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Advice on coming out

If you decide you want to be open and tell people about your sexuality, this is often called ‘coming out’.

For some people, coming out isn’t an issue at all. Some people decide not to come out to anyone, ever. Some people decide not to come out to their family, and just tell their friends. For some, it’s the other way around. There are no rules and only you will know what is right for you. 

But before we go any further, it is also important to acknowledge that ‘coming out’ is becoming much less of a big deal. 50 years ago, being gay was illegal (and the law didn’t even acknowledge lesbian or bisexuality) and so very few people felt able to come out and express their sexuality. This meant that exposure to, and understanding and acceptance of, the LGB community was very poor. But happily, as legislation has changed and society’s attitudes and knowledge have improved, coming out as lesbian, gay or bisexual is becoming more common and less and less of an issue.

If you're nervous about coming out

Not everyone feels nervous about coming out but if you do, there are two very comforting things to bear in mind; first, it can be an amazing relief to have talked about your sexuality to people you care about, and who care about you. Second,  remember that you’re not the only person going through this process. So many people have been through or are going through the same thing and there is a huge amount of information and support out there to assist you in planning what to say and how to say it, as well as to deal with people’s reactions, whatever they may be.

How to tell your loved ones

For many people, telling their parents is the hardest bit of coming out. Whether it's finding the right words or plucking up the courage, there are probably a number of reasons why you haven’t done it before now. 

Here’s some guidance on when to do it (and when not to do it)

DO

  • Consider coming out to a trusted friend, first. That way, you can experience how it feels and how to phrase it and it gives you the chance to experience someone’s reaction and have a discussion about it afterwards. 
  • Think carefully about what else you’ve got going on in your life. If you are you juggling other stresses and their reaction is not as supportive as you’d hoped, it could make the other stresses even harder to deal with.
  • Pick a time when you have the time and opportunity to say what you want to say and to listen to what they have to say.
  • Have a clear head. If you’re drunk or hungover it is very unlikely that you won’t say the right thing and you may not be in the best state of mind to deal with their response.
  • Remember that telling them hasn’t changed who you are. Being gay is a really important part of who you are, but it’s not who you are. You will be the same person and you’ll still be their child.
  • Write an email or letter if you don't want to tell someone in person so they have time to process the information before you speak to them face-to-face.
  • Make contact with others in a similar situation by joining local support groups, your school or community groups for LGBT people or speaking to a helpline. This can really help you to build your confidence and if you know people who understand, you'll be in a better position to tell others.
  • Consider delaying coming out to your parents if you think this will put you at risk of violence, not being able to live at home, or not being properly cared for until you’ve got a support system that means you can leave and live somewhere safely if you need to.

DON’T

  • Choose a big family occasion like a wedding or Christmas Day to come out. These days are often emotional and distracting and you probably won’t get the opportunity to discuss how you feel properly. 
  • Tell them just as you are leaving home to go to university or on a gap year as this won't give you an opportunity to discuss what it means for you or them. 
  • Tell them so that you can hurt them or get back at them for something. If you’re angry or in a bad mood, your words won’t carry as much weight and there will be lots of negative emotions around. It’s not fair on you and it’s not fair on them. 
  • Tell one parent without ever planning to tell the other. Telling one of your parents first might be the best or easiest way for you to come out and it can be a helpful way of planning how to tell the other one, but only telling one of them might not be a good idea or fair on either of them. And keeping secrets might not be the best long-term plan.
  • Expect the ‘coming out’ conversation to end with total acceptance and for that to be it. You probably need to give them time to adjust and to let the news sink in.

Based on the brilliant dos and don’ts guide from FFLAG’s guide to telling your parents. 

What to say

Every family is different so you are more likely to know how best to say it but keeping it simple can be the easiest way. You could simply say ‘I’m lesbian/gay/bi’ or ‘I’ve known for a while that I’m lesbian/gay/bi'.

It might then help to explain to them why you haven’t told them until now and that you’ve been worried about hurting or upsetting them.

If you feel able, it can also help to tell them why you’ve chosen to come out to them; that it’s because you love them and want to be honest about who you are.

Their reaction

The first thing to prepare yourself for is that fact they may be taken by surprise. This is normal and very few parents will know before being told. 

Reactions can range from being totally understanding and supportive to anger or disbelief. If the latter, give them time to adjust. It’s helpful to remember that their initial reaction doesn’t necessarily reflect how they’ll feel in time. Most parents will come to accept you for who you are in time and will be proud that you’ve felt able to ‘come out’ to them. And remember that even the most accepting and supportive parents can go through a range of emotions. 

Parents may worry about what others will think and they may feel guilty that they didn’t know and haven’t been there to support you before now.

Often, parents feel like they don’t really understand or know much about being gay and therefore are not very well equipped to deal with it and worry that you will not be safe or happy. 

If it comes up, one important point to tackle is that being lesbian, gay or bi is not a choice. Some people don’t understand that just as some people are born straight, some people are gay and this is an important message to get across.

It’s also worth asking them why you’d ‘choose’ to have this difficult conversation with them and why you would choose to put yourself at the risk of the prejudice, bullying, negative stereotyping and homophobia that LGB people still face. Also explain to them that whilst you know that LGB people still face prejudice, you feel that it is important to be confident in your sexual identity and that having the support of others can minimise the impact of that prejudice..

If you think your parents need more information and some help understanding that you haven’t chosen to be lesbian, gay and bisexual, share FFLAG’s booklet A Guide for Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gay Men or Stonewall’s guide, So you think your child is gay? with them. 

If they're upset, give it time

Once you’ve told your parents, it is important to leave it for a while so they have chance to think things over. Chances are that just as it has taken you some time to realise and be comfortable with your sexuality, the same is likely to be true for your parents.

However, if you feel like they are ignoring or avoiding the subject, try to broach it with them again. Ask them if they’ve got any questions and reiterate the reasons why you told them. It won’t be easy but consider the fact that you’ve already done the hardest part and the one thing that will make the situation easier for you all is talking about it.

If your parents are struggling to accept your identity, it is important to remember that there is nothing wrong with you or your decision to come out. It may also help to get support from other people in your life who accept you, such as family, friends, teachers or you can contact charities and helplines (see the bottom of this page) that will support you and give you advice.

Talk to someone else first

If you’re still feeling unprepared and nervous, you might like to consider talking it through with someone else first. Telling someone who you trust - whether its a relative or a good friend - can be a good way to prepare yourself and get advice.

If you’d like to talk to someone anonymously, there are many support groups and organisations out there who you can contact. See the links at the bottom of this page. 

Page last reviewed: October 2017
Next review due: October 2019