Watching Happiest Season brought back many memories of my own coming out story. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but doing so has made me so much happier in my life. The holidays are often a time for us to get together with our family and loved ones. Which, naturally, is also when many people decide to come out.
Coming out is never easy, but in case you’re deciding to come out to your family over the holidays, here are some tips to help you get through it based on my own coming out story and personal experiences.
When I Came Out
I came out to my mom during the holidays (early December). Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t exactly her favorite Christmas present.
I had already known that I was a lesbian for quite some time before I officially came out to my mom and close family members. But I kept this a secret for most of my life – I wanted to wait for the right moment when I was in the right relationship with someone that I loved and respected to reveal this part of myself.
So, ultimately, it took over two decades before I finally met Chia and felt ready to come out.
Why I Came Out
I wanted to bring Chia home to meet my mom during our first holiday together (after we had only been dating for one month 😅). Looking back, this was probably a little premature but, hey, we admit that we're classic Uhaul lesbians and I knew deep down that she was the one so I wanted my close family and friends to all see how amazing of a person she was (and still is!). I felt that another way I could help my mom cope with the fact that I’m gay is to see how happy I was with my partner in person.
While this might not be the best strategy for everyone (i.e. bringing your partner home immediately after coming out), I don’t regret the decision and, in the end, everything worked out for the better.
How I Came Out
Coming out to my mom in particular was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do because she’s my biggest role model and someone that I look up to. More than anything, I’ve always wanted to make her proud; however, since she's more traditional, I knew that being gay would mean letting her down. So, for most of my life, I thought that I would just hide this part of me from her and not make her sad.
I remember the day I came out to her over the phone vividly.
Normally, my mom is a very outgoing, extroverted person but when I came out to her, there was just... silence. It was the kind of somber, uncomfortable silence that makes you feel like your heart is sinking to the bottom of your stomach.
After what felt like an eternity, she finally said that she always had a feeling that I might be gay but never wanted to acknowledge it. She then asked if it was something she did or because I never had any good male role models in my life. It hurt to know that she felt "responsible" in any way for me being gay. We ended the call without a clear resolution, but I knew that she would need time to process this and ultimately find her own way of accepting me.
When I went back home with Chia a few weeks later for the holiday, I had an in person conversation with my mom and it was one of the most honest discussions I’ve ever had with her.
With each year that has passed since then, she’s come around more and more and has gotten to a point where she is open to talking about my relationship with Chia. While she’s certainly not shouting that I'm gay and in a relationship with a woman from the rooftops, there is a quiet acknowledgement and acceptance of who I am. Sometimes when you're from a more conservative, immigrant family, that’s the best you can hope for!
If you want to read my full coming out story, check out our comic series here about coming out.
With that said, if you’re planning on coming out to your parents and loved ones during the holidays, here are 8 tips to keep in mind:
Tips for Coming Out
1. Think about how you best communicate. 🗣
Coming out is a big moment and, for many people, it’ll be life-changing. So, if possible, you should communicate this news in a way that feels authentic to you. We all have different ways of expressing ourselves. I’m typically someone who prefers small group settings and is better at communicating my thoughts through writing while others may be more eloquent when speaking on the fly or to a large group. If you’re the latter, then coming out via phone, in-person, or a video chat/Facetime might be best. If you’re the former, then coming out via a text, email, or letter might be better.
2. Similarly, think about how the person you’re coming out to wants to receive the news. 👂
While coming out is ultimately about you, it’s important to also consider the people you’re coming out to. Think back to all of the different ways you’ve ever received news (both good and bad) before. Was it through a phone call, text, email, letter, in-person, etc.? What were the pros and cons of each method?
For example, having a one-on-one in person conversation might feel like the best way to tell them something really personal and important, but face-to-face conversations also force the other person to react and respond in real-time. On the other hand, you might think that it’s impersonal to come out via a text message or another form of written communication, but depending on that person you’re coming out to, they might actually appreciate the time they get to reflect first and then react to your news. In my case, while I felt the most comfortable writing out my thoughts, I knew my mom would have preferred to receive the news over the phone, so I wrote out what I wanted to say to her and then called her.
