Mrs J: Coming out during lockdown

I was planning on coming out to my family before we were forced to stay home.  I felt really ready and completely accepted it and felt no need for their validation.  But now I’m scared that I’ll never do it or it’ll be the only thing they focus on if I tell them now, and that if it goes badly I won’t be able to get away.

I feel even more trapped than I had before and have no idea what to do.

Anon

Dear Anon,

A few short lines can contain a world of information – but what you write leaves out an awful lot of details that might have helped me frame my response to you. I don’t know if you are coming out as gay, or trans, or bi… I don’t know how old you are; I don’t know if you are male or female; I don’t know anything about your family – whether they are religious, homophobic, tolerant, younger or older parents.  I don’t know whether you have hitherto had a warm and supportive relationship with your parents, or has that relationship always been difficult?  You don’t mention siblings. Then I realised that some of that doesn’t actually make a difference: what we are talking about is being allowed to be who you are, to be accepted and to be loved without condition. To me, that transcends any of the other details – does that make sense?

I think, as strange as it sounds so bear with me here, you have actually done the hard part. You say you are ready and have completely accepted who you are. That will have been one hell of a journey, Anon, and one of which you should be immensely proud.

I expect many people have stood where you stand now, and felt a sense of terror at what may be going to happen.  I cannot presume to know how you must be feeling.  What you are going through is totally out of my own experience, so I can only tell you how I imagine I would feel if you were my child.  

I have three children in their early to mid twenties.  It would break my heart if I thought they couldn’t tell me something so important, so pivotal to who they are. It would break my heart if they were scared and alone and worried. Even in their twenties, they are still my babies – I can only be as happy as my unhappiest child, and I worry about them daily. 

If one of them had ever been struggling with something so huge, I feel I would have known – either somewhere in my heart of hearts, or literally known. So you might find that your parents have known for a long time that you were dealing with this, and have themselves been waiting for you to tell them.  In the same way that it will take a huge amount of bravery for you to sit down and tell them, so it would take bravery on their part to have started that conversation – in case they had got it wrong, and shocked or offended you.

So we come to the point about timing: it is indeed a tough time to be facing this issue.  Emotions are naturally heightened at the moment – people may have less perspective than usual, be particularly tense as they are in lockdown, marriages may be under strain due to constant proximity, they may be worried about money and jobs, be concerned about elderly or vulnerable family members. People are naturally shuttling between very strong feelings – fear, lack of control, helplessness, acceptance of the situation, joy at having a bit of time to recalibrate. I know I have felt them all, pretty much on an hourly basis.

My advice is actually that you wait a while to tell your parents – just a little bit longer – until lockdown is over and you can get away for a bit if you needed to. Your mental health and wellbeing will be very important at that point, and families can be very damaging on that score – even the well-meaning and loving ones! Do you have a sibling that you are close to and trust, who you can start the process with? Telling even one person in the household might help. But only do it if you implicitly trust them not to tell your parents until you are ready to do so yourself.

Remember that your parents will have had dreams for you – we all have dreams for our kids. They will have wanted you to have a largely peaceful life: an easy life is too much to ask for, but they will have wished for a life for you where things were as simple as they could be. They will have to process that your life may be a little less linear, a little more complicated than they imagined – they will not want you to face anything that will make things harder for you, it’s part of their job to worry on that score. They may feel a sense of loss of a future that included becoming grandparents (although, clearly, that is totally achievable if that is what you want at some point – they just might need a bit of help understanding that).

They may also worry about what other people will think of you – and by extension, them. Forgive them for that – it’s human frailty to worry about others’ judgment.  If that is one of their reactions, they will eventually get over that when they see that your burden has been lifted and that you are truly happy.

You know who you are, which is a wonderful thing – many people never know themselves – and I am so proud of you for that.  You do need to share who you are with your nearest and dearest, in order that you can be authentic – just wait for a few more short weeks.

I wish you all the love in the world – you’re amazing.

Mrs J xoxo

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