Coming out to your parents: Advice from Riyadh Khalaf and Amelia Abraham
How should you come out to your parents? How can you prepare? And what advice is there for parents?
Riyadh Khalaf, YouTuber, podcast host and author of Yay! You’re Gay! Now What? and Amelia Abraham, author of Queer Intentions, shared their experiences and offered advice to parents and LGBTQ+ people on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
Riyadh Khalaf: How I came out to my parents
“I came out to my parents in two different stages”, says Riyadh Khalaf. He told his mum first after she found some gay porn on the family computer.
“She came to me in the kitchen, I was just sitting there at at the table, and she said ‘son, if you’ve got something you need to tell me, at any time you know I’m here, I’m your mother. Let me know’.”
After Riyadh told her, they didn’t tell his father for nine months. “We were afraid of what his reaction would be since he was from the Middle East and was brought up as a Muslim - we just weren’t sure.”
Riyadh ended up writing ‘I’m gay’ on a piece of paper and passing it to his father. “He read it and he didn’t say anything for about ten seconds, and then he came over and gave me a hug and said ‘everything will be OK, we will fix this’. And what he meant by that was, ‘we will get you some help and conversion therapy’.
“Thankfully that never came to fruition, we never actually did that, but we battled through the next few months and eventually through a lot of tears and a lot of anguish, my dad learnt to put love above his shame, learnt that actually my identity was a gift, not something that he should be afraid of.
“He now comes to Pride marches and actively protests for equal treatment of LGBT people around the world. He is absolutely the example of what a perfect ally is.”
Amelia Abraham: How I came out to my parents
Amelia Abraham came out to her stepmother first. “She was incredibly, incredibly accepting. I think it was easier for both of us because we weren’t biologically related so it kind of felt like there was a tiny bit of distance and a bit less pressure there.”
Amelia Abraham then asked her stepmother to tell her father.
She finally told her mother about her sexuality when she brought a girlfriend home.
“I guess all in all I had it relatively easy. There was some challenges along the way and a few small hurtful things have been said over the years, but ultimately, my parents have been extremely accepting.”
Advice for those thinking about coming out to their parents
Remember there’s nothing wrong with you
“The time is coming for you to finally come out. It’s a scary thing I know but remember, there’s nothing wrong with you, there’s nothing that needs to be changed about you”, says Riyadh Khalaf.
Don’t rush the coming out process
“If you feel that now is the time [to come out] because a friend has told you it’s the time or because you’ve been watching a load of drag race, and you think that you want to be just like them, that’s fine but you will know in your heart when it feels right”, advises Riyadh Khalaf. “It’ll never feel easy but it will feel right.”
Amelia Abraham suggests you could “practice [coming out] on someone else you know first.” She adds, “for me personally, I told a couple of my friends before I told my parents.
“I had so much fear about how they would react and they were completely kind and understanding and accepting. They were a little bit surprised but they were very accepting.
“That made me realise that a lot of my fear, not all of my fear, but a lot of my fear was in my head or I was carrying it myself.
“So coming out to them before I came out to my parents was really, really useful.”
Remember the LGBTQ+ community love you
“It will be scary but remember you’ve got a family of hundreds of millions of people who are just like you all over the world who are waiting and ready to embrace you with their LGBT love”, says Riyadh Khalaf. “They have been through exactly the same thing that you’re going through right now.”
“When I was writing my book, Queer Intentions, I met lots of different people from different parts of the world who have had different experiences coming out”, says Amelia Abraham.
“I met some people from the Middle East, countries like Syria or Turkey, who had had a really, really difficult time coming out. They had even been through things like conversion therapy or they’d lost touch with their families.
“This is the absolute worst case scenario of what can happen with these experiences and I would still say that they managed to find an LGBT family who really accept them and that was a really beautiful thing to see.
“I think what I learnt writing the book was that anywhere you go in the world when you are LGBT, there is a community there and you can find a home.
“I think chosen families is a really beautiful thing to come out of being LGBT and then even if your parents don’t accept you at first, you might find that there are other LGBTQ people that you could meet online or through services or through other groups that will accept and understand you until it gets that little bit better at home.”
Make sure you have a plan for any fallout
“Now there are a few things that you should consider before you come out to your parents, and these are things that will help you to cover all bases in the eventuality that things don’t go perfect”, advises Riyadh Khalaf.
“Make sure that you have the three key things at your disposal ready to go after you’ve come out. That you’ve got food, you have a roof over your head and have got access to school still.
“Go and talk to a family friend and ask them ‘hey, if something goes wrong with the coming out to my parents, can I stay with you, can I stay at your house with your parents?’
“Speak to a guidance counsellor in school, a teacher that your trust, the principal and make sure that they must keep that secret, they can’t cannot take it home.
