It absolutely is for me and most of my queer family. But did you know many closeted LGBTQ folks feel left out, dejected, and pressured when June rolls around?
I have a letter I want to share with you to illustrate something.
For many, Pride season is a reminder of missing joy, of a struggle for hope. I received a poignant reminder last night in the form of an email from a young teenager asking for coming-out tips. I’m used to questions like that, so their note felt casual at first, and I planned to send them a link to a story I’d already written about how to safely come out in high school.
But … then they ramped up to serious pain and grief that reverberated deeply with me. I get more painful messages like this in June than any other season.
Let me share my response with all of you, because I think adults can benefit too. We need to understand what kids are facing and understand that some of us face the same issues.
I’m a gay 8th grader but nobody knows about it yet, do you have any tips on how I should come out to my friends? I’m afraid of what they will say. And also about the hard times.
My dad and step-mom are very conservative, and they found out by looking at my phone and social media. They were not okay with it and tried to ‘pray the gay away’ but I just said that I was cured.
Sometimes I lie in bed and think if I should have just ended my life before they found out. It would have been and easier thing than having my conservative parents talk about how gays should be killed and shit. It made me feel bad because they talked about this before they found out about my sexuality.
I need help!
When you can’t be open, Pride pressure can hurt
Too many of us still live in my young correspondent’s world. They’re hurting because they WANT to be out. They WANT to cash in on June’s rainbow promises, but they can’t. So let’s talk about it.
I’m a gay 8th grader. Do you have any tips on how I should come out to my friends?
I sure do. Coming out and living as the real you is important and critical for your mental health. Especially during Pride season when social media bursts with rainbows, we want to reach out for support. Some of us want to come out more than ever. Many teens your age (13 or 14) say coming was really good for them.
But should you come out?
I can’t answer that question, because I don’t know how your friends and local community would react. But if you do come out to a handful of close friends, understand something. The secret won’t keep. Your whole school will find out, and pretty darn fast.
Can you wait?
You’ve heard the saying “It gets better,” right? It does.
As you get older, you’ll have more control over your life. You’ll be better able to avoid toxic people and surround yourself with supporting people.
But “it gets better” is simplistic and frustrating. Telling somebody to wait 5 or 6 years means asking them to hide and delay ordinary life for 5 or 6 years.
LGBTQ adults often regret having missed out on ordinary teenage experiences like dating, having close friends we share everything with, and enjoying a sense of optimism about the future. We know “it gets better” is a true answer but not perfect.
If you can figure out how to be safe, coming out now could be an excellent idea. Experts say finding good friends who love you for who you really are can make a huge positive difference. According to recent data from the Family Acceptance Project, LGBTQ teens who come out in school tend to be happier and more mentally healthy than their closeted peers.
But be careful about data.
It doesn’t always mean what you think. It’s possible many of those kids in the study were healthy and happy because they already knew coming out at school was safe. The kids in the closet weren’t necessarily going to become happier and healthier if they came out.
Find an adult you can trust.
Does your school have a GSA (Gender and Sexual Alliance) club? Can you find out who the teacher advisor is? If anyone can help you figure out if coming out is safe, they can. No GSA? How about a guidance counselor or cool teacher?
Can’t talk to an adult at school? Does your area have a PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter? With over 400 chapters in the U.S., it’s likely. Reaching out for support from a local group of parents could be a great idea.
Speaking of data, plenty of good data show that even one supportive adult in an LGBTQ teen’s life makes all the positive difference in the world, even more difference than supportive peers. That’s something maybe all of us should think about.
Some tips for how to come out
When we LGBTQ people decide it’s safe to come out, we often start slow. We throw out feelers by talking about queer entertainers, music, movies, etc. We judge reactions. If somebody reacts badly, we know who NOT to come out to. We look carefully for people who react better, who say positive things. We try to make friends with those people and wait for the right time. “Can I tell you something private because I value you as a friend?” Like that.
My dad and step-mom tried to ‘pray the gay away’
That has to feel just awful. For many people, faith and spirituality are fundamental needs. Feeling rejected by faith can wound deeply. So, please understand it’s OK to feel awful about this. It’s also OK to feel embarrassed and angry your parents violated your privacy.
Know what else is OK?
Lying about being “cured,” and learning how to use technology to keep your private life private. If your parents are going to spiritually abuse you, you don’t owe them cooperation. You have the fundamental human right to grow up mentally and spiritually healthy.
Did you know tons of Christians are totally cool with LGBTQ people? After all, you’re reading this at Whosoever.org, an online magazine filled with the writings of so many that are.
Tons of LGBTQ people go to church where people love and accept them without any moral or spiritual condemnation. Many LGBTQ people even lead churches as ministers and bishops. If you don’t want to be religious, that’s fine. But if you do want, you can be. By the way, I’m specifying Christianity because I gather your parents are Christians. The same applies to other faiths.
Would you like to talk to a Christian leader in your area who fully supports LGBTQ people? Check out Church Clarity, which maintains a huge database of U.S. churches that are fully “affirming,” religion-speak for “completely accepting LGBTQ people.” Odds are, you live reasonably close to a church like that. Maybe you can get somebody praying for you instead of against you.
Sometimes I lie in bed and think if I should have just ended my life before they found out
I’m not going to sugar coat it, I used to think like that too when I thought my parents didn’t accept me. I’m sorry you have those thoughts sometimes, but I understand why you do. It’s normal for people, especially teenagers, to feel really dark sometimes. People call those dark feelings adolescent angst, and sometimes they try to downplay them. But they shouldn’t.
You deserve to be happy, and you deserve parents who accept and support you. You didn’t choose to be gay, you couldn’t stop being gay even if you wanted to, and there’s nothing wrong with being gay. None of this is your “fault,” so please understand that your parents’ negative reactions say more about them than you.
You’re going to be fine one day. Hold on to that.
If thoughts about ending your life become frequent, hard to stop, or focus on specific methods, then it’s time to reach out for professional help. Even if you’re not sure that it’s time to reach out, do it anyway. Connect with a friendly, trained adult who can help guide you.
- The National Suicide Prevention Hotline has trained LGBTQ counselors available around the clock, seven days a week. They know what they’re doing, and they understand your issues from the inside out.
- The Trevor Project offers support especially for LGBTQ young people. Their trained counselors are also available 24/7 and have a lot of direct experience helping teenagers.
Don’t feel pressure this Pride season.
Whether you’re a teenager or an adult, coming out is not necessarily the right choice for you right now, even though you might be feeling pressure to join in the month’s festivities.
Know that you don’t have to.
Sometimes, patience and caution are the wiser roads to take. Sometimes careful planning is best, even if that means putting off living openly for a while. Do what’s best for you and your eventual happiness.
In the meantime, you can still celebrate by joining in Pride on the Net. You can find virtual community even if you don’t have physical community yet. Supportive communities exist on Facebook, TikTok, and even Twitter if you’re careful. Watch some cool Pride films. Listen to good music by young LGBTQ phenoms like Lil Nas X or Eli Lieb.
Get outside and enjoy some fresh air, natural beauty, and sunshine.
And remember, it really really does get better, even though that’s not a perfect answer.
Former Air Force intelligence analyst, longtime LGBTQ activist and alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, James Finn is an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, an “agented” novelist and a runner, Marine, Airman, polyglot and self-proclaimed “middle-aged, uppity faggot.” He blogs at Medium.