Hi, Bi Guy: Coming Out to Your Family

So, you’re bisexual⁠ . Maybe you’ve always known, or perhaps it’s something you’ve realized more recently. Either way, now you’re thinking about coming out to your family of origin.

Coming out⁠ to your family can be daunting for many people – myself included, even though my parents and other relatives have largely been accepting of queer⁠ people. If you’re nervous or anxious about coming out, you’re not alone, but if you feel totally cool about it, that’s fine, too!

For some people, coming out to family members will be something they’d rather do sooner than later. For others, family are the last people they want to or will tell. Others might come out to some of their family, like their parents and siblings, early on but not tell other family members like their grandparents, for example, or they might not tell their parents to begin with but confide first in an aunt. There’s no right or wrong – it all depends on your relationship⁠ with your family, what you want from coming out to them, and what you feel comfortable with.

How to Come Out

There’s no one right way to come out in any situation, or to any person: coming out is very situational,  and it all ultimately comes down to what you want and are comfortable with.

You might decide to come out to multiple and even extended family members at once, or begin with your immediate family or just your parents.

One way to come out is to simply drop it into conversation. This won’t work for everyone – but for some people it can be a good way to come out with little fanfare.

Dr. Michelle Forcier, a clinician at FOLX Health, outlines a few things to consider. She says that you might particularly value privacy, or support, or honesty and directness, and tailor the way you come out accordingly. If you value support most, for example, you might decide to come out to the people you think will be most supportive first – they might be able to help with coming out to the rest of your family, too.

Ultimately, she says, “Decide who needs to know. Decide who needs you to tell them. Decide who you want to engage with. This is your story to share. You get to decide.”

It’s worth considering what you’re hoping to get out of coming out to your family, and what you think you’ll be able to handle. This may help you decide who to tell, and how to tell them, whether this involves bringing a supportive family member or friend along to tell others, or coming out via a letter rather than doing so in person.

All or some of your family might be surprised. This doesn’t mean that they won’t be supportive, but your announcement that you’re bi might go against the plan they assumed for your life. You don’t owe them anything, and their surprise is something for them to deal with, but you may decide to answer any questions or concerns they might have. You aren’t obliged to answer them, for the record, and you’re also allowed to say that you don’t want to discuss it anymore or go into more detail than you feel comfortable with. Something you could do is enter discussions with your family already equipped with resources like books, or links to articles online, if you don’t want to or don’t feel able to answer every question.

Some people can feel underwhelmed by the reaction, if their family doesn’t make a big deal about it or even say they “already knew.” This is understandable, too, particularly if you had a lot of internal anxiety leading up to telling them, and had to do a lot of work to get to the place of coming out to them, but often your family not making a big deal simply – and thankfully! – means that they fully accept you and your sexuality.

If your family takes it well, that’s obviously great! That’s what everybody wants when they come out. Unfortunately, however, it’s not the reality for many. Dr. Forcier says, “You cannot control anybody else’s reactions, feelings, or thoughts. Their response is their responsibility. That means focusing on you and your response, and what you need to do for yourself.

“So figure out what you need to be supportive, generous, kind, and loving to and for you. Give them and yourself time, space, and support to get used to new ideas and new visions of you, your sexuality, and your future. Most parents are looking for ways to love and support you. Remember that – and that you are perfect and wonderful whatever your sexuality!"

However, she also recommends giving your family some time to process, and providing them with role models – people who can model what it’s like to be supportive family members. Do you have any bi friends with supportive relatives? You can find plenty of LGBTQ⁠ + celebrities who’ve been supported by their family members online, too.

There might be other things to consider, however. If you’re still living at home, and particularly if you’re under 18, your parents or guardians might decide to tweak certain rules. If your parents previously had rules regarding friends of a particular gender⁠ not being allowed to sleep over or bedroom doors needing to stay open, they might want to change this to reflect your sexuality.

