About two weeks ago, Tim Schmoyer and Andrew Marin did a YouthQuestions video about gay teens coming out to their parents. I thought the video was good, and that Tim and Andrew handled this tough and controversial topic well. Springing off of what the video shared, I want to offer my own perspective on the issue of teens coming out of the closet. I’ve decided to break my response in three parts: (1) GAY TEENS, (2) PARENTS, and (3) YOUTH WORKERS.
Coming Out as a Gay Teen
Taking the first step in telling your parents that you’re attracted to the same-sex is a huge step to undertake. A thousand and one questions fill your mind: “Will they reject me?” “Will their love for me change?” “How will they respond?” Truth be told, coming out to your parents sucks; it’s never easy to do. But, I will say this, once you’ve taken that step, a lot of the battle is already over. Pressure is often released, your stomach begins to untangle itself, and your worse fears begin to dissipate from the truth that mom and dad still love you. Still, telling them tears you up.
Well, I want to offer four lessons that I’ve learned from talking with other gay teens, and from my own coming out experience. I offer them as a means to help you correctly start the conversation with your parents about your same-sex attractions. I pray this helps you in your journey.
1 > First, talk to a trusted friend about what’s going inside. Coming out of the closet is a big step to take. It involves a lot of people, and a lot of mixed emotions. Inside, you may “know that you know” you’re gay, but I’m willing to bet there is a lot of confusion as well mixed in with your assurance. You need to find someone whom you can confide in to talk about your feelings, questions, confusions, etc. Make sure this person can be trusted (they won’t gossip about you) and that you have a good relationship / friendship already started with them. A good person to confide in would be a best friend, a teacher, a youth pastor, or a guidance counselor.
I came out to my best friend the summer before ninth grade. (Actually, he came out to me the same time!) We both were able to talk about the things we were processing internally, like the things we were confused about (Am I really gay?) and the things we were struggling with (Who do I tell and how do I tell them? What happens next?).
Starting the conversation with someone about your sexuality is going to be hard, but once you begin it, you’ll be so glad you did. You need to talk about it with others … this isn’t something you can (nor should) keep inside and privately struggle with.
2 > Second, take someone with you when you’re ready to tell your parents. This is a good point made by Andrew Marin in the video. The person you bring should be a friend that you’ve already confided in about your sexuality (like the friend from above). I didn’t take anyone with me when I told my parents, and I wish I would have. I was so scared to speak that I babbled about nothing for over an hour, until finally I spoke up – not because I was ready but because my nerves were shot and I was getting sick. Had I had someone there with me, I’m sure I would have been able to express myself clearer and stronger.
Another benefit to taking someone with you, is that the person can stand up and speak for you when your parents are about to explode in anger or confusion. The person with you can help settle a fight – if one should start up – and calm the tensions by speaking on behalf of both groups.
3 > Third, tell your parents face-to-face … not through a letter. This may be one of the hardest parts about coming out to your parents, but it’s also the best thing you can do when having this type of talk with them. Talking face-to-face shows people a few things: that you respect them, that you’ve thought through what you’re telling them, and that you’re willing to have an honest conversation about the subject. Face-to-face conversations allow both parties to see (and hear) what the other person is saying, and not saying. Letters are an impersonal touch where this issue is concerned. The person reading it can’t see your face or hear your tone, let alone understand the emotion you are going through at this moment. And you won’t be able to see their expressions or emotions either, which can be nerve-racking, too.
I told my step-mom first, through a phone conversation. I had her tell my dad. I told my mom through a letter that I left in her car so she could read it at work. And I never told my step-dad until years later. Needless to say, I came out to my parents the wrong way! I wish I could have done it right … for their sake and mine. None of my parents ever talked to me about my sexuality – not once – and because of that I was always scared and worried about what they were thinking and questioning. I’m sure how I handled telling them had a lot to do with it. Don’t make the same mistakes I did.
4 > Fourth, be ready to not get the reaction you’re hoping for. This is another great point made by Marin. Please understand, by the time you tell your parents that you’re gay, you’ve been processing everything for a long time. You know what’s going on, you’ve accepted your gayness, and you’re ready for others to fully embrace you as well. You’re parents, however, haven’t had all this time to process things. Therefore, you really can’t expect them to jump up and embrace you as if nothing has changed.
For your parents, everything has changed. And in most cases, accepting change about one’s kids is hard to do. You need to give them room to process through their own questions. They may get really quiet. They may walk out of the room. They may cry. And, they may hug and kiss you, telling you that everything is going to be fine. In either response, let them be and understand that no matter what (no matter their response) they still love you … you are still their child!
I thought my parents hated me because they didn’t talk to me about things. Whenever I tried to bring the subject up, it was shot down. But looking back, this wasn’t the case; they didn’t know how to deal with things. They were confused, hurt, and afraid for me. Yeah, they should have said something, but then again they didn’t know what to say.
Silence isn’t always a bad thing. Talk to your parents and allow them time to filter everything through. Keep them informed, but don’t press them to walk in the Pride Parade with you. It’s going to take time, for you both, and that’s okay. This isn’t an issue that one can easily get through … it’s going to be a journey for both you and your parents.
Good luck. Email me if you want to talk more (611ministries at gmail dot com).