A reader asked:
I’m planning to come out at Christmas before dinner. How do I do it without it becoming awkward or making the holiday all about me? Also I’m very bad with spoken communication when I’m put on the spot or nervous so I don’t know how to deal with the string of Straight People Questions I might get.
I’m not sure what kind of situation you’re in. I’m assuming that you’re planning to come out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, that you’re probably not out to any family members, that you don’t currently live with family, and that you’re talking about a big family gathering. Some of this might not apply if I’m getting some of that wrong.
Coming out will probably be at least somewhat awkward, no matter how well it goes and no matter how you do it. Coming out to people who aren’t expecting it is inherently awkward. If you’re not sure whether or not they will react positively, it’s especially awkward. Akwardness isn’t something you are likely to be able to completely avoid. That’s not your fault. It’s a problem with our culture.
That said, making an annoucement at a family gathering is one of the most awkward and risky ways to come out. If you make an annoucement, then you become the center of attention in a group of people whose reactions it might be hard to gauge. Also, at big family gatherings, it’s fairly likely that people will be drinking, and alchohol can greatly magnify bad reactions. For most people, coming out by making an annoucement on a holiday is a very bad idea.
There are other options that might go better:
Coming out casually in conversations with relatives who you think are likely to react well. This allows you to talk like you’re already out, rather than making an annoucement:
- If you’ve been closested from family for a long time, you’ve probably been using linguistic tricks (like avoiding pronouns) to avoid outing yourself
- One way to casually come out is to stop doing this, and see what happens
- Some people will react badly, others will ask questions, others will treat it as no big deal
- When this works, it’s the least awkward way to come out
- Aunt Jane: Sarah, are you seeing anyone these days?
- Sarah: No, I don’t have a girlfriend right now.
- Aunt Jane: Bill, are you still seeing Susan?
- Bill: No, we broke up. I’m with Jason these days.
This doesn’t always work, but it can work really well.
Another option: Coming out via email ahead of time:
- If you want to let everyone know that you’re gay without having to have a lot of awkward conversations, email has several advantages
- If you send an email, you don’t have to be the center of everyone’s attention all at once
- People see it when they see it, and react individually if they want to react
- Relatives who might have a knee jerk negative reaction will have time to process. Some of them might be less inclined to be mean and more inclined to put family relationships ahead of homophobia if they have time to processes.
- Once the actual Christmas gathering arrives, your coming out will be somewhat old news
- If anyone has a really horrendous reaction, you will know ahead of time and will be able to take that into account when making your Christmas plans.
Consider coming out to a family member who you trust first:
- It will be a lot easier and more comfortable if you know that someone is on your side
- The most reliable way to be sure of this is to come out to someone you trust ahead of time
- In particular, if you have a gay relative, it’s worth telling them that you’re gay too and asking for perspective on how to handle things.
- But even if you don’t. If you’re relatively sure that one of your relatives will treat you well when you come out, it’s worth coming out to them first so that you won’t be alone at the gathering.
If you think you need to come out in person by making an annoucement rather than some other way, consider doing it closer to the end of the gathering.
- If you make an annoucement early in the gathering and it goes badly, then you still have the rest of the gathering to get through
- If you come out later in the event, the stakes are lower
- (Eg: after dinner is likely better than before dinner)
If you can, have somewhere to go:
- If you’re staying with family at a big family gathering, that can get really overwhelming really quickly
- Especially if they’re homophobic
- Especially if things get awkward after you come out
- If you have friends who live nearby, it could be a really good idea to make plans to spend time with them. (Or, to have that as a backup plan for if things go badly).
- If you don’t, spending time with friends online is likely to be important. So, if you can, make sure you have reliable access to an internet-connected device while you’re at the gathering.
Short version: Coming out is likely to be awkward no matter how you do it. This is not your fault. Coming out by making an annoucement at a family holiday gathering is probably a bad idea. Coming out more casually or emailing ahead of time might be a better idea. It helps if you identify supportive people ahead of time.