“Chicken, steak, or shrimp?” my dad asked me.

It had been a family ritual growing up. He’d cook dinner almost every night, and he’d pull some meat out of the big chest freezer in the garage for grilling. Those were the three options most nights: chicken, steak, or shrimp.

I went home one Saturday night during my junior year of college at NC State. My sister, a freshman at nearby Chapel Hill, came home as well. She and I were going to eat dinner with our parents like we’d done for years in our youth.

I answered my father absently — probably chicken — because I had something big on my mind.

I would be coming out to my family over dinner. I’d tell them that I “struggle with same-sex attraction” — the language I used to talk about myself at the time.

I didn’t want to, though.

It wasn’t that I was afraid of their response, exactly. They were all conservative, evangelical Christians (as was I), but they were never ones to go off the deep end about anything. Over the years I had seen my entire family respond to life’s many twists and turns with grace and patience.

To be fair, it certainly also helped that I wasn’t looking to start dating men.

Even today, it’s difficult to put words to why I didn’t want to let them in.

Was it that I feared regular status updates would be expected of me? Was I afraid they’d try to manage my situation with their usual zeal for addressing problems rather than let me handle it on my own terms and arrive at my own conclusions?

Was there some resentment deep down, some bitter feeling that I’d been forced to come to terms with my sexuality all on my own — without their knowledge or support?

I wish I knew.

But I’d been coming out to more and more friends, and I wanted my family to hear it from me first. It felt like only a matter of time before word got out. That I had to hurry and come out to my family because I was sitting on a ticking time bomb.

I dropped that bomb toward the end of dinner. I told them I struggled with same-sex attraction but that I wasn’t planning on changing the course of my faith.

I explained that I was telling them because I planned to tell even more people, and I didn’t want them to hear it from anyone else. I answered just enough questions to make sure they didn’t think I was sending up a distress signal.

I told them that if I wanted to talk about it again I’d be the one to bring it up, and I stood up and left.

I got into my car where I’d already packed all my laundry for a speedy getaway, much to my mom’s bemusement an hour prior (“I just want to, you know, get it out the way,” I had told her).

I drove straight home to Raleigh.

I just told my family, I texted a friend after stopping for gas. I don’t really want to be alone. Can I come over?

He said I could, even though he was making dinner with his not-really-girlfriend. Good enough. An hour later, I knocked on his door.

Well, she was obviously annoyed that I had showed up, but I didn’t know her well enough to want to explain. It was Extremely Awkward Dinner 2: Electric Boogaloo.

It just goes to show that there’s no part of coming out that isn’t awkward.

Looking back, part of me regrets the way I handled things that day. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told my family until I was actually ready to talk about it.

Perhaps I should have allowed them to pray for me in person, encircled in the foyer, hands clasped, as I know they would have done if I’d let them.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have declared a moratorium on the topic.

But I also think I did the best with what I had at the time. I was a frightened 20-year-old. I was anxious and perplexed about what was going on in my heart. I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to make sure they felt good about everything.

If the choice was really between a too-brief conversation and their learning about my sexual orientation from another source, I think I made the right choice.

And I won’t entertain any self-accusation of cowardice: what I did that night was the most courageous thing I had done in my life to that point.

Like most of life, this story is a mixture of victory and defeat.

Thankfully, things are better between us now — but by no virtue of mine! My family honored my wishes for years.

One day, my mother asked me how I was doing with all of it. I told her I was doing fine but didn’t volunteer anything else.

My sister was the one who eventually thawed the chilly silence. She and her husband got me talking about a book they had read about homosexuality and Christianity, and she encouraged me to talk to my parents about it. I did, and we had a good conversation about an article Eve Tushnet wrote for the Washington Post.

While it’s still a struggle to be open with my family sometimes, it doesn’t feel taboo anymore.

I’m thankful for my family’s grace and patience. They’ve been an undeniable blessing to me in every walk of life. For my part, I hope that God will continue to grow me in openness and vulnerability with them.

How did coming out to your parents and family turn out? What stalls or discourages you from coming out to people in your life?

