Consider This: Before and After Coming Out

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Recently, xQsí Magazine led a roundtable discussion about queer media during the 2nd Annual Chicana/Latina Feminisms Conference at California State Long Beach. Most of the participants were students. However, one attendee was a mother who wanted to show support for her daughter, who had just come out.

It was a rare and uplifting moment to see a parent willing to learn about what it means to be LGBTQ. And while we continue to discuss the advances that the Latin@ LGBTQ community makes during conferences and at events, there is still one issue that many of us continue to struggle with – knowing when to come out to our families and how to do it.

Reaching out to Melissa Lopez, LCSW, a psychotherapist and counselor based in Pasadena, CA who has been practicing LGBTQ affirming and empowering therapy for eight years, I was able to get some tips on what to consider before coming out.

A bilingual Chicana, Lopez is equipped with the nuances of being a person of color and understands the diversity that exists within the LGBTQ community.

“I feel like there is a really big need for more than just a “gay friendly” therapist but someone who knows the community, someone who knows how all the ‘isms’ and oppressions that affect people,” Lopez said.

Since coming out is not just about one’s sexuality but also about gender identity, we separated the tips accordingly.

Tips for What to Consider in General

  • To start off, consider that for many first generation Latin@s their parents may be coming from conservative cultures and places where sexuality and gender identity are not talked about or even completely understood. Therefore, it is important to go in with few expectations.
  • Tell someone else first, before telling your parents. Tell a friend or family member you trust. Develop and practice the language you will use when telling your parents.

Note: Sometimes we encounter language barriers. Parents, for instance, may only speak a language other than English. Likewise, youth may struggle finding the right vocabulary to use when talking about their feelings in a language that isn’t English. If language is a barrier, then consider having a confided friend or family member who can help with the communication.

  • Try to have a conversation with your parents about LGBTQ people first, to give you an idea about what their opinion is. Sit down and reference someone who is LGBTQ and who is “out” and living a healthy life.

Note: This may be a good time to educate and have a conversation about what it means to be LGBTQ in order to clear up any misconceptions they may have.

  • Go in there and have the conversation. They may have a negative reaction at first but that is part of the process.

Note: Remember, they had dreams and fantasies about what your life was going to be like and it takes time to let that go. Remember that you have had time to understand your sexuality/gender identity and this is the first time your parents are hearing and dealing with it.

  • Most importantly — be patient with them.

Note: Parents need the time to digest what you have said and time to process it. However, you may find that they already know or have had that idea for some time. Yet, while they may have had an idea, coming out is really an opportunity for you to define your identity on your terms.

  • Expect that the “¿Qué van ha decir?”/ “What are they going to say?” factor might come into play.

Note: A lot of Latino families see a success for one in the family as a success for all and by that token so is failure.

  • Do not be surprised if your family thinks you were sexually abused as a child. So be prepared if you get that question.
  • Come in knowing what you want from your parents (e.g. just needing them to know, needing emotional support etc.), and tell them.

Note: Many times parents ask themselves, “What do they want from me?” so this will give them a direction as to why you are telling them and what you would like from them.

  • Remember that this is just the first conversation. Don’t pull all the weight in it. Coming out is a continuous process, not just to your family but to other people.
  • And finally, although there isn’t ever a right time to come out, try to make sure it isn’t during your abuelitas’ funeral or at a birthday event.

Sexuality

  • Think about what your familynorms are surrounding sex and relationships. Does your family have conversations about sex or who you are dating or are in relationships with?

Note: A lot can come up with parents because all of sudden there is a lot to think about such as: their kids sexual orientation, sexuality and dating. There is a big possibility of discomfort in it for them.

  • After coming out, keep in mind about what are the acceptable levels public display of affection in your household (e.g. kissing, holding hands, etc.).

Note: If you express affection towards your partner in front of your parents and they react badly, that may not be just because you are LGBTQ but rather because that may not even be acceptable with straight couples in their home.

Gender Identity

  • Often times, Latin@s are still grappling with or trying to understand what it means to be transgender/genderqueer, so more pre-education is required.

Note: Have more conversations to find out how much they know, from there you can measure how much education they require.

  • Really emphasize that although your gender presentation is changing to reflect your true gender , you are still the same person they’ve always known.

Note: After you come out, your parents may experience feelings of loss. When someone comes out as transgender/genderqueer, their family may interpret it as if they are losing their son or daughter. Part of this stems from not understanding that you are still the same person on the inside.

  • Parents  may go through a grieving process.

Note: They might reminisce about how they used to pick out your clothes or how they chose your name, so this change may feel like a loss.

  • Have patience with your family getting used to the pronoun change.

Note: Parents may struggle with your new name and might call you by your birth name. As long as they are making an effort to correct themselves, have patience when they slip.

  • Keep in mind that gender roles are strictly defined in most Latino communities, and that parents come from culturas where gender identities and roles are tied to power dynamics in the household. It is important to have an understanding of the roots of parents’ negative reactions.
  • Let them know it is not their fault. Sometimes parents will feel like they did something wrong.

Note: When someone comes out transgender or genderqueer, parents feel like they did something wrong and feel shame. Assure them that this is completely about you showing who you really are and it has nothing to do with their actions.

  • Be prepared to answer lots of questions about what it means to be transgender/genderqueer.

Note: Explain to them the transition process. Perhaps show them documentaries or films with positive transgender characters.

A lot of times, they have known and been friends with transgender people but didn’t have a name to describe them. It might be helpful to show them a subtitled video of Chaz Bono’s interview on Oprah or hand them an article in Spanish that explains the process.

  • As you continue to transition, consider incorporating your parents in that process.

Note: It’s important that your family understands the medical process as well as the psychological process you may undergo. For instance, your transition may or may not require hormone therapy. Consulting a culturally competent and trained professional or family therapist will help with your transition.

  • And finally, consider disclosing before you transition, if possible.

Note: Your family will be more receptive if you come out before you begin to transition.

While we generally believe that coming out is a positive step in achieving a level of self-empowerment, we are also aware that coming out poses risks of violence or abuse to the individual. If you are going come out, make sure it is a safe space to do so.

Coming out is not advisable if there is a history of violence or a possibility of it. If coming out is absolutely necessary and violence or abuse is a possibility, it is recommended that you do it with someone else present for support and protection and have a plan in place just in case things go awry.

 

For more info on Melissa Lopez, LCSW and her previous experience see below:

Telephone:323-841-9950

Email: mlopezlcsw[at]gmail[dot]com

Website:http://www.mlopezcounselingservicesforallseasons.com/index.html

For her previous psychotherapy experience please click here.

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About the author

Jacky Guerrero

Jacky decided to ditch a career in mainstream media and dedicated her free time towards launching xQsí which has become her passion. Her interests are anything queer and running wild on summer nights. She currently lives in South Los Angeles with her genderqueer cat Leon.

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