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Expert Advice

Navigating Your Family’s Reactions to Your LGBTQ Identity

Coming out is a huge step to take at any age, but it can be especially nerve-wracking for young adults. Chances are you’ll open up about this part of your identity with many people during the course of your life. But your family may be the first and possibly most important people you come out to—and they might not respond the way you want. It may take time for them to completely accept and appreciate who you are, and that can be hard. The following information can help you understand and cope with your family’s reactions to your LGBTQ identity.

Why your family might be having a hard time supporting your identity right now

Even if you weren’t always completely sure, you’ve probably known about your sexual orientation or gender identity for a while now. But your family may not have been aware of this part of you at all—or maybe weren’t honest with themselves about it. It could take some time for them to learn how to support you, perhaps because:

  • They may have cultural or religious beliefs that make it hard for them to accept your identity in a way that works within their values.1
  • They may be surprised or have had ideas about your future that they need to grieve for or change, and that doesn’t happen overnight. They might wonder if you’ll have a family of your own someday or worry about you in a world that isn’t always accepting of or safe for LGBTQ people.2
  • They may not know that their reaction to your coming out doesn’t feel like love or support to you. It can take time and effort for them to understand how you experience their words and actions.3

None of these explanations make family rejection okay

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, period. But understanding where your family is starting from can help you as they adjust to your truth.

What you can do to take care of yourself

If you’re not sure how your family will react, coming out can be stressful. And in case your family isn’t supportive, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place to find support—or even safety, if things at home get really bad:

  • Identify a teacher or adult relative you can go to if you feel unsafe.
  • Call a friend to talk or go to their home if you’re upset or worried.
  • Choose an activity you can do outside of your home in order to relieve stress or manage anxiety (for example, running, going for a walk, heading to a nearby park).4
  • Find a community where you can connect with other LGBTQ youth who are going through a similar experience. You are not alone, even if it can sometimes feel that way.5 Some schools have student groups like a gender and sexuality alliance. A growing number of faith-based organizations are now advocating for LGBTQ acceptance. There are also online communities like Trevor Space, Gender Spectrum Lounge, or the Option B Facebook group where you can connect with people dealing with community and family rejection. You can also read personal stories by other LGBTQ young people.

How you can help your family as they learn to accept your LGBTQ identity

It’s easier said than done, but try to be patient with your family. Remember that you and your family will make mistakes, and even though it might not always feel like it, you’re likely all coming from a place of love. Encourage your family to learn more about what you’re experiencing and why their acceptance is so important to your health and happiness.

Dr. Dalmacio Dennis Flores is an assistant professor of nursing whose research focuses on how families can help LGBTQ youth avoid risky behavior. He recommends these strategies:

1. Suggest family members talk to other parents of LGBTQ youth or join a group for these families. PFLAG works to provide safe environments for LGBTQ people within their families, schools, and other communities through chapters all across the country.

2. Correct them on pronouns and/or terminology if they’re willing to learn why it’s important for you to be addressed in a way that reflects your true self.6 You can try saying something like, “I prefer a different pronoun than the one you’re used to. Instead of ‘she,’ please use ‘they’ for me. I know that’s an adjustment, but it’s what feels right to me—the old pronoun just doesn’t feel comfortable anymore.”

3. Find teachable moments. Try watching a movie or TV show with your family that has LGBTQ characters. Use it as a catalyst to launch a conversation.

4. Introduce your family to your personal LGBTQ community. Inviting LGBTQ peers and friends to come over to your home can help your family get to know the real you—and reassure them that you have a community of support.

5. Let your family know that being LGBTQ doesn’t change who you are. You still love pizza, you’ll still be in charge of the playlist on family road trips, you’ll still be the only one who knows which remote controls which device—whatever the case may be. Little reminders like that can help your family focus on the fact that you are still you.

6. Help them understand that while being LGBTQ wasn’t the norm when they grew up, being LGBTQ is normal. In the United States, about 10.4 percent of young adults surveyed identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or unsure of their sexual identity.7 There are likely many more who are unsure or not ready to identify publicly. You are far from alone, and there’s nothing wrong with who you are.

One final word of advice from Dr. Flores: “Know that it really does get better. Stay true to yourself. It’s a bigger struggle to deny who you are.” Learning how to cope with people who don’t understand or approve of your sexuality or gender identity can help you throughout your life. And while it won’t always be easy, you can learn how to keep negativity from the outside world from getting to you. And you’ll ultimately be a stronger and more resilient adult because of it.

Endnotes

  1. C. Ryan, “Generating a revolution in prevention, wellness & care for LGBT children & youth,” Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review 23, no. 2 (2014): 331–44.
  2. PFLAG, Be Yourself: Questions and Answers for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Youth (2014), 23–25; http://www.pflag.org/sites/default/files/Be%20Yourself.pdf.
  3. C. Ryan, “Generating a revolution in prevention, wellness & care for LGBT children & youth.”
  4. Trevor Project, Coming Out as You!, 18; https://www.thetrevorproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/ComingOutAsYou.pdf.
  5. PFLAG, Be Yourself, 19-20; http://www.pflag.org/sites/default/files/Be%20Yourself.pdf.
  6. https://www.hrc.org/resources/transgender-children-and-youth-talking-to-grandparents-and-other-adult-fami.
  7. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/2017/ss6708.pdf.