journeyLGBTLove

When Coming Out to Your Conservative Family

“Do you have any advice for coming out to my conservative family?” This is the question I get more than any other. It’s certainly not a novel question. So many folks have asked this and are asking this, and honestly, there isn’t a cookie cutter answer, because to say one’s family is “conservative” can mean a litany of things. It ranges from being a polite right-leaning moderate to the religious fundamentalist that may disown any queer relatives.

I’m certainly luckier than some. My family, while not being fully-affirming, still loves me and always lets me come home for the holidays. But I have many friends who have lost family and friends when they came out, and I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of physical violence. I’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories I write too many books on coming out to one’s conservative family.

I think there are some things you should undoubtedly consider on your journey out of the closet.

Here are just a few ideas on coming out when your family is hella conservative:

You need a support network.

Do you have your safe people in your life who will support you no matter what? I’m talking about full acceptance, not the “I love you but-” kind of people. Having people who will love you because of who you are, not in spite of who you are, is probably the most important part of this process. And that can be hard to find, especially if you are in a smaller, conservative community.

Depending on your stage of life, having a support network could mean that you need a place to stay, or it could mean just having people to lean on.

If I didn’t have my community or support, I don’t know if this process would have gone as smoothly for me. And if you don’t have people around you, reach out online. Seriously, I’ve met some of the most genuine people and built some of my strongest bonds through people I met over Twitter and in the blogosphere. Check hashtags like #faithfullyLGBT. I’m sure that someone on the internet knows somebody near you. The internet is magical like that. So reach out.

Have an FAQ ready.

This might just be something me and my nerdy friends have, but I think it’s so helpful. Have an FAQ about your coming out ready. Include stuff you know that people are gonna ask, and just send it to them. If you have a conservative family who has no background in talking about LGBTQ anything, this will save you a lot of emotional labor. Some question’s I’d include are:

What do I mean when I say that I’m (fill in your sexual orientation and/or gender identity)?
This doesn’t mean that I’m…. (You could use this to dispel myths about queer folks. Things like all gay guys are drag queens, all lesbians are cut their hair off, all queer folks are promiscuous, etc.)
How do I know that I’m _______?
What do I believe about being _______ and the Bible?
Am I still a Christian?
Some videos/books/articles/blogs that I found helpful in my journey have been…

Honestly, on that last one, give them something to engage with. I’d even put it with the caveat of, “I’ve spent my whole life thinking about this. You’ve probably spent less than 5 minutes considering what I’ve been experiencing my entire life. It would mean a lot if you would thoughtfully engage with this, rather than writing off the person God created me to be.”

Send this FAQ to folks who may slide into your DM’s and say, “I heard you’re gay now. And I’m praying for you…” or to anyone you can’t spend the emotional labor on. Because, most of the time, folks don’t really wanna hear your story. Folks wanna tell you that you are wrong. This gives you a way to save your time and energy.

Okay, this next one is non-negotiable:

Your safety is the most important part of coming out.

Just like you need your people for support, you need to be smart about how you come out. I know you’ve heard horror stories of LGBTQ+ people facing violence, actual physical violence, from their family or community.

If you are in a space or community where you believe you will be physically threatened, I think bringing someone with you can be immensely helpful. And if you don’t have that, it might be wise just to wait until you are in a place where you will be safe.

That could mean finding a different church, moving to a new city, etc. Or maybe it looks like staying and working on things with your family or community. Again, it is going to look different for every person, but you need to find the space that works for you, a space where you are going to be safe.

Also, consider your financial situation. Do you have student loans that your parents are helping with? Are you dependent on any way on your family’s financial support? And what about your job— could you possibly lose your job by coming out?

It sucks, but these details are really important to consider when you are making the leap. Some folks lose so much. For others, nothing changes. But regardless, keep the following in mind:

You’re going to lose something.

By coming out, you risk losing a lot of the things you hold dear—friends, family, ministry opportunities. But I will also say that you stand to gain so much more.

For me, it was one of those situations where I didn’t realize how bad I had it until I realized how beautiful life could honestly be. I didn’t understand how freeing it was, to tell the truth about how I was feeling finally. I had a weight of shame that I had been unaware of lifted off of my shoulders.

My connection to God is stronger because I know that I am a Son in the Family, not a second-class servant. My capacity to love is higher because I now love myself more fully. My thoughts are focused because I’m not constantly fixated on my sexuality.

However, coming out doesn’t fix the emotional scars you may have gained throughout your life. Coming out doesn’t guarantee an experience of rainbows and sunshine, or that all of a sudden the moon and stars will align and all of your dreams will just come to pass. Coming out isn’t a magical pill that frees you from shame or fear or self-condemnation.

If anything, coming out may intensify some of the insecurities you had before. It may bring up new ones. It may honestly be super painful.

However, coming out is a step towards finally dealing with those insecurities. It’s a step towards releasing some of that pain you might be carrying.

Coming out is a step towards the truth, and the truth will set you free.

And when you come out as a Christian, in a church or to your conservative family, it will undoubtedly be difficult. But as I and (I’m sure) countless others who have come before me will tell you, it’s also undoubtedly the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and for my relationship with God.

Last thing:

You don’t have to come out all at once.

What I mean by that is you don’t have to shout it from the mountaintop. You don’t have to go from the closet to throwing glitter and waving the rainbow flag. (You actually don’t ever have to do either of those if you don’t want to, but it is kinda fun, in my opinion.) You can come out in small waves. Maybe to your friends, perhaps to a trusted pastor, or possibly just to your family.

Personally, I think coming out is a necessary part of this journey and I think a willingness to tell one’s true story does wonders for the Kingdom of God. I think stories can cause revolutions in hearts, minds, and cultures. I think your story will be the one that saves someone’s life.

BUT, if you aren’t ready to share this part of you with the world, that’s okay! Again, this process is unique to the individual and is dependent upon circumstances and relationships.

Overall, you need to feel safe, secure, and ready.

And I could impress anything upon you, it is this:

You are loved. 

You are fearfully, wonderfully, beautifully made.
You are accepted as you are for who you are.
You are a Child of God and Heir to the Throne.
You are the story someone needs to hear so that they can tell theirs.

You are not alone.

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  • Gwendolyn Glover DeRosa

    Thank you, Kevin. It’s been almost two years since my wife and I came out to my conservative family. Holidays are incredibly hard because we’ve been cut off (banished, really) by important people. This blog post reminds me that I need to focus my attention on telling my story and listening to others. Thankfully, we have an incredibly accepting and supportive church family and we spent as much time as possible with them. I think the community that LGBTQIA++ Christians create is an amazing example of what Christ desires for the Church.

  • Excellent advice, Kevin. I’ve been out since 1987, my family was conservative (and still is, sorta), and I wish I had known about this advice at the time. I wasn’t thrown out of the family or cut off financially (I waited until after college was over), but it could have gone better if I had prepared myself before blurting it out, rather than just announcing that I was in love with a guy and I wanted to be with him. [I cringe, even now.] But thank you, both for a good read and on behalf of all those this article will certainly help for years to come.