Even if you disagree with their rules, try to stay calm – this might be new to them, too, and they might be trying hard to strike a sensible balance between keeping you safe and respecting your sexuality. If they say they’ll no longer let a platonic⁠ male friend sleep over in the same room, for example, this might be frustrating, but it does mean that they’re taking your sexuality seriously. If you aren’t happy with the rules, it’s usually worth asking your parents if you can discuss or negotiate them in a calm, productive manner.

Dealing With Generation Gaps

One thing you might be worried about when thinking about coming out to your family are generation gaps that can exist between younger and older people. My grandparents are all between 45 and 50 years older than me, and so were in their sixties when I came out. I’ve never gone into detail about my sexuality with them – at most, they’ve met my current girlfriend and a couple of previous girlfriends. I’ve never felt rejected by them for being bisexual, however, but I’ve realized this makes me quite fortunate.

It’s understandable that you might be reluctant to come out, or worried about coming out to relatives, for a multitude of potential reasons. You know your relatives best, but consider whether you think they might be open to having a conversation. While it’s not your responsibility to change their views, they might believe things they’ve read in the past, or learned very early in life, without really thinking about it, or never really spoken about things in depth before.

Jordan, who realized he was bisexual in his mid-teens, explains that he came out after an aunt made “a flippant comment about how she didn’t see the point in saying you’re bi when you’ve only been in straight relationships. And, well, I’ve only ever been with one person — my wife — and I have two kids. I have no reason to expect I’ll ever be with anyone else; I love my wife with all my heart and soul.

“But sexuality isn’t just about who you’re with; it’s also about who you are and how you feel. So I told my auntie that. I told her I’ve had feelings for men and for women, and that even though I’m happy in a heteronormative relationship, that fact doesn’t define everything I am, have been, or can be. It was actually a really positive conversation because my auntie — and others since — are very much the type who live in small bubbles where they’re only used to what they themselves know.”

“By puncturing their binaristic bubble, I showed them — and myself — that when you own who you are, more often than not the ones you love will adjust and accept and expand their worldview accordingly.”

Deciding Not to Come Out, For Now

If you decide not to tell certain family members that you’re bisexual, that’s a totally valid choice. If you have a long-term girlfriend, and you don’t see those relatives much anyway, it’s a decision that can make sense. However, if you’re close to those relatives, and particularly if you see yourself potentially dating another guy in the future, it could be a good idea to tell them. But even if you were to stay only dating people of a different gender, it can be really uncomfortable to live as though you aren’t bi – coming out can feel like a release.

Jordan says that he came out accidentally, and didn’t do so until he was 24. “Not so much because I was in the closet or anything,” he explains, “But simply because it wasn’t something I’d wanted to necessarily discuss openly before then.”

And that’s perfectly okay! There’s no pressure to come out before you’re ready to do so, for whatever reason that might be.

Your Safety and Well-Being Are the Priorities

Your safety and well-being should come first. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to come out when they want and to who they want, and for it to always be pretty easily accepted, if not celebrated. But, even if you don’t feel comfortable coming out for whatever reason, your identity⁠ is just as valid.

“Decide how [and if ] you want to disclose,” says Dr. Forcier. “In person? Make sure you are in a safe space: especially if you worry about a negative or even violent reaction and response. Public places, with another person to bear witness and support, might help.”

Alternatively, you might feel safer writing a letter. She says, “This gives the other person time to initially react in private; it gives them time to gather their thoughts and feelings. And it can give them time to create a response that is loving, positive, and kind in return.”

It can help to put a plan in place should your family not react well. Do you have a support network, for example? This might consist of friends, other relatives, or other people in your life like teachers and therapists.

There are plenty of resources online, too. Dr. Forcier recommends, the CDC, and PFLAG – which can be helpful for parents and guardians of queer people too. And, there’s Scarleteen, of course, which is stacked full of advice and resources for young queer people, and where you can also get one-on-one or peer community help if you like.

And, as Jordan says, “When you’re ready to let the world know who you are in that way, you are actively helping undo years of stigma and everyone within this community will be right there with you, proud of you and supportive of your choices.”


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