About the Author

  • As of yet, I have not had this discussion with my family. The delay does not stem from a fear of their response; I am confident their response will be gracious, loving, and will undoubtedly draw my closer to them. However, for a long time I have put the issue of SSA on the back-burner for myself; secretly hoping if it was ignored, it would fade into the distance and cease to be an issue. In a sense, I had to wake up and face reality with myself before I could discuss it with anyone. It is only within the last year and a half that I have been taking this issue seriously, working out the questions of my faith, and grappling with how Scripture nourishes me in the fight. Thank you for this story – how did your family react initially? I see they breach the subject again for a couple of years, but before you dashed, what did they say?

    • ProfJBlue, thanks for reading. I think it’s very wise to think about what your sexuality means and how it fits into the rest of your life before you come out to more than a few people.
      As for how my family reacted, I’m having a hard time remembering exactly what they said, although I remember them being carefully calm and quiet. When I said I was telling them because I intended to be more open about it and tell more people, they cautioned me to exercise care. The only other thing I remember is that they wanted to know if there was anyone else I had opened up to for spiritual support. I was able to assure them I had talked to a few friends as well as a man who had been a youth leader at the church we grew up in.

  • The first person I told about my SSA was my father. He is from a background that could be described as white, upper middle class, Southern, conservative, and Evangelical. He was raised at a time when non-straight sexuality was never talked about out loud, only in whispers behind closed doors.
    I was 12 when told him privately. He looked at me, affectionately grabbed my arm, and said “I am WITH you!”. That is the last time we ever directly talked about my SSA. We have communicated for decades only by dropping hints. I’m sure he told my mother, but she and I never directly talked about it.

    • It takes a lot to initially bite the bullet, but it also takes a lot to keep biting it over and over again! For us and our loved ones, I think.

    • I love that his response was, “I’m with you.” You might have talked about this in one of your other posts, Marshall and I missed it, but since he said I’m WITH you does that imply that he too struggled with Same Sex Attraction?
      I’ve not told my parents about my struggle.. I’ve always wondered if my father too struggles with SSA.

  • I never told my mother, but I think she knew. I told my religiously zealous father out of spite and anger. I did it over the phone, just hoping he would get angry so I would have an excuse to hang up on him and never talk to him again. I was still angry with him and his wife because of what she said about David killing himself (she said all people who kill themselves go to hell). All he said was “I know.”
    These two words are probably what saved our tenuous relationship. We had many fights and arguments over the phone, mostly over the religiosity of my stepmother. She was real good at bashing people who weren’t in church every time the door was open. Apparently the brutality of my abuse by my Charismatic grandfather was no excuse to her; neither was the church telling me all gays go to hell. The fights though were a sign of at least dialogue. I also understood she was helping him get over the horror of Vietnam. I tolerated her, but I didn’t put up with her BS either.
    She died in 2000 of stomach cancer. My one regret was that I never forgave her for what she said about David. My father doesn’t like for me to discuss my homosexuality; he quickly changes the subject. I understand this. He is the John Wayne type. Imagine his horror when his son turned out to be Betty Crocker. Still though we continued to talk. One day (not so long ago) when he had gotten the news of my perfect brother marrying his fourth wife because she was having his fifth child, he sighed and lamented “I wish your brother was more like you.”
    I felt vindicated. I just wish I had a close relationship with him. It is what it is.

    • It sounds like you just wanted to be understood and given the space to work that out on your own knowing your family supported you?

    • Your attempting to sort of weaponize coming out resonated with me, not because I’ve done that exactly, but I’m definitely guilty of coming out to people as a manipulation tactic, to try to transact some emotional intimacy out of people from whom I desired it. It usually worked. However, I think this was an irresponsible use of my story. I’m not trying to beat myself up, just observing that coming out is not always noble–it’s possible to do it for unhealthy reasons.
      Thanks for sharing this story, Bradley.

