Discussing sexuality with parents - ViewPoint
Dear Sex Matters,And the answer including great advice offered a plug for LGBTieS and PFLAG Tri-Cities! Here it is:
I have a question that I am afraid to ask anyone else. I am a 20-year-old who has been in a two-year lesbian relationship with my roommate.
We love each other and recently, my roommate told her parents about us and thankfully, they were very supportive. My parents, on the other hand, are a different story.
I was brought up in a very strict Roman Catholic family, where homosexuality is not OK. How can I tell my parents that I am a lesbian without them disowning me?
-Lesbian in Love
Dear Lesbian in Love,Good job, East Tennessean.
What a wonderful thing to have a relationship in which you and your partner love each other.
Wouldn't it be great if that were all that mattered?
Regardless of how strong the relationship is with your partner, it can be confusing and scary to consider sharing your feelings for her with your parents.
While it's a relief that your partner's parents were supportive, your concerns about your parents not being supportive or not reacting similarly are valid and not uncommon.
You want to tell your parents without having them disown you. Could this realistically happen or are you worrying about a worst-case scenario?
Either way, it sounds as though the prospect of revealing your true self to your parents does not feel safe.
Before you disclose yourself and your relationship to them, it's important that you set up supports for yourself and carefully think through your options. For example:
• Who can you talk with (in addition to your partner) for emotional support?
If you haven't already, you may want to talk over the situation with friends. It may also help to reach out to support networks on campus, ie. the LGBTies student organization, the Counseling Center (439-4841), a clergy member you trust, or other advisors you feel close with.
All these resources can help you sort through your ideas and concerns, and can support you no matter what you decide.
• Are there any emotional or practical reasons why the risk of telling your parents may be too great?
Would you have a place to live during school breaks? Could you continue to pay tuition and living costs no matter how they respond? Would you lose contact with family members?
It might also help to start focusing on what exactly you want to say to your parents, and how. Here are some questions you may want to consider:
• What do you want to say to them? What do you want them to know about me?
Do you want to tell them you are a lesbian or that you have an intimate relationship with a woman right now? What terms and expressions do you want to use?
What do you think will be most understandable to your parents? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, only differences in how you might feel and how your parents might receive the news.
• How do you feel about telling your parents? Disclosing something hidden about yourself can be overwhelming and scary, but also exhilarating and liberating.
Think about how it has felt to have this secret and how you might feel once it is out in the open. Who else will be told? Siblings? Grandparents? Close family friends?
• What is your belief system? I know that Catholicism is important to your family, but what are your values and beliefs around your own spirituality?
Speaking frankly about your beliefs and acknowledging theirs might help them to feel less like you are rejecting their values.
• What do you need from your parents? Maybe you would like your parents to know who you really are.
Maybe you hope they'll be supportive and OK with your sexuality. Maybe you want them to be open and honest about possible disappointment and fear.
Maybe you hope the conversation will bring you closer together or maybe you hope to establish a new independence.
Knowing these answers can help guide the tone of the conversation.
When you're ready, talk with your parents in a calm, private setting.
You may pre-arrange a time or keep it spontaneous to when it "feels right" for everyone. You may want to tell one parent first, if that feels safer.
For more tips related to coming out, check out the Human Rights Campaign website (www.hrc.org).
For a supportive Catholic network, try Dignity USA (www.dignityusa.org).
And if your parents are interested, you can all seek support and information from Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Persons (PFLAG).
There is a PFLAG group here in Johnson City that meets weekly here on campus. For information and meeting times, check out their website (www.pflagtricities.org).
Ultimately, you can't make your parents understand or approve of who you are.
What you can do is think through what you feel, need, hope for, and are afraid of, as well as what your next steps will be, after the decision to have that first conversation.
Sex Matters is a column that addresses students' questions about sexuality and relationships.
It provides readers with reliable, accessible information and a range of thoughtful perspectives so that students can make personal and responsible decisions concerning their health and well-being.
Students are encouraged to email their questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. All Sex Matters questions will be read, however, not all questions will be selected for publication.