Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers questions from readers in a live chat. Now she’ll be answering a few additional questions for Slate Plus members only.
Q. Too Old to Come Out?: I am a 25-year-old successful young woman and almost-attorney who is terrified to come out as a lesbian to my parents. My
sexuality is not a secret to anyone—except them. I have my National LGBT Bar Association membership on my LinkedIn, rainbow backgrounds on my computer ... you get the idea. I’ve always had issues with my parents (they are devout Christians), and I honestly have no idea where they’d come out on this. It makes no sense for me to be afraid of them since I am pretty tough in general, am financially secure, and have no real problem with being a lesbian.
Please help me figure out a way to break it to them before my (hypothetical) future wife does it for me.
A: I wish so much there was a way to make a difficult conversation not difficult. I know plenty of people who are completely fearless in almost every aspect of their lives, except for when it comes to having honest and challenging conversations with their parents. You’re not alone, and you’re certainly not too old to come out.
The good news, as you pointed out, is that you’re financially independent and don’t face homelessness or poverty in coming out to them, so there’s a limit to how bad things can get. Part of what’s terrifying you now is the uncertainty. In your mind, they are continually rejecting you, throwing a fit, and saying hurtful things over and over again. In real life, you only have to do this once (although that depends, I suppose, on how strong their capacity for denial is).
Your parents may surprise you, or they may react exactly as you thought they would. If you’re out at work and to your friends, they might even already know. It’s probably going to be easier to do it now, rather than waiting until you’re in a serious relationship and putting a real-life girlfriend through your parents’ initial reaction. You can write them a letter if you’re worried about your ability to stay calm and explain things to them in person, and maybe follow up with a conversation in person after they’ve had some time to adjust to the news.
If you can, plan on having a close friend or two available when you know you’re going to be coming out to your parents, so you have someone supportive to talk to afterward if your parents react badly. Whatever their response is, good or bad or something in between, it will be easier to deal with in real life than constantly imagining how angry they’ll be with you for coming out in your head.