Michael C. LaSala Ph.D., LCSW

Gay and Lesbian Well-Being

Is it OK Not to Come Out?

For LGBT Youth, Staying in the Closet is Sometimes the Smart Choice

Posted Jul 13, 2015

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Source: iStock

Lately, I have received a lot of questions from youth asking whether or not they should come out.  Sometimes, they are really asking, “Is it ok NOT to come out?” In short, depending on the circumstances, the answer is sometimes yes.

There are a lot of good reasons to come out to your parents. You might be tired of hiding your sexuality and you’re feeling a lot of stress and anxiety keeping this information from them. There is some research to suggest that LGBT youth who come out to their parents and who are supported by them are less likely to have mental health problems or engage in unsafe sex than their counterparts who are not out, or who are out to disapproving or rejecting parents. Sure, it’s a no brainer--if you are out to your parents and they are ok with it, life is indeed less stressful. Further, with all the gay and trans stuff now in the news, coming out to one’s parents might appear to be a good idea and in fact, might even seem mandatory. HOWEVER, it is NOT a requirement. You can still be a happy healthy LGBT person if you chose not to come out to your parents. Yes, you heard right; it’s true, and as a matter of fact, there are some good reasons not to come out to them. Here are a few:

1) Your parents practice a fundamentalist and LGBT rejecting religion, such as fundamental Islam, strict Evangelical or Southern Baptist Christianity, or Orthodox Judaism. That is not to say that all who practice these religions are homophobic. However, many of them use incorrect or highly selective readings of the Bible and the Quran to justify the condemnation of homosexuality. If your parents practice one of these religious traditions, chances are they will have a lot of trouble with you being gay or transgender, so you will want to proceed with caution.

2) Your parents have said some openly anti-gay and anti-trans things in your presence. Thanks to Caitlyn Jenner and the recent Supreme Court rulings recognizing same-sex marriage, there are many opportunities to comment on and discuss these issues. When your parents talk about these topics, are their comments positive or negative? If they are negative, there’s a good chance they may not react well to your coming out. Have they ever said anything to you like: “We hope you are not gay” or “If you ever told me you were gay we would (beat, reject, throw you out of the house." If they’ve ever uttered one of these warnings or something similar, then you really need to consider not coming out to them for now.

3) As you think about coming out to your parents, what is the worst reaction they could have?  Are you prepared for it?  Might they reject you or ask you to leave your home?  If they throw you out, do you have a safe place to go?  If they don’t reject you but still have a hard time with it, do you have friends, teachers. or other people around you who can support you through the process until your parents come around?

I recently advised a youth whose parents told him if he didn’t “change back” and “become straight” that they would take him to a religious leader to be “converted” and if he refused, he would be thrown out of the house.  This youth had no place to go so in a way he was a hostage. In hostage situations, people have to go into survival mode and do what it takes to stay safe--until they can get away.  However, the hostage needs to always understand that being a hostage is not their fault and they need to find ways to maintain their self-esteem during the process (and sometimes even after). I advised him that it was ok to go back into the closet and stay there until he was old enough to leave home safely, and/or his parents had a change of opinion.

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Source: iStock

If points 1), 2), or 3) or the hostage situation applies to you, then it is ok to stay IN the closet temporarily until you are mature and independent enough to support yourself financially or emotionally. However, in the meantime what is also important is that you find friends, teachers, counselors who know that it is indeed wonderful that you are realizing that you are growing into a fabulous gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person and who can keep reminding you of this. See videos at www.itgetsbetter.org for encouragement from celebrities as well as LGBT adults who were in your shoes at one time. Also, check out the website of Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbian and Gays (and Bisexual and Transgender persons) (www.pflag.org). What is important is that you get the support you need on your journey toward self-love and self-acceptance, even while you are in the closet, so you can become the strong, proud LGBT person you were always meant to be. . 

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