Words by Mark Reed | @Mark_Reed88 

Coming out to your family can seem like the most scary thing in the world to do. Whatever stage of life you come to it at, there’s always going to be trepidation. I remember being a teenager and absolutely dreading that my family would find out.

I can’t even recall now what I thought their reaction would be, but I remember not wanting to find out – that much was sure. It was only during my first year of university when I had run off to England that I managed to emerge from my glorious gay cocoon as a fully realised homosexual being. But why is it so hard for us to say those three little words to our family? And how can we make that process easier on ourselves?

The first family member I came out to was my mum. I was on my way home from an unsuccessful night out during my first year at university when I told her. At the time, I was hopelessly smitten with a guy who was irrevocably straight. It was the first time I’d ever had a real crush, and I felt that it was grossly unfair – not to mention kind of rude – that he was never going to return my affections. I was walking home bitterly upset about the fact that I couldn’t come out to this guy, that there would be no point in doing that anyway, and that I had no one to talk to openly about it. So, as was oft my way at the time, I rang my mum. After attempting to talk around why I was upset, I just blurted it out. Well, I think I may have said that I thought I was gay first, and then, quite shortly after, I confirmed that I was most definitely 100% gay – I was quite tipsy at the time. My intoxication aside, saying that sentence with absolute conviction eluded me. I just couldn’t do it.

The funny thing is, looking at it objectively, I should have known that my parents wouldn’t have a problem. They weren’t religious. They were artists by profession, very liberal and open-minded. Not all gay men are lucky enough to have the warm, loving and – most importantly – understanding family that I do. But universally, whatever kind of family you have, I think there are some common experiences and anxieties that are shared by a lot of gay men who are considering jumping, sashaying or tumbling out of the closet to their nearest and dearest.

Regardless of what you know about your family, there’s a real primal fear that they’ll be disappointed or, even worse, ashamed. Coming out is putting yourself at risk of that. There’s no worse fear than the rejection of those we hold dearest. It’s numbing. And whether they’re likely or unlikely to react badly, you’re still going to be hesitating about actually telling them. You don’t know your parents’ most innermost thoughts, wishes and fears. You’ll be hoping that they’ll react well, but no one can tell exactly how it will play out. If we did, we would have made the decision to tell them a lot sooner.

My parents, and particularly my mum, were surprised to find out I was gay. I think that’s a common reaction for a lot of parents because we live in a society where people are usually considered straight – unless you state otherwise. In fact, most gay men have to come out repeatedly in new situations throughout their life. So when you’re coming out to your family, you might be challenging long-held assumptions they had about you. Plus, as we grow up, our parents stop being our closest confidantes so a lot of your life might be a mystery to them. At the time though, I remember being quite surprised myself that my mum hadn’t had an inkling.

But like many gay men, my fear of discovery meant that I was altering my behaviour – you know, trying to be super masc. That’s the power of the closet. It suppresses elements of your character that might posit you as different. But you can’t be the best version of yourself while you’re trying to pretend to be someone you’re not. In a way, it’s robbing your family of the chance to get to know the real you. If my mum was none the wiser, that was down to me too. And when I did come out, my behaviour definitely changed.

It wasn’t a baton-twirling moment of self-realisation, but I felt freer and more at ease with myself. I’m sure my family noticed a difference too.

While coming out to my family really made a huge difference to my emotional wellbeing, no one should rush into that decision. It takes time and everyone comes to it at their own pace. If you’re considering it yourself, it’s worth starting with a close family member or friend whom you really trust and are reasonably sure will react well to your news. In this way, you can build up your own support network and ask them for advice before you confront the task of telling the rest of your family. If you have any gay friends, they may have some worthwhile experiences to draw on too – while bearing in mind that everyone’s experience will be different.

As well as utilising your support networks, it’s worth spending some time thinking about how you’re going to tell your family that you’re gay. I blurted it out on the phone, but, in retrospect, I’d have preferred to sit my parents down and tell them face to face. You’re probably already feeling a bit nervous about the experience, so deciding how, when and where you’re going to tell your family can give you back some control over that situation. It also pays to think about what you want to say and how you want it to come across. Funnily enough, with all my worry about whether or not I should come out to my family, I never spared a thought about what I would say when the moment arrived.

And just make sure that you’re prepared for a myriad of reactions, as some family members may not react quite the way you want them to. But you have to understand that this may be a shock to them, and they might just need a second to process the information. They have no right to judge you, but equally, you shouldn’t judge their initial reaction too harshly if it doesn’t live up to your expectations. Give them some time and space to come to terms with your news. Coming out is your decision alone. You’re at liberty to keep that information to yourself.