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Dear Fifi: I've come to terms with being gay - but I'm afraid to tell my conservative parents

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Hi Fiona,

I’m a 20 year old gay lad who has finally come to terms with his sexuality. I just don’t know how to broach the subject with my parents. I live at home in a very small, rural parish and can’t afford to move out. My parents and the majority of their friends/ neighbours think they are not religious or conservative when they are very much both. They become uncomfortable when they see anything “gay” on TV  and often slag off any gay people they know and take pity on anyone they know with gay children. What do you think I should do?

First off, fair dues for reaching this point. Only you yourself know how hard this was to do and how far you’ve come. You should recognise that this is a big personal achievement and feel good about yourself. I hope you do. Be happy for yourself and be proud of all you’ve done to get here.

In order to get some perspective on your problem, I spoke to Bella FitzPatrick, the Managing Director of ShoutOut. (ShoutOut deliver workshops in secondary schools in order to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying.)

There is a common misconception that coming out is a big, one-time event. However, in our society coming out is a lifelong and continuous process. Your parents are a part of that, but they are not the whole picture. You can come out to people in stages, and leave coming out to others until you feel comfortable or safe to do so. There are degrees to this, and it’s not all or nothing.

Bella confirmed this, saying: “First of all, it is not any failure to not be out. Being out to yourself is the biggest achievement. Feel good about that.”

“It’s okay to be out some people and not others. That’s not dishonest in our homophobic and heteronormative society – it’s an exercise in self-preservation. Don’t feel guilty about, for example, coming out to an aunt if you want but not yet coming out to your parents.”

Bella also recommended finding a support system in your locality in order to help you during this time. While you say you’re in a relatively remote area, you may be surprised to find that bigger towns near you have support groups for LGBT people and specifically LGBT young people. She advises that while they may not necessarily advertise, resources do exist in rural areas.

“It’s often said that we choose our own family when we’re queer or LGBT. A better first step may be finding that support network rather than putting yourself in harm’s way first [coming out to family].”

And this is the most important thing, as Bella emphasised. Not putting yourself in harm’s way. That means physically, of course, but also extends to straining or affecting your mental health. It has taken you until this point to become comfortable with your sexuality, and equally it may take your parents some time too. That means their initial reaction may be negative, and this might not be a response you’re equipped for right now.

“It may be bit of a shock. They’ll have had a picture of your future, and now that’s gone,” Bella told me. “It may take some time – and unless you’re prepared to be able to give them that time, it may not be a safe time to come out… Their reaction is not a reflection on you as an individual.”

The reality is that no one knows how your parents will react to the news that you are gay. The chances are high that they don’t even know themselves. For that reason, you’ve got to make sure you keep yourself and your health safe above all else. Seek LGBT-friendly people to come out to first, gain strength and support, then tell your parents when you feel the time is right.

Good luck and be well.


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