By: Jenn Vicious
Jenn Vicious is the radical community’s Agony Aunt, providing life coaching and social etiquette answers for radical cultures. Need poly, kinky, or queer dating advice, need to to know what to wear to court or a family function (you know, one you have to look “respectable” at), want to understand what to and not to say in some contexts, ask Jenn Vicious.
I’m not sure how to say this nicely, but essentially my family is not very tolerant. They’re old fashioned and traditional; to the point of being fanatically religious and bigoted. So as an atheist bisexual woman, getting along with them is so incredibly frustrating and often hurtful, and I haven’t come out to them yet because of this. Should I keep trying or give up and cut them out of my life completely? How do you talk with someone who is convinced that their opinion is Gospel fucking Truth?
I come from a similar family, anon. It is certainly a challenge to find the balance between sharing your life with your family and keeping the peace.
The way I personally deal with it is mostly by keeping my family in the dark. Some things come out eventually, like my atheism or my “living in sin” (easier if you are in a hetero relationship, obviously). Some things I hope I will never have to discuss, (to the point that I’m afraid to even mention them point blank in this sentence, just in case). I basically just don’t bring up anything controversial unless they ask for it directly.
Partly this works because my family has learned to not ask too many questions, and to just silently pray for me in the background. Partly it works because my family doesn’t like to discuss controversial things like politics anyway. But it doesn’t work in that my family will never really understand me or know me the way my friends do. I’m ok with that.
I think you have a different situation, particularly if you are in a really meaningful relationship that is anything other than hetero and you want to share that with your family. But I still think you should have a reason to come out: whether that is because you are dating someone who isn’t male, or because you want to mend the distance between you and your parents. Use your reason as your lead in, as in “I want to tell you about this wonderful person I’m dating. She is a woman,” or “I feel like there’s been a lot of distance between us, and it’s because I have this thing to tell you. I’m bisexual,” or something along those lines (obviously those examples aren’t perfect.)
It is going to be easier to come out to your family if you are really happy, for whatever reason, and you want to share that happiness. If you are not in a really good place, their judgements are probably going to be harder for you to handle.
You also need to anticipate your parents’ reactions. You know them—what is the worst case scenario for how they might respond. Think of that, and be comforted in the fact that it likely won’t be the worse case scenario.
Coming out (about anything, really) is a process, not a one time event. Keep that in mind, and be patient with your parents. They are going to have a lot of feelings about it, and it is likely that those feelings will change over time, but not in the linear sense: sometimes they might not feel like bringing it up, sometimes they might be upset about it, sometimes they might be fine.
Coming out to religious or conservative parents is definitely it’s own thing. They are going to pray for you—just let them, it won’t hurt. If your family is christian, they might quote a lot of bible nonsense to you. There are some good resources out there, mostly created by gay christians, that can help with that. I’ve hesitantly listed some resources below for some biblical analysis from a christian perspective. I am definitely NOT recommending these sites because I agree with them, but I am saying that you need to think about how to communicate your life to your parents in ways that fit into their world view.
They might want to ignore your sexual identity entirely. You can let them, or you can tell them that by doing so, they are missing out on a huge part of your life and who you are. Be proud, sure of yourself, and strong.
Coming out as bisexual is definitely it’s own thing as well, which you probably already know. I want to acknowledge that most of the resources I’ve given you so far are geared towards gay people, not bi. If you are telling your parents about dating another woman, they might bring it up themselves: “what about that boy you dated?” That is probably a good time to explain your sexuality to them a little bit. “I still like men, I just also like women” or something like that. Religious parents are definitely going to have a hard time understanding that, but the point isn’t really to get them to understand. It’s to be true to yourself.
As for the atheism thing: others might disagree with me, but I really don’t see the point of telling them. You could just be like “well, that’s not what I believe,” or “I believe differently.” Or, when they are like “don’t you know god hates gay people” or whatever it is they think, you could say “well, I don’t believe in god, so it doesn’t really matter to me.” Your call. But my opinion on telling your parents things they won’t like about your life is that you should never do it just to be hurtful.
Don’t try to change your parents. If you have decided to share the parts about your life that are hard for them to accept, it means you are going to have to accept somethings about them that you disagree with. If you want to have a good relationship with them where there is open communication, it is going to mean a lot of patience, on both your parts. Good luck.
- CSU GLBTRC’s Coming out guide—very basic and geared towards young people, but helpful for anyone.
- Help for the Conservative Christian parent—I hate to link my website to a christian website, but this page might be good to show your parents if they are protestants, and probably is what they are thinking.
- SoulForce: What the Bible does and doesn’t say—another resource from the christian perspective, though a bit more gay-friendly.
- Wiki guide to Coming Out to strict religious parents—A very thorough guide, certainly more detailed than I have been here, though written mostly for young gay people.