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Should You Come Out to Your Family at Thanksgiving? Probably Not, and Here’s Why.

You’ve been living with a big discovery about your sexuality, gender, or relationship identity, and it probably feels like a relief to live more fully as your true self. But something is still stressing you out about it: your family doesn’t know yet.

Maybe you’re so excited about finding this part of yourself that you just want to shout it from the rooftops. Maybe it’s weighing on you to feel like you’re hiding something from important people in your life, or carrying a huge secret. Maybe you have a partner (or more than one, if you’re polyamorous or otherwise ethically non-monogamous) and it’s important to you to introduce them to everyone as your partner. There are a lot of reasons why you might want to come out to your family.

It’s pretty common for people not to see their biological/extended family in person outside of the holidays, and you might feel it’s really important to come out to them in person. So the question is: As the holiday season kicks off with Thanksgiving, should that be the day you come out to your family?

Ultimately, you know your family better than we do, and you know how safe or unsafe you feel as well as what feels most right to you. However, we’re going to suggest that maybe you shouldn’t come out during the holidays, as convenient as it might seem.

Here’s why.

In It’s Called Polyamory: Coming Out About Your Nonmonogamous Relationships, authors Tamara Pincus and Rebecca Hiles describe the best conditions for a coming-out conversation with your family:

To the best of your ability and as circumstances allow, select a low-stress time when everyone has slept and eaten sufficiently for clear thought, people are fairly sober, and you have enough privacy to talk.

Right off the bat, there are a lot of red flags here for a holiday conversation:

  • A low-stress time: Is there a higher-stress time than the winter holidays for most people? Travel, overcrowded houses, high emotional expectations for the day, extra cooking or other labor, and all kinds of dysfunctional family dynamics flaring up often set the stage for a lot of tension.
  • Everyone has slept and eaten sufficiently: Jet lag or unfamiliar beds can make for tired, cranky people, while it’s also likely that everyone’s either starving or overstuffed at any given time.
  • People are fairly sober: Holiday gatherings can be downright alcohol-soaked starting early in the day, especially when the big meal might be closer to lunchtime than dinnertime—and there’s a reason it’s a cliché that people drink heavily at family holiday gatherings to deal with stress.
  • You have enough privacy to talk: This might actually be the case, if it’s your immediate family gathering in your childhood home. However, think about how many people you want to tell at once. While it might be tempting to get it all over with in one talk, in reality it might make you feel less outnumbered or overwhelmed if you tell one or two people at a time.

Of course, there are many other factors to consider. If your family’s holiday gatherings are pretty relaxed (and sober), if they last several days, if everyone’s so scattered that multiple in-person conversations are genuinely very hard, and/or if you have reason to think your family will be pretty accepting of your news, then you might still feel like this is the best possible option for you.

Here are a few things you should seriously consider if you do think you’ll go the holiday route:

  • How easy is it for you to leave if things go badly? Do you have a hotel room to return to, or can you simply drive home? Being dependent on your parents’ hospitality with a plane ticket you can’t change leaves you little escape.
  • Are you hoping to bring a partner for the first time? We strongly advise against springing a new partner’s presence on your family as part of coming out—it puts your partner in a position that’s uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst, and could affect their relationship with your family from then on.
  • How does your family react to shocking news they don’t like? Please don’t put yourself in physical or emotional danger if there’s a chance that the night will end in screaming matches and things being thrown.
  • How invested is your family in this particular holiday? The situation can be more stressful simply because one of your parents has very specific, fixed ideas about how a holiday is supposed to go.
  • Is there an opportunity to talk privately one-on-one outside of the big family dinner? If, for example, you’re pretty sure your siblings will be supportive, you could talk to them first and ask for their support when you talk to parents or grandparents.

So, if you’re not going to come out to your family as queer, transgender, nonbinary, polyamorous, or anything else during the holidays, what are some other options?

  • If it’s important to you to do it in person, and it’s reasonable for you to plan one or more trips to talk to your family, arrange a separate visit at a more relaxed time.
  • If you don’t feel safe telling your family in person at all, it’s totally valid to do it over a phone call or with a letter or recorded video. (Make sure you also feel safe sending a written or recorded message that could be shared outside your control.)
  • Ask yourself whether it’s the right time to come out at all. Coming out is a deeply personal choice that allows you to center your safety and decide who gets to know. No one is entitled to have you come out to them, and you should never feel pressured to come out of the closet if you aren’t ready.
  • However you plan your coming out, make sure you’re planning in some time to allow your family to ask questions and talk through everything with you. (It’s okay, of course, to limit what questions you’re comfortable answering.) Be prepared to need some follow-up conversations, too.
  • If you’re seeing a therapist, talk to them about your plans and ask them to help you work on making the best decision for yourself. If you’ve been dealing with family-related issues in therapy, your therapist should be able to help you talk through your plans and your reasons for coming out.

Deciding not to come out during the holidays, or even in person at all, doesn’t mean that you’re not proud of who you are, thrilled about your self-discovery, or courageous enough to stand up for yourself. You don’t need to have a big, cinematic Coming Out Scene at Thanksgiving dinner in order for it to “count”, or to legitimize who you are. It’s totally okay, and maybe even better for you, if the biggest conversation at this year’s family feast is which sports team each of you are betting on.

Coming out is a celebration of you. Give it the time and space it needs to be what’s right for you.

If you’re polyamorous/nonmonogamous and planning to come out to anyone in your life about it, take a look at It’s Called Polyamory for advice. Check out our Resources page for additional support for coming out as queer, transgender, nonbinary, kinky, and more.


Image credit: Gordon Johnson/GDJ on Pixabay

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