Are you going home for the holidays this year? Is telling your family that you are L, G, B, or T on your mind? This is a question we get asked frequently by readers who are in the process of “coming out” and as this year’s holiday season approaches, I thought it would be timely to share some thoughts about coming out at the holiday dinner table. I’ve written before about a friend who told me how he came out at Thanksgiving. He was home from college and knew he wanted to tell his parents he is gay as he had already come out to his friends at school. Relatives had flown in from different cities and him mom was busy planning the picture-perfect Thanksgiving dinner. My friend tried hard to find the perfect moment when he had enough courage and when his mom had time to listen without distraction. All of a sudden, it was Thanksgiving and dinner was being served. The conversation was brisk and often muffled by the sound of utensils striking the family china and serving spoons hitting the plate. Feeling frustrated and nervous, my friend said, “Mom, could you please pass the mashed potatoes? By the way, I’m gay.” I’m sure the sudden silence that followed was deafening and the brisk halt in conversation awkward. Let me recommend another strategy.
First of all, we all know that the holidays are some of the most stressful time in family life. While they are supposed to be time to reunite, celebrate, and to be together as a family, there is often tremendous stress involved for everyone. Coming out is a special and significant event that requires great consideration of time and place. The Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner table is not the right time or place. While I recognize every situation is different, I don’t think a holiday event is the right time or place to share such a personal and important part of your life. For almost everyone I’ve ever talked to, telling your parents you are gay is one of the most challenging conversations to have. You want to be sure there is time for your parents and other relatives to process what you are sharing, to ask you questions if they wish, and to think about what you shared without the many distractions the holidays bring.
Coming out to a parent or relative should be a special time between you and that loved one. Set aside time for just the two or three of you that allows time for reaction, discussion, tears or joy or sadness, whatever the case may be. Allow enough time for everyone involved to process the experience and always have a way to escape if the situation doesn’t go as planned. The last thing you want over a holiday is to be trapped in the same house with no place to go.
Another related question we often get is if you should bring your boyfriend or girlfriend home to be with you when you share your news. Again, I think this is a bad idea. You are putting everyone, including your boyfriend or girlfriend, in a bad situation if things don’t go well. The first step is to tell your parents about yourself alone. If things go well, then consider the best time to introduce your partner. Remember, parents need time to come out as well. They need to work through how to share the news with relatives and “surprising everyone” on a holiday has too much risk for everyone. After coming out, ask your parents about bringing your partner home for the holidays. If they are not comfortable, then you can make a decision about whether to go or not. But, just showing up puts everyone involved in potentially an awkward place. This is all about protecting you, your own feelings, and those of your partner. Again, I think introducing your partner to your parents is an event best scheduled away from the holidays. Allow time for your parents to really get to know your partner without the distraction of preparing a meal for 30.
With all of this said, I’m all about coming out. Make it a priority and take the time to plan it out carefully. This is an important part of yourself that desires a holiday of its own. There is no need to share this major event with the mashed potatoes or any other dish at the Thanksgiving dinner table.