Coming to terms with your sexuality and/or gender identity can be a difficult process. Many people stay closeted for years out of fear, anxiety, or denial. For some LGBTQ+ individuals, this can lead to relationships that, while perhaps fulfilling in other ways, do not allow them to be their most authentic selves. If this applies to you, and the time has come for you to start being open about your sexuality/gender identity, you will undoubtedly have to come out to your partner. Below are some tips to hopefully help make the process a bit easier on you, your partner, and children.
Coming Out to Your Partner
It is never too early or too late to come out to your partner. Often, people are more upset about the perceived deception or secrecy than their partner’s sexual orientation or gender identity itself. It may be helpful to plan and practice how you will come out to your partner. This can include things like writing down your thoughts or practicing with a friend. Practicing may help you feel more confident and work out any kinks in your speech. As part of your preparation, you may want to identify your primary support system outside of your partner, such as family, friends, local support groups, therapists, or counsellors. This way, you have a group of people to turn to if necessary. Depending on the circumstances, you may not be able to rely on your partner to provide immediate support.
Prior to coming out to your partner, it is important to determine what you want out of the conversation based on your individual circumstances. Are you interested in staying together? Having an open or polyamorous relationship? Ending the relationship? Subsequently, preparing for a variety of outcomes ranging from ideal to horrible may better equip you to handle your partner’s reaction. You may also consider identifying middling outcomes, neither favourable nor unfavourable, that you can still work with. If you are questioning your sexual orientation or gender identity, sharing these feelings and experiences with your partner may be just as important as coming out to them. Your partner’s support, or lack thereof, will be something for you to consider and potentially address in individual or couple’s counselling; where possible.
When having the conversation with your partner, consider setting aside plenty of time in a private setting for you both to talk and process. Recognize that your partner may feel upset, hurt, and betrayed by your revelation. If you have taken steps to confirm your sexual orientation outside of your relationship, such as having an affair, recognize that this may come up and will be something you must address. While you may want to spare your partner the details, recognize that an affair may be something that ends your relationship regardless of your partner’s acceptance of your sexual orientation or gender identity. Subsequently, your coming out to your partner should not be used as an opportunity to discuss other unrelated issues in your relationship. This may be counterproductive and distract you from the issue at hand.
Some sexualities or gender identities may be more conducive to remaining with your partner, again dependent on your individual circumstances. However, it is important that you identify warning signs of your partner demanding impossible concessions regarding your sexuality or gender identity in exchange for remaining in the relationship. For example, an asexual individual may feel uncomfortable with their partner demanding sex once a week in exchange for remaining in the relationship. Where possible, a therapist or counsellor may be helpful for working through the emotions arising out of the conversation, either individually or in joint sessions. You may also want to encourage your partner to find their own support group, such as The Straight Spouse Network.
Coming Our to Your Children
When coming out to your children, make sure to do so in a private setting with plenty of time for you to talk and process. In approaching the topic, it may be helpful to frame it as a question to help your children unpack their feelings. For example, “how do you feel about boys who like other boys/girls who like other girls?” Or, “what do you think about a person who feels like a boy/girl/both/neither?” By listening and asking your children what they already know and feel about the LGBTQ+ community, it can help to act as a baseline to discuss your sexuality/gender identity more broadly and address any questions or concerns they may have. It is important to address any concerns or questions in a non-judgmental and non-argumentative manner. Just as this may be challenging for you, so too can it be challenging for your children. It may also be helpful to provide context to younger children by using metaphors, such as two princes or princesses getting married (in the case of sexual orientation) or popcorn in a cereal box wanting to be in a popcorn bowl (in the case of gender identity/transitioning).
Coming out to your children does not mean that you have to have “the talk” with them. Make sure you frame the discussion about your sexual orientation/gender identity in an age-appropriate manner. This can include discussing affection, romance, and attraction as things like holding hands, dating and finding someone pretty or handsome. It may also be helpful for you to break down stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people during the conversation by pointing to famous LGBTQ+ role models. You should also recognize that your kids’ reactions may vary, from peppering you with questions to none at all. This conversation may be one of many, with your children potentially having new questions or concerns as they grow and mature. Depending on the age of your children, this may also be an opportunity for your children to come out to you. This should not be an expectation, nor should you pressure your children to address their own sexuality or gender identity simply because you are addressing yours. Regardless of your children’s sexual orientation or gender identity, it is important to show them the support you would want from them.
It may be helpful in this time of change to reassure your children of the things that will remain the same. Emphasize that you love them, are still their parent, are still the person you have always been, and that they are still your number one priority. You can demonstrate this by being attentive and respectful of their needs while you begin this new stage of your life. In particular, be respectful of your children’s wishes as to how, when, and who they “come out” to about you once you feel comfortable being open about your sexual orientation/gender identity to the public. This may help them feel as though they have some measure of control over the new changes in their lives. Finally, it may be helpful to connect your children with other children who have LGBTQ+ parents. This can be done through word of mouth, community organizations, or national organizations such as PFLAG.
If as a result of your decision to live openly about your sexual orientation/gender identity you and your partner are separating or divorcing, it is important that you and your partner communicate this to your children together, where possible. Your partner may feel upset, hurt, and betrayed by you. Nevertheless, it is important that you approach your children with a unified, loving, and respectful message regarding your separation or divorce. If it is not possible for you to speak to your children together, ensure that you do not speak poorly of your partner when discussing your separation or divorce. Be prepared for the possibility that your children may blame you for the separation or divorce. Reiterate that despite you and your partner no longer being together, you both still love them and want what is best for them.
Ultimately, it may take time for your children to adjust to the “new normal” and accept your sexual orientation/gender identity. While this may be difficult, being honest with your children will allow both you and them to be happier and less stressed in the long run. Encouraging such a dialogue with your children may even help you become closer to them than ever before. You know yourself and your children best and must make the decision that works best for you.
Regardless of the outcome, you may want to check in with your support network after the conversation with your partner to debrief and sort through your own emotions. If the conversation does not go well, you may also have to consider your options regarding separation or divorce. Additionally, if you have children, you may also have to consider how to come out to them, and potentially how to explain the end of your relationship with your partner to them.
Ultimately, being honest with yourself and your partner can reduce stress in your relationship and make you both happier in the long run. You know yourself and your partner and must choose the best time and manner in which to come out.