Your Parents Might Need This: Advice on Coming Out Over the Holidays

Fonseca’s Team Pick:

As the holiday season looms over us like a dark cloud stuffed with turkey drumsticks, menorahs, candy canes and mistletoe, you might be starting to ask yourself all of those familial questions that only a queer would have to ponder: What if my cousin asks if I have a boyfriend yet? Do I bring my significant other to Thanksgiving dinner? Do I introduce her as [name] or do I introduce her as “my girlfriend, [name]“? How will I react when my aunt points out that my girlfriend and my grandpa are wearing the exact same Christmas sweater?

via vaderetroearthgirl.tumblr.com

It’s likely that your parents are mulling over their own special set of holiday-related dilemmas.

In a pre-Thanksgiving edition of Steven Petrow’s Civil Behavior column in The New York Times, a fretting but accepting parent asks Petrow the question: It’s the holidays. People are always asking about my family. How do I tell all of the people in my life that my kid is gay?

He came out to us years ago, and we reacted supportively, but he hasn’t kept in touch with a lot of people in our rural town so he hasn’t come out to them himself. The thing is, we haven’t told our friends in town that he’s gay or that he’s coming here with Jacob (his new boyfriend); they’re just of a generation that still isn’t accepting, and we don’t want to ruin his reputation. So, what do we do about this situation and when? Do we have the right to tell our friends that our son is gay? Or should we just let it go and hope for the best?

This sort of parental “coming out” can come with baggage. When a mom tells a colleague that her child is gay, it isn’t the same as voicing her approval of Glee‘s “Express Yourself” cover over the water cooler, or reminding a coworker that Neil Patrick Harris isn’t into the ladies. It’s coming out as the parent of a gay kid; someone whose ties to a queer person run much deeper than entertainment value. With that sort of revelation comes assumptions of every stripe and variety. People might presume that she votes with her child’s best interests at heart, or that she’s trotting off to a PFLAG meeting that very night. Conversely, they might assume something incredibly inane and f*cked up: That she, somehow, was the cause of her child’s queerness. In disclosing that her child is LGBT, one winds up disclosing a lot about herself in the process.

Petrow gently slaps the curious parent on the wrist for caring about what others think:

Should we just let it go and hope for the best?

It sounds as if that’s what you’ve been doing, and you’ve discovered that it doesn’t work. I think what’s at the heart of this issue is hidden within your statement that you don’t want to “ruin his reputation.” Words like that suggest to me that you still have some work to do about acceptance. Don’t be embarrassed by that – families do have work to do when a loved one comes out. But don’t be embarrassed by your son, either.

Along with emphasizing the importance of not outing a child without their permission, Petrow discusses talking about the child’s relationship with the nonchalance of anyone who has straight kids:

Frankly, there’s no reason for a big announcement. You can easily work Chad’s personal life into your pre-holiday conversations. In response to, “What’s new with your son?” how about answering, “He’s started a new job this year and has a wonderful new boyfriend.” Or you can bring it up yourself in the context of how excited you are that he’ll be visiting soon – with Jacob. By treating it as matter-of-factly as any other news in his life you’ll be signaling to others that you accept him completely.

Although I was joking about the alternatives I posed above (i.e., Facebooking or tweeting it), I wasn’t when it came to making a toast. How about raising your glass as you sit down for your Thanksgiving meal with some words like these, “We’re thankful for many things this year — and we’re especially glad to welcome Jacob and Chad to our home!”

Now that’s a heart-warming holiday toast in which this Grinch would happily partake.

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Sarah Fonseca is from tiny Georgia towns yet always finds herself in big cities. An essayist and journal-keeper by heart, her work has been featured in Lambda Review, Lavender Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, and Thought Catalog. Her ultimate goal in life is to get back to that seven year-old place where everything was backwards ballcaps, long hair, and red rover.

fonseca has written 47 articles for us.

41 Comments

    • Thumb up 3

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      Ditto. But luckily I’m coming home for Christmas with my girlfriend and tow, and we’re having other relatives visiting (which is so rare) so maybe the gossip-factor will help in telling the rest of the family. Still, this is good to review……..and maybe email my mom just in case.

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      After I came out to my parents she told me that about 10 years ago, I emailed a queer youth support group from my parents’ email account (instead of using my personal email account), asking about coming for my first meeting and asking whether I could bring a family member with me. I don’t remember doing this but my mom said she remember thinking that was weird.

      She was still surprised when I came out 10 years later. On my dad’s birthday… 2 days before Xmas.

      What I mean is, leaving shit lying around in really obvious places sometimes works… sometimes it doesn’t though.

  1. Thumb up 2

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    My mom hasn’t told any of her friends that I like the ladies. It’s been about a year an a half since I came out to my parents and before then I dated men and I read as straight to most people who I meet. I’ve been trying to be understanding but I think it’s time. I don’t want her to lose friends but she shouldn’t be friends with bigoted meanies anyway.

    • Thumb up 1

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      Have you told your mom that this is important to you?