3. Be as kind to them as you would want them to be towards you. 🤝
Treating others the way you want to be treated is the golden rule that is incredibly useful when coming out. Just like how you may not have come to the realization that you were gay overnight, it may also take time for the other party to process this information. Be as kind to them as you would want them to be towards you. It’s ok to give the other person space and time to accept and process the news, especially if they don’t have the reaction that you were hoping for. As much as it hurts to not receive a positive response immediately, be patient.
4. Make sure you’re safe and have a plan B in case things don’t go well. 🤔
Perhaps you’re staying with your family during the holidays and there’s a chance that they might ask you to leave the house after hearing this news. Make sure you have a backup plan and a place to stay in case this does happen, whether it’s with a friend, at an Airbnb, etc.
If you’re not financially independent and count on your parents or family to support you, think through what you’ll need to have in place (i.e. a job, several months of savings, etc.) before you come out in case you need alternate sources of income.
Of course, and above all else, make sure that you feel safe before you decide to come out.
5. Be resilient. 💪
If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Sometimes you might have to come out more than once to make your point. Your family might be in shock and in disbelief that you’re gay so they may refuse to acknowledge it. This doesn’t mean that you should give up on being who you are or on work your way towards mutual understanding.
When Chia first came out, her mom didn’t take it well and simply said that it was impossible for her to be gay because no one in the family was gay. Initially, this made Chia retract her initial statement and only led to more self-doubt and confusion. But she persisted as her feelings and attractions towards women also didn’t subside. Eventually, a few years later, she came out again to her parents and they slowly, but eventually, came to accept her and me!
6. Think through why now is the time you want to come out. Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and on your schedule. ⏳
If you have a group of friends who are out and proud, that doesn’t mean that you have to be out at the same time. Simply put, if you don't feel like it’s the right time, it’s ok to wait.
For instance, before Chia, I was in a long-term relationship where I did consider coming out to my mom a few times. But whenever I thought about doing so, I just didn't feel like I was ready or that the time was right. I also had some doubts about that previous relationship so I kept pushing back when I would ultimately come out to my mom. Ultimately, it was the right decision for me to postpone and I don’t regret coming out later at all.
On the other hand, if you feel like you just need to rip the bandaid off and you already have a support network around you, then coming out could be a good decision.
7. Rehearse beforehand so you feel more comfortable. 📝
If you’ve ever prepared for a big exam, work presentation, speech, performance, etc. then you know that practice will make you feel more confident. You can take a similar approach to coming out.
While you might not feel 100% ready and, honestly, you may never feel completely ready (coming out is still one of the scariest things I’ve ever done), practicing what you’re going to say, anticipating what questions you might get asked, and preparing responses to them can help you feel less nervous.
8. You don’t need to come out to everyone at the same time. 🙊
If you plan on coming out during the holidays, but (1) don’t want to be the focus during the family dinner and (2), prefer to come out to everyone individually instead of making a big announcement to everyone, then you can certainly plan your conversations accordingly.
I came out to my closest friends first before I came out to anyone in my family. When I did come out to my family, I actually came out to my aunt first and waited another year before coming out to my mom.
Subsequently, over the years, I came out to a few more people in my family (the ones that I’m closest to), but not to everyone. Part of the reason is that a lot of the burden – if I came out to everyone in my family – would fall on my mom who has to interact with most of them daily whereas I can easily remove myself from that and extended family affairs because I don’t live near them.
There’s this great Netflix documentary, “All in my family”, about an Asian man coming out to his family, and at the end of the documentary, he says, “When you are young, you think that the truth is more important than anything else, but as you get older, you realize that, while living your truth is important, there are also other things that are important, like other people’s feelings. As long as you don’t have to live in a lie and you’re not being denied to live the life you want”.
All this is to say that it’s okay if you decide that you only want to come out to one person or a few people this time around or even if you choose ultimately that you don’t ever want to come out to everyone in your family.
Hopefully, by sharing my experience and insights, it’ll help you feel less scared and alone. Remember that the most important part is that you should feel ready to come out – don’t be pressured to do so because you feel like a lot of others come out during the holidays, etc. Everyone should come out on their own terms and on their own timeline. Wherever you may be on your coming out journey, Chia and I are sending you our love and best wishes! 🌈❤️