  • I don’t really have relationship with my family because of a hard split 3 years ago. My dad found out through my like history on YouTube. We’ve had a couple of decent conversations about it, but I don’t share as much as I want to. My sister texted me she’s praying I get literally sick until I turn and repent. (I’m gay, but at the time I hadn’t taken a hard stance either way) Only goes to show you some people aren’t safe. How safe did you feel about talking with your family?

    • Oh man, I’m sorry to hear that’s how your sister responded :/
      Even though I was incredibly nervous, ultimately I felt pretty safe. I was in a very fortunate position that many people aren’t in. I was financially dependent on my parents for some things at the time, but I felt sure that as long as they didn’t feel like I was wasting their resources, they weren’t going to change that. (And I felt that I could trust them to understand that “I struggle with SSA” is not the same thing as “I am a secret wild child who is partying all the time and failing all my classes.”)

      • Thanks Ryan. Sounds like they were pretty level headed. It sucks. God’s shown his hand through a ton of things though.

  • like you, I feel like I owe it to my family to come out because 1) honesty and 2) I too plan on talking about this in the future down the road and would rather have told them first. at the same time, I know it will be a mixed bag of reactions, and from a couple of my brothers I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be pleasant. I’ll have to rip the bandaid off one day – if my husband can handle it they’ll have to deal with it too

    • Oof, yeah, I did have the benefit of having a general sense that my family’s reactions wouldn’t be all that scary. However, it sounds like you have your husband’s support, and maybe there’s another family member you can get on your side before you tell those particular brothers. Anyway, I agree that at some point you just have to let people feel the weight of who you are and let them deal with it. Thanks for sharing, Ashley!

  • Telling my parents was the most difficult conversation I ever had. Telling my sisters was pretty easy, as was telling two of my brothers. Still haven’t told my two oldest brothers and I don’t really plan to tell them directly. They may hear about it one day from another source, but I am not bothered by that.
    I think you’re right about coming out being the most courageous act in your life. It’s not like we get a guide book on how to come out when we discover our sexuality (that would be a nice welcome gift though…) Honestly, I think you handled it extremely well, even now looking back! You were honest and direct, you had a plan, and you still left the door available for a discussion even if you requested control of the door.
    Thank you for sharing, Ryan. I greatly appreciated your story today.

    • Thanks Dean! Yeah, I could have handled it worse, for sure.
      I hope that efforts like YOB can be something that future generations can discover and learn from. Not a perfect, tidy, guide book, but some stockpiled wisdom that we never had growing up!

  • Ah, the coming out hit-and-run. A classic move. I feel like I can one-up you with my “hand my dad my journal and bolt for two days” strategy, but to each his own.
    Grateful for your story, Ryan.

  • I guess you could call mine a hit and run of sorts. I wrote a letter to my parents similar to what Elliott did, and left it behind as I left for a trip to visit a Yobber for the first time. I just couldn’t tell it to their faces and I was hoping this letter would give them a chance to mull it all over and not get emotional or say things they don’t mean. When I got back from my trip we had a good talk about it that wasn’t particularly dramatic. I’m blessed with how well It went. So I guess you could call this a hit and run and then coming back.

    • I’m glad it went well and (while I’m sure coming home was nerve-wracking) you came home to a peaceful situation. I think the best way to come out to family probably depends a lot on the situation and the individuals involved, but I think what really matters is keeping open channels of communication after that. (And as I said in my post I have had my ups and my downs there.)

  • God bless you on your ministry to share the love of Jesus to everyone you meet. Your story will be an inspiration to many. Count me as one of your brothers and encouragers!!
    Darrell Cope
    Jacksonville FL

        • No, I wound up deleting my facebook when I graduated college. Feel free to email me, though (email address is on the Authors page). Unfortunately we have had some technical difficulties with my YOB email account, but maybe now they’ve cleared up?

  • My parents found out – how I never knew nor asked. Thankfully, they went to my pastor and his wife instead of to me, who already knew. They were a bit of a buffer, but it was not a pretty scene and erected a wall between my parents and I for years.
    Thanks for sharing, Ryan

    • Thanks for reading, Mark, and thanks for sharing your experience! I hope things are better between you and your parents now.