      However, you may need to take into account that she might not be ready to “come out” as a mom to a queer person. It took you however may years to understand and share who you are, so she might need some more time? I hope it works out though and I hope her friends are not bigoted meanies. I send you hugs.

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    For those thinking of coming out to their parents over the holidays but who don’t think their parents will be accepting…I’d heartily advise to hold off, even though it feels so scary to be constantly afraid they’re going to find out. it just adds a whole new weapon to the guilt arsenal (“and you’ve ruined this holiday too” “and we’re under enough pressure this time of year”) and the “anniversary” is impossible to forget.

    Not that any of that is excusable on their part, and it’s their gross misstep to put all the emphasis on their inability to cope with the news/your selfishness for “putting it on them”–because we all know what it feels like to be living with this horrible dread that they’ll find out, and how unfair it is for them not to acknowledge that their child has been suffering for holding something back like this.

    If your parents are probably gonna be okay with it, though, or “process” and be fine…none of this applies, and it’s wonderful that you have an accepting family.

  3. Thumb up 8

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    Wow, this is exactly what I would send to my parents if I had the ovaries to. That’s such a good point about “parental coming out,” oy. But I’m also in the camp of not coming out to the parents, especially not over the holidays, to avoid fueling the guilt fire.

  4. Thumb up 13

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    I came out to my folks via letter just after my birthday this year. We’re seeing each other for the first time for Thanksgiving since I came out. They handled it the best I could have imagined and our phone conversations since have been very normal. But I’m still bringing my “Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake (I really need to impress you) Thanksgiving Pie” to dinner because everything is better with good pie.

  5. Thumb up 17

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    They can do what my mom did- make an in depth action plan of how we were going to ignore the teensy elephant shaped boidyke in the room, then crack under the pressure within ten minutes of the first grandparent arriving and introduce me (loudly) as her lesbian daughter with her lesbian partner to everyone who walked in the door.

    Note everyone there was related to me and I needed no introduction.

    And we’d been dating like 8 months so partner was not really the word we were using.

    It meant that all the texts I was getting that night were of the “is your mom having a nervous breakdown?” variety and not the “you know, they have counselors who cure that” variety though!

    Also she’s now my partner (this was years ago) so it all worked out okay! Thanks mom!

  6. Thumb up 4

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    I feel like it’s easier to come out during the holidays if you’re surrounded by a big family/group of people. Odds are good that at least one of them will volunteer to be a buffer between you and your bigoted uncle/the car keys/the carving knife. Also, holidays are inherently chaotic, so the coming out canon fits right in with the National Lampoon’s Family Vacation-esque lunacy.

    Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure that if I tried to come out at my family’s Thnxgvng table of three, it would go over about as well as my mom’s terrible orange Jell-O cake c. 1997.

  7. Thumb up 1

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    So, this only sort of relates. But I’m asking it anyway. Do any of you have tips on coming out to siblings? I’m out to my parents, but I’m not out to my brother, who’s two years younger than me. It’s not that I don’t think he would support me or anything, just that I can’t think of a way to not make it extremely awkward. We have a really good relationship but we aren’t the kind of siblings that tell each other all our secrets and gossip or anything. It’s just not a thing that would come up in everyday conversation. But now I have a girlfriend and since both of my parents know, I feel like it’s weird for him not to. Should I just embrace the awkward and go for it, or is there tact to this? Do I tell him in person when I’m visiting home from college? Anyways. Thanks! I hope you all have magnificent holigay experiences!

    • Thumb up 19

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      Does the old standard not work?

      You: “Hey, so I’m dating someone new.”
      Brother: “Yeah? What’s his name?”
      You: “Susie.”

      I usually like to follow this up with overly intense eye contact until the meaning truly sinks in.

    • Thumb up 1

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      Well I came out to my 16 year old sister before I told my parents, and my 20 year old brother was in the room when I came out to them. Neither of them has a problem with it (My parents do, ergh).
      I’m actually not allowed to tell my other siblings (14, 12, 10, 6, & 4) because they are ‘too young’ to have to deal with that.
      And while I’m 22 and haven’t lived under my parent’s roof for the last 5 years, I feel like I should respect that, even though it fucking pisses me off.

      I guess what I’m saying is, it’ll probably be fine, and I’m a little jelly of you being able to tell him with no external issues :P

    • Thumb up 1

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      hello!
      i just wanted to tell you that i know how you feel.
      i came out to my younger sister (she was 15 at the moment) and it was the hardest thing i’ve ever done. my relationship with her is similar to yours with your brother, we dont really talk much about personal stuff, but i did feel like this was something i needed to tell her.
      i would advice telling him in person and just say it the way it is, you know? it is hard at the beginning to find the right words, but in the end, i think most siblings are really accepting. maybe you feel like he would treat you differently or stop talking to you? admiring you? i know that sometimes we as older siblings feel the need to be a role model for the younger ones, if that’s your care, all i can say is…don’t worry. they will still look up to you and respect you ^^

      hope it will turn out ok ^^

  8. Thumb up 1

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    I came out to my parents as trans during the holidays in 2010. Long story short: our relationship is strained, they still refer to me with male pronouns, and I’m probably never going to tell them I’m a lesbian.

