Send emails to askpeaches [at] freshfruitinc [dot] com with “@AskPeaches” in the subject line. Be sure to give enough background, so the advice can be more specific and relevant.

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