The stereotypical image of coming out involves coming out to your parents – standing in the middle of the living room with all eyes on you and telling your parents that you are attracted to members of the same sex. You then have to face in some cases disappointment and shock, or sometimes just as bad, awkward attempts at support and understanding (often cringe worthy… ). As the teenager it is easy to understand the reaction – they are worried that you won’t settle down and get married, that you might face persecution or teasing, and that they’re never going to have grandchildren.
That’s the norm according to popular culture, but what about having to do it the other way around. When the tables are turned and you’re coming out to your teenager, then this can be even more difficult and partly because it will likely be so unexpected. For a teenager who likely has a slightly less developed view of the world, but thinks they’re pretty sure about how everything works by now, it can be the kind of bombshell that leaves them questioning a lot of things subsequently. They will have to change their whole impression of you, and that will mean they need to change their impression of themselves. Here we will look at how to make the process as easy as possible.
Before you rush in there it doesn’t hurt to wait things out a little and see how things pan out. For instance you need to make certain that you know your own sexuality before you come out or you will put them through unnecessary stress (though that said it’s perfectly okay to discuss being bi or uncertain with them if you think they’re ready to hear it). At the same time you should wait for a good moment, and you should try to avoid telling them when they’re going through any other major life events – don’t tell them right before their prom or when they’re about to do their exams. If they’re in a relationship themselves then this will probably make them more understanding and also more secure in their sexuality so if you can wait until then that will be even better.
When you actually tell them, be sure to be as honest and open as possible. While your teenagers are not in their most verbose or conversational stage in their development they are still more sympathetic and intelligent than they likely come across and they will respect be spoken to honestly and as an adult. Make sure they understand what you’re going through and how you feel, and actually you may even find that they can offer support and help you through this as well.
Unfortunately some teenagers may react badly to the news and you might find that they find it difficult to accept your orientation. This can be hurtful and just as children want acceptance when coming out to their parents, you too will want acceptance from them. This can be a great learning curve for them and teach them tolerance and sympathy and broaden their mind to different possibilities. Explain to them that you’re still the same person, that this wasn’t a ‘choice’ you made, and try to relate to them by pointing out times when you had to accept some of their decisions (hopefully you were an accepting parent up until this point… what goes around comes around). If you’re still struggling though then just give them time and try to put yourself in their shoes – it is quite a bombshell and it might just be that they need a little space to come around. You can also try asking their other parent to talk to them for you.
All this confusion can make the whole process a little unsettling for your teenager and in order to reduce the shock it’s important to be as tactful and as careful as possible when you come out to them. Be completely honest but at the same time keep the gory details to a minimum, and also try to be tactful about how you felt towards their Mother/Father as you want them to know that there was love involved in their conception (again though, spare the gruesome bits). You need them to know that it doesn’t affect how you’re going to act towards them and that you will still be able to help them with their problems and relate. Tell them that nothing has changed except for the kind of partners you’ll be meeting.
You should also generally make sure that you are careful to be tactful when getting them to meet your partners and should keep public displays of affection to a minimum to begin with. Don’t suddenly start acting as gay/lesbian as you can as though you don’t want to hide who you are, too much of a sudden transition can be jarring for your child as it just doesn’t fit the impression they’ve had on you for the last decade.
Likewise be sure to be polite when they bring friends around or partners. Again don’t hide who you are, just don’t rub it in their face either as it can make your teenagers uncomfortable – partly because they’re not probably as secure in their own sexuality yet either.
Recognize to that depending on your circumstances, your gender, and the gender of your child this could be harder or easier. In some ways a girl will probably love the idea of having a gay father for instance and this will allow you to exchange notes on guys and take more of an interest in what she does at school – this can actually bring you closer together rather than drive you apart. Girls might also be more accepting if you come out as lesbian, and are generally more mature when it comes to these matters.
For a guy though to learn that his parent is gay or lesbian can be more uncomfortable and more of a shock. If you’re their father then part of the reason for this is that they might feel that even though they’re comfortable with the situation they have nevertheless lost a confident who they can talk to about girls and sports with. That’s unlikely to be the case – you won’t have changed completely and you can probably still talk about most of the other things you spoke about and you probably have experience with women of some sort unless they are adopted too.
However it doesn’t hurt to find a new way to connect and to find something else to do together to strengthen that bond again. Find some common ground and then set aside a time each week to watch a film, engage in a hobby or take a class together. You might also find that your different sexual orientation provides a good source of jest and banter and this is a great way to make it feel more comfortable, so if you’re teen is responsive then try to have a lighthearted joke about it and see if you can’t gross them out a little after all…