  • When I told friend that I am gay, it was scary but liberating too. My most shocking moment was when he said, “This doesn’t change our friendship at all–I love you no matter what.” He is a believer too and as a result, I’ve changed from the word “gay” to “SSA” because that felt less of a label and more of a “me” instead of a political label. It was hard, but also a chance for me to share my struggles and have a fellow believer pray for me. I just wish I would have been able to do this years ago, but coming out was certainly nothing less than a shunning from the church.

    • Scary but liberating is a good way to put it!
      When we come out to love and support from our friends and family, it gives us room to breathe, more space to figure out what’s going on in our hearts. I’m glad your friend was able to provide that for you. I think having a friend sit and lovingly pray for you is one of the sweetest experiences I can think of.

        • I’ve learned so much about Jesus as a result of this all. And, to top it off, I feel more manly now than I ever have in my life (willing to be vulnerable instead of wearing a mask and hiding).

  • My family always suspected something but never actually heard me say it. I never wanted to let them know anything because it wasn’t important to tell them. I only told my mother whom I have come to understand as a godly saint. She simply said, “Karl, I won’t judge you, who am I to judge anyone, we all have something and I always knew that you struggled with something, but I didn’t know what”. She has been my dearest friend. I have told no one else within the family, not needed. I kept my mouth shut at the first because I told one person that I thought was godly in the Church and that went around like wildfire. I learnt that day that it’s not important that all should know, but that one or two should know.

    • Yeah I don’t think being super “out” is necessarily for everyone. I think it should be an option for everyone, but I don’t think anyone who doesn’t come out publicly is automatically making a mistake. The hill I’d die on is that we all need those few close confidantes who we can be truly authentic with. Thanks for sharing!

  • When I first told my parents I think I was 14. It was honestly one of the strangest things I have ever done in my life.
    I was very confused about my attractions and I told them when I realised what my attractions were.
    On the day I came out, we went and had lunch at a kebab place and a guy walked in wearing a very minimal singlet. I found I couldn’t stop looking at him and thats probably when I fully realised that I was exclusively attracted to guys.
    Latter on that day the weirdest thing happened. So my parents are Romanian immigrants to Australia and very devout in their faith. My family is also Pentecostal. The combination of Romanian Pentecostal means authorative but spiritual.
    Anyway, that evening my Dad walked into the room as were finishing dinner and said, “God told me that someone is hiding something”.
    It was really scary. After everyone went to bed, my siblings went one by one to Mum (we spell it with a u in Australia) and Dad’s room to confess to things. My older sister was in there and then my twin left our room to go speak with mum and dad too. After he came back I knew it was my turn. I had been debating with myself wether or not to tell Dad I had been struggling with Lust towards the same sex.
    Now I had mentioned to my father before that I thought I might be attracted to men but I wouldn’t say it was “coming out” because he dismissed it by saying something like “men like to have nice bodies, that’s all it is”. Plus at that point I was also unsure.
    This time though, I knew and I told him with more surety. My parents were great with how they dealt with it and they kept on telling me that it doesn’t define me. They also thought that it could change.
    I have never really spoken to my father much about it since then but it was very liberating. I was lucky to come out so young and to have parents like I did.
    I completely understand the hit and run idea though, especially since my family is prone to lecturing.

    • 14 seems so young to me! While I definitely experienced SSA at 14, I don’t think I was sufficiently self-aware to admit it to anyone, myself included. Pentecostal experience/expectations are a bit foreign to me, but it does sound like they reacted well given that context/background. Thanks for sharing!

      • Its not so much the Pentecostalism but more the combination with a Romanian ethnicity. Pentecostals, and Protestants in general, are looked down upon in Romania and were a persecuted minority by the Orthodox majority and the previous communist government of Romania.
        Although my family is now in Australia, much of the Romanian community here are fiercely legalistic (also very hypocritical) which I think in someways can be linked to their oppression, and also just a resistance to the nominal Christianity of the Orthodox Population of Romania.
        Anyways, I thank God my parents do not match this stereotype although at that time I feared they wouldn’t be understanding, probably due to their heritage.

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