Feeling Awkward: Dear Stacy, I just came out to my parents as gay, but it feels very awkward. What should I do?
Stacy: Dear Feeling Awkward, thank you so much for your question and just in time, as October is LGBTQ+ History Month. I can’t imagine how hard it has been for you having to hide your authentic self. I hope that you feel like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders because it can be a burden and an emotional strain to keep your sexual orientation and sexual identity a secret. I also hope that despite feeling awkward, you got a positive response from your parents.
One thing to remember is that coming out is a lifelong journey and it does not mean that you will no longer have struggles in the future. You have to decide what you want your coming out journey to look like. Some people decide that they want the whole world to know and others are more private about it. Just know that whatever path you choose, remember that your sexuality or gender identity does not define you. It is an important part of what makes you YOU, but it should not be everything.
I wish I could tell you that you won’t feel awkward, but the truth is things will now be different in your life. There is no right or wrong way to be out. Coming out and living out is a learning process just like anything else. Learning how to respond to these changes in your life is key and you will need to educate yourself and your family through this process. Relationships may change and learning how to cope with these changes will be important for your mental health and overall well-being. One place to start is to check out Dan Savage’s groundbreaking project for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths called It Gets Better: www.itgetsbetter.org. On this site you can watch video testimonials and learn from others in the LGBTQ+ community. Finding supportive allies who are there for you when you need to talk or are feeling low, can make a huge difference.
Here are some ways your family and friends can become an ally to you and the LGBTQ+ community.
1. They need to educate themselves. They cannot expect you to educate them. There are so many resources out there and available to help them understand you better.
2. Even though you have disclosed your gender identity to them, they need to allow you to come out in your own time and your own way to others in your life. They should never out you to anyone!
3. They will need to not stereotype. We get so many mixed ideas and messages from society and social media about gender identity and sexual orientation that it distorts one’s thinking. Instead, we need to communicate with each other, ask questions, and try to see the other’s perspective. Stereotypes serve no purpose!
4. They should never refer to you as their “LGBTQ+ son/daughter/friend”. Your sexual orientation does NOT define you, it is only one aspect of your identity.
5. Help them practice being inclusive and speak up when they are not.
6. Once they are comfortable with this new information, encourage them to be vocal about their allyship. Without doing so, they may never know who they inspire along the way.“It would be lovely if coming out were not such a big deal, but in reality, we live in a patriarchal, heteronormative society where coming out is rarely straightforward. Even when it goes well, it’s still a shift. Coming out the first time means coming out over and over. Coming out isn’t a magic trick that makes us suddenly understand ourselves completely. And it doesn’t mean everyone else suddenly understands us perfectly either….Even if your friends and family have been supportive, it’s still normal to feel this funk you’re in. Coming out requires vulnerability. It requires self-awareness.” (Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, 11/17/20)