Tips for coming out to your family

Revealing your gender identity or sexual orientation to your family is a personal decision. This journey looks different for each person. There’s no right way or time for you to share this information.1 It can happen during any stage of life, from adolescence to adulthood.

Having the coming-out conversation may feel difficult, but sharing your truth can help you live a happy, authentic life. Read on to learn helpful tips to help you prepare for the conversation.

When should I come out to my family?

Remember, there is no “right” time to come out to your family. The timing could depend on what’s going on in your life and the types of relationships you have with your family members. For some, coming out during a big change, like moving out or no longer being financially dependent on your family, may feel like a good time.

“Some people decide to come out when they’ve met someone and are in a significant romantic relationship,” says Omar Torres, L.C.S.W. He’s a therapist and owner of the Torres Group in New York City. “You may want to finally say to your family, ‘This is my partner,’ instead of referring to your significant other as a good friend or your roommate.”

Whatever the circumstances, it’s important to be clear with yourself about “why now” before you make the announcement, advises Torres. “Asking yourself why you’ve chosen to come out now is connected to the meaning behind it.”

For instance, maybe you’re craving a closer bond with your family, but lying about who you are prevents you from achieving that closeness, he explains. “Tying your decision back to why it’s meaningful can help anchor your decision — so no matter what the outcome, you will always walk away understanding why you did it.”

5 ways to prepare yourself for coming out

Everyone’s family dynamics are different. For some, coming out can be a celebratory occasion, while others may not get a positive response. Be sure to prepare yourself for what might happen.

1. Play out the conversation in your head

You know your family better than anyone, but sometimes things don’t go as you imagined. Try to consider the possible outcomes. You can even write out what you think you want to say beforehand.3

“You want to expect the best, but you also want to plan for something harder,” says David Huebner, Ph.D. He’s an associate professor of prevention and community health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Think about how your family members might react. Try to anticipate questions they may ask, like:

  • “Is this just a phase?”
  • "Are you sure?”
  • “Have you dated someone of the same sex?”
  • “Why are you telling us this now?”

Try to anticipate questions they might ask and think about how you might answer those questions if they come up. Having these questions in mind might help you craft straightforward answers. For example, a response might be, “No, it’s not a phase. I’m telling you this because I’m letting you into this truth about me and my life,” says Davina Kotulski, Ph.D. She’s a licensed clinical psychologist and life coach in private practice in Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon.

There may be loved ones who feel confused, shocked or angry. Some parents may think they did something “wrong” during parenting. You can reassure your parents that your sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t a result of their parenting, and that they didn’t do anything wrong, Kotulski explains.

On the other hand, your family may not be surprised by the news. They may even feel some relief that you’ve come out. And you might be surprised by their acceptance. In fact, a 2023 survey showed that up to 75% of non-LGBTQ adults are comfortable learning that a family member is LGBTQ.2

The situation is more complicated for a person who is in a romantic heterosexual relationship. “If someone is married and coming out to their spouse, it might feel like a betrayal to that spouse,” says Huebner. “This decision means you might split up.” And if you have kids, they may not be excited about this news, explains Huebner. In all situations, remember there’s a reason you’re coming out. And that reason is likely the need to be true to yourself, Huebner stresses.

2. Find an ally

Coming out doesn’t have to be something you do alone. If you have a relative whom you know will be more accepting — like a sibling, aunt, uncle or cousin — you can share your news with them first, as a way of practicing and getting support, suggests Huebner. Your ally can also be there when you tell your family.

Huebner adds that if there’s someone you think is going to be particularly hard to share the news with, you can ask someone else to do it for you when you’re not there. “It’s OK to let other people tell your family members for you, if they’re comfortable doing so,” Huebner says.

For younger people, your ally could be one parent who already knows or who will be more receptive. Say you have a closer relationship with your mother. Your dad may respond better if your mom tells him herself.

3. Choose a time and place

“Set your discussion in a place where you feel safe and less vulnerable,” says Torres. This could be your own home, your family’s home or even a public space, like a park.

For young people who live with their parents, try to pick a time when things are calm. You might want to avoid revealing the news during an argument or when a family member is stressed or running out the door. It may also be a good idea to not have the conversation during a big event, like a wedding or a holiday dinner.

“Holidays are already stressful, and there are a lot of emotional expectations around them. So, coming out on these days can pile on even more stress,” says Kotulski.

4. Offer helpful resources

It may not be easy to answer all the questions that might come up — or even explain what it means to be part of the LGBTQ+ community. It could be a good idea to have some resources with you. These might include materials from an LGBTQ+ organization’s website, books, podcasts or information about support groups for family members.

Not sure where to start? Torres suggests finding your local or state LGBTQ+ center.

The CenterLink LGBTQ Community Center Member Directory can help locate your nearest center. You can also turn to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for links to other national organizations and LGBTQ+ networks. For LGBTQ+ youth, The Trevor Project offers an online handbook about coming out.

You also may want to talk to a mental health professional to help guide you through this process and the emotions that come along with it.3 Pride Counseling can match you with a therapist who works specifically with people in the LGBTQ community.

5. Have an “after” plan, just in case

It’s always best to prepare for any and all outcomes.

"If you're a young person, you want to set up a safe place to go if the worst-case scenario happens and you don't feel comfortable at home," says Huebner. He suggests asking yourself these questions:

  1. Do you have somewhere you can go afterward where you feel safe?
  2. Do you have a friend or another family member where you can land for a few hours or for the evening while things settle down?

Give your family time to process

It may take a moment for your loved ones to absorb the news. “Tell them to take as much time as they need,” says Torres.

And remember even if their initial reaction isn’t what you had hoped for, their feelings may change. “If your family isn’t supportive out of the gate, that doesn’t mean months down the road they won’t be your biggest advocate,” says Kotulski. “Give them some breathing room — and know that someone’s first response isn’t necessarily their last.”

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