Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Suggestions Sought: Coming Out to Family

By Mister Curie

I have had several positive and affirming coming out experiences, including to my brother. I am now beginning to contemplate the best way to come out to my family so that it can be as positive an experience as possible. I would love some suggestions.

Here is the situation. We live far from the majority of my family and only visit once a year for 10-14 days, during which time we stay nearly exclusively at my parent's house. This trip typically occurs during the summer. Coming out is complicated by having two different issues to come out about: church disaffection and homosexuality.

Here are the pros and cons I have thought of so far for some of these parameters:

Coming out about both vs. only one issue

Pros for coming out about both:
complete honesty
get it over at one time
live authentically
overall response may be less protracted

Cons for coming out about both:
may confuse the two issues together
supports stereotype that homosexuality is sinful
might fail in making parents more understanding of homosexuals in general
minimizes my other issues with the church (which were not initially related to homosexuality and were sufficient to destroy my testimony without homosexuality being an issue)
response is likely to be stronger (if ultimately less protracted)

If choosing an issue: Church vs. Homosexuality

Pros for coming out about Church:
Follows time-line of my journey (this was the issue first)
Intellect and facts are on my side
If parents reject me over this issue, I can channel my frustration at the church

Pros for coming out about Homosexuality:
I think my parents would be more accepting of my homosexuality than disaffection
Disaffection may be more understandable coming from the perspective that I'm gay
Homosexuality can be seen as an innate quality, rather than a choice (such as drinking tea)
Wife and son would probably get sympathy and support

Cons for coming out about Church:
May make parents later think that homosexuality stemmed from Satan and sin
I think the response would be less favorable than for homosexuality
May estrange wife and son from my family
Blame may be placed on my wife

Cons for coming out about Homosexuality:
If rejected over homosexuality, I will feel like it is more of a personal rejection

Coming Out before visit vs. during visit

Pros for before visit:
If rejected, can save money by not purchasing plane tickets until we know response
less time hiding and more time feeling authentic
written letter will allow me to fully express thoughts without getting lost in emotional responses
things won't be as awkward if parents have time to process before we visit

Pros for during visit:
Will immediately have time in person to show I am the same person and rebuild relationship
More personal and intimate

If during visit: at beginning vs end of visit

Pros for beginning:
More time to show I am same person and to rebuild relationship
more time being authentic and less time hiding

Pros for end:
If bad response, won't be stuck with no place to stay
Less time for things to be awkward

What do you think? What considerations am I neglecting?


  1. This is just my opinion, and based mostly on my experiences with my extended family.

    I'd wait to come out in person, and give it a few days into the vacation before doing so as well. That would give your parents a chance to see that you and Madame Curie are still close and working together, and might help mitigate some of their initial concerns about what your homosexuality means.

    My parents found out about my disaffection by accident, and then spent weeks plotting and getting themselves worked up about it. I found out that they knew somewhere in the middle of that, and called them on it. It got really, really nasty at that point. There were personal attacks, and attacks on my wife and her family for leading me astray (which they didn't). I have a disaffected uncle who they started looking at to channel blame towards as well, and they were in the process of planning a surprise trip out to 'explain the gospel' to me, since I obviously didn't understand it.

    I think the root cause is that rejecting the gospel may be seen as a personal attack on them and their belief system, while homosexuality is more personal, and hopefully they would see that more of who you are, as opposed to a rejection of them and/or their beliefs.

    My concern with coming out with both would be the confusion it would likely cause, even though I think they do go hand in hand.

    Of course you know them better than any of us... Hope it ends up being a positive experience for you and your family though.

  2. I'm big on honesty, so I was a little concerned about "Disaffection may be more understandable coming from the perspective that I'm gay", as it sounds like you're suggesting that it would be better to let them think that being gay led to your disaffection with the church (a deception).

    Other than that...

    I think that the best way to "come out" is a letter (so that you can be sure to get everything you want to say out, in the order and manner in which you want to say it) followed very shortly after (no later than the next day) with an in-person discussion (so that you can answer any questions that may have arisen, resolve any concerns, etc.)

    That would indicate waiting until the visit, so that you can do the in-person follow-up.

    The decision of whether to do it toward the beginning or the end of the visit depends on how well you expect them to take it. Toward the beginning give you more time for discussion, if you believe they will be capable of rational discussion. Toward the end avoids awkwardness if you believe they won't be capable of rational discussion.

    As for what to come out about...

    What do you want them to know? And why do you want them to know it? Are you regularly having to lie about being active, believing members of the church? If so, then letting the truth of that issue out might be a good thing. Do you feel like they need to know the truth about your orientation? (For the record, I'm 100% for being completely out).