“Speak to LGBT youth organisations. I know here in the UK, the LGBT+ helpline Switchboard is a great support or Stonewall, akt [formerly known as The Albert Kennedy Trust], to name a few. They’re all there online and just align yourself with them, maybe give them a call, send an email, or there’s a text service.
“Just alert them to the fact that you’re thinking of coming out and you want to be sure that they’ll be there for you if you need them.”
Be gentle with your words to your parents
“When you are coming out, when you’ve come to that sort of point at which it’s time to say those words, be gentle, be soft”, says Riyadh Khalaf.
“You’ve had all of these years and all of these months to come to this point where you feel comfortable with who you are. Your parents may not have any idea at all, so say it slowly, say it gently, and listen to their questions.
“Their questions might be offensive, there might be a sting in there, but give them time and just let it be water off a duck’s back for the time being.”
Talk your parents through it
“Tell them exactly how you’ve come to this point, that this is just as natural to you as their straightness is to them, this is not a choice, this is something that has been given to you”, suggests Riyadh.
“Hopefully in time, through education and love and understanding, you’ll all be able to come together not just as the family you were before but as a stronger, closer, more bonded family than you were before.”
Remember it will get easier
“It can hurt at first, but luckily for most people the worst part is doing it and there on after it does get better”, says Amelia Abraham.
“Unfortunately that’s not the case for everyone but in most cases that is the case.
“For me, being part of that LGBT community has been probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’ve met so many amazing friends that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I’ve had so many beautiful relationships, I’ve had so many fun experiences at Pride parades or at gay bars and it’s really been a blessing.
“So I would say that there is hope, there is so much you can get out of being bisexual or gay or trans.
“You just need to make it through this bit and then you will find all the joys on the other side.”
Advice for parents
Take some breathing space before responding
“If you’re feeling that you might come out with a knee-jerk, offensive reaction, or something that’s going to be quite hurtful to you and them, just take a step away, tell them that you need some breathing space, you need some time, but that you’ll be ready to speak soon”, suggests Riyadh Khalaf.
Amelia Abraham agrees. “I think if you’re a parent and your kid has just come out to you, take a deep breath and try to think before you speak.
“Sometimes hurtful things can be said in the moment that parents really didn’t mean, they just say it out of shock or surprise or confusion.
“Really just try to breathe and know that you don’t have to give all of of your response in that very moment.”
Find someone to talk to
“Speak to friends, family, work colleagues, find someone in your life who is gay, or who has a gay kid and just ask them for their experience”, says Riyadh Khalaf.
“Allow yourself to slowly but surely understand that this is not a sickness, this is not something that needs to be weeded out of your child, that this is a gift, this is something that is going to make them an incredibly well-rounded, young person with a huge amount of empathy for other minorities just like them.”
Amelia Abraham agrees that you should find someone with whom to confide your feelings.
“It’s really important to find someone else you can talk to so that you’re not really unloading your emotions about your child’s sexuality back onto them, they’re already going through enough pain and potentially shame.
“If you can’t find someone that you know, you could always speak to the LGBT+ helpline Switchboard.
“My girlfriend volunteers for them and she takes calls from parents of LGBT kids all the time, particularly parents of LGBT kids where the family’s from a cultural background where it’s less accepted to be bisexual or gay. Maybe have a look and see if there’s anyone within your kind of culture or religion that has experience with this.”
“Get a book about what it’s like to come out”, suggests Riyadh Khalaf.
“Read that from the perspective of the young person in your life, but also read it from the perspective of parents that have written those books, [who] are willing to give you that advice.”
Hear your child out
“Hear the kid out when they tell you how they came to this, this point in their life, when they finally realised who they are”, says Riyadh Khalaf.
“Hash it out with them, figure out how they got there and hopefully you’ll come to a point where you can embrace them again, and be the parent that they need you to be.”
Don’t say things you wouldn’t say to a straight child
“I think as a parent it’s really important to think about [whether] I would say this to my child if they were straight?” suggests Amelia Abraham.
“If you wouldn’t, then it’s definitely not a good idea to say it.
“A couple of things that I’ve heard over the years are, ‘Oh, your friend’, rather than ‘your girlfriend’, because they find it difficult to acknowledge that I have a girlfriend so they say ‘friend’. That can be quite hurtful.”
Don’t worry if you’re finding it hard
“OK, so your kid has just come out to you as LGBTQ+, and you’re finding it hard, but don’t beat yourself up over that, of course you’re finding it hard”, Riyadh Khalaf says.
“This news has hit you out of the blue most likely, maybe you had an inkling, but now it’s absolutely real, it’s tangible.
“Remember that your kid has had probably years and years to come to this moment, they have gone through a lot of ups and downs trying to get rid of that identity, that gender identity, that sexuality, trying to morph it into being straight or cisgender. But they know that they can’t, this is a biological part of them.
“It will take you time, but believe me, you will get there and you will learn to embrace them in the way that they need you.”
You can listen to the full Woman's Hour parenting podcast about coming out to here.