    Sometimes there is just no good time and no good way to come out to some people.

    • Thumb up 1

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      Whoa, I was so off-kilter last night that I forgot to include the point.Please mentally insert the following sentences between the first two sentences of my prior comment.

      “My mom outed me to all of her siblings within a week, all one-on-one or by phone. I don’t know the substance of those conversations, but now my relatives keep pulling me aside to talk about all the stress I’m causing my poor mother.”

      • Thumb up 5

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        Yeesh, you poor thing! I hope you have a group of people to lean on during this adjustment period for your parents. I’m calling it adjustment because I hope that when they finish grieving (that’s what it seems like), they will realize how much stress they have caused *you* and become supportive parents.

        • Thumb up 2

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          I have a “chosen family” of friends with whom I’m pretty close, so I’m pretty much fine. Just sharing a bad coming out story. Thank you for your concern, though!

      • Thumb up 4

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        When I came out to my parents as trans their reaction was to stick their heads in the sand, where they firmly remain. My mother made a point of telling me that she wouldn’t be telling anyone and that she wanted me to be male at any family functions. I refused. My mother has hosted almost every family holiday gathering for years but hasn’t done so or had me over when the extended family has visited since I came out two years ago. Now this afternoon I have to call my 80+ year old aunt (we’re not close and I rarely see her) to come out and explain that “Johnny” won’t be coming to her holiday party.

        Geez Mom just out me already.

        Since my wife and I were together before I transitioned no one seems to recognize that I’m a lesbian – or at least it hasn’t been an issue. In a way that actually bothers me more. Though I suppose they’d have to accept that I’m female first.

        • Thumb up 1

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          I can imagine that people not recognizing you as a lesbian couple would be hard. It’s pretty invalidating on a few levels. I hope things get better with your mom.

          My parents are the kind of people that don’t surprise you when they respond badly to you coming out. In a way, it’s kind of liberating: I saw it coming a mile away and could plan for it. It must really suck when parents you would expect to be understanding actually aren’t.

  9. Thumb up 1

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    Did I miss something, or did nobody in the parents-coming-out exchange think to ask the obvious question: HOW DOES THE SON FEEL ABOUT BEING OUTED? It’s not about the parents and what good allies they may or may not be; it’s about whether the queer people in question want to be out.

    • Thumb up 8

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      “Along with emphasizing the importance of not outing a child without their permission, Petrow discusses talking about the child’s relationship with the nonchalance of anyone who has straight kids.”

      It’s right there in the article, and talked about quite extensively in the original source.

  10. Thumb up 1

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    My mother actually helped me come out to the rest of the family two Christmasses ago. We were at one party with my Dad’s side of the familiy, who always used to ask, “So when are you getting a boyfriend?” I would always reply, “I’m not,” and leave it at that. In 2010 however, I had started dating a lady, so Mum came in with, “There is no ‘boy’.” Et voila! I was out. The rest of the family proceeded to get the greeting, “Merry Christmas! I have a girlfriend!” It did the trick nicely.

  11. Thumb up 12

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    Personally I like my mother’s method of just mentioning it as completely normal and then smacking down all the ladies who are shocked and uncomfortable (we live in Tennessee) and then telling me about it later and laughing. My Dad does the same thing to his ultra-conservative co-workers. We have way too much fun shocking people.

  12. Thumb up 1

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    This is super useful advice.

    I’m a big self centered jerk, though, cause all I can think about is 1. my family doesn’t do holidays or talk to extended family, so no big family gatherings for us and 2. I can’t imagine my mother caring enough to write anyone for advice regarding my orientation.

    I hate this season.

    • Thumb up 1

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      I feel like this is pretty much what happened to me. Except my mom asked if she could tell my relatives, and I approved, and then I couldn’t tell if she ever did because I never see/talk to my relatives thanks to geography/economics.

  13. Thumb up 0

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    Well this christmas should be interesting… my parents, sister, cousins, uncle, grandmother all know I’m trans (I told my sister first, and she has been most amazingly awesome to me!), then my cousins (also awesome – including the normally homophobic one!), then my grandmother (who is still a bit of an issue. I’ve not spoken with her in several months…), then my stepmum (she has also been amazingly awesome). My dad was the one I was most worried about telling, but in the end it was kinda anticlimactic (“What am I going to say? No? You never listen to anything else I say, why would you start now?”). Last christmas I didn’t want to cause any issues with anyone so I just went back to the old male-role… but I refuse to do so anymore. I’m generally the shut-up-and-swallow-it type that goes and hides from big explosions, but my sister is the direct opposite, and I know that if something were to happen, she’ll be covering for me… but I’m nervous as hell. I hope everything’ll go fine…

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