    It seems like you want to be out about both, and you're just wondering whether doing both at once is too much (for the reasons you listed as "cons" at the beginning).

    I'm trying to put myself in your situation, and then I realized that I don't really have to, because I'm sort of already in it myself.

    Only sort of, because my family already knows I'm gay, but they don't know the extent of my inactivity. My parents sort-of know that I'm "taking a break" from church, but I don't think they really understand where I stand. And I've just realized that I'm more afraid to tell them how I really feel about the church than I was to tell them I'm gay. I think it will hurt them more.

    Maybe that's the core of your dilemma too?

    I don't know... My gut says that, given the order in which events transpired in your life, you really need to tell your story in that order. Otherwise things get confusing and wrong impressions are formed (as you've noted).

    If you keep things in order, I think it would be best to do it all at once--otherwise the gay thing is more likely to be seen as a "result" of your "apostasy", I think.

    The challenge is to make it clear that these are separate events, and that the second actually predates the first. You do this with clear examples from before your disaffection of attractions to men--times you could have recognized you were gay, if you had been open to the idea.

    No matter what, if your parents are typical Mormons there's a good chance they're going to link the two: "He was so good at withstanding temptation until he fell away and lost the spirit". But that's going to happen no matter what order or how much time you put between comings-out.

    Hopefully reason and love will win the day, or at least win through in the end, and your family will realize that you're still the same person you've always been--just with a different set of beliefs and different love interests. :)

    Good luck!

  3. Whatever you do, you should follow Dan Savage's advice on coming out to parents who are religious conservatives. He says to give them a full year to freak out, ask you inappropriate questions, attempt to bargain with you or sermonize. During this year you indulge them, no matter how hurtful or inappropriate their response. Most parents will come around within a year.

    I think this makes a lot of sense. It takes time for people to adjust to this kind of news. Religious conservatives are at a particular disadvantage. You have to remember the tremendous amount of negative energy spent on apostates and gay people in their religious tradition. They can't be expected to come around in just one day. So, whatever you decide, be sure to cut your parents some slack during that critical first year after coming out.

  4. Drop the money factors as considerations.

    Decide now or later first. If you decide "later", you have bigger priorities to deal with now than worrying about "how"?


  5. I appreciate the insight everyone. This is really helpful to get some other viewpoints as I decide what to do!

    Urban Koda - I agree that the homosexuality will be seen as more about me, while it gets hairy with the Gospel because it can be seen as a rejection of them, doing them both at the same time does seem to be a bit much

    Scott - I appreciate you puzzling through all of this with me. I'm big on honesty as well. I think my comment to Koda explains what I was thinking, that bringing up homosexuality first is about me, and that when they find out about my disaffection later it won't be so much about my rejecting them (which my disaffection with the church has nothing to do with either), but will still be about me. I think the situation will go over easier if it is about me and not about them. What do I want them to know and why? Good questions. I want them to know about both due to reasons of honesty and so I can be authentic, but I want them to know about homosexuality so they can know the whole real me and so that it can challenge some of their beliefs about homosexuality, I'm actually less adamant that they know about my church disaffection (although it would be nice to not have to pretend, particularly when my former less-active brother tells me how proud I must be of him from coming back to church) but I don't feel the need to challenge their faith.

    MoHoHawaii - excellent advice and thanks for the link!

    FireTag - you're right, money isn't be a factor, and I really don't expect my coming out to influence my parents desire to see us.

  6. Your blog made me think about doing this myself. I'll have to write about it sometime. I say, explain the homosexuality first, in person. Not sure I'd do it on a family vacation--but that might prevent too many fireworks. Your parents must be semi-intellectual, given the brain power you've inherited....

  7. Maybe I'm being highly insensitive, but I don't understand why your parents need to know. Unless the marriage is ending, I don't think I would come out to them. They're bound to just write you off as a troubled couple on the verge of divorce. And your lifestyle isn't changing at this point, so I guess I don't understand what it is that your family needs to accept. It seems like a lot of turmoil could be avoided until events play out and they "need" to know.

  8. Joe - I appreciate your suggestions. I've been suprised by how many people suggested outing myself in person (or at least making an in-person visit an integral part of the outing process if using a letter to get all the thoughts out), I was definitely leaning toward just using a letter. I will definitely have to think more about this.

    Anonymous - you speak some wise words. I think the main drive to tell my parents is to be authentic, as well as to challenge some of their views on homosexuality. But in many ways you are right, my world is chaotic enough right now without introducing more drama into it by outing myself to my family. It might be a good idea to hold off until other aspects of my life have settled down. We only see them once a year, so it really isn't a big deal to stay closeted, and nothing has changed outwardly. I'll definitely take your advice under consideration.