Congratulations! You’re getting ready to do something courageous. You’re daring to let your family know more about you.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, you find a ton of poly community and support. You’ve found friends and chosen family who totally affirm you. You don’t want to settle for being in the closet with your parents and relatives.
Dan Savage has often said that poly folks and people in open relationships are in the place that gay, lesbian, and bi folks were 20 years ago. The last 20 years of activism and courage from the LGBTQ community has led to more acceptance. Today when a person comes out as gay, lesbian or bi to their parents or relatives, they’re more likely to receive a neutral or positive response. We’ve still got a lot of work to do to make it safer for trans folks, but that’s another post.
If you come out today as poly, there’s a high likelihood that your family members will respond negatively, but you’ve decided it’s worth it. You want the freedom to be open about who you are and who you love. You also want to be part of the movement to destigmatize poly folks. On the other hand, you’re afraid being judged or even losing important family relationships.
The advice that follows is similar to what gay, lesbian and bi elders tell people coming out.
When you decide you’re ready, try some of these things to increase the likelihood it will go well.
Give your family members a few resources when you come out.
When you hand them a book or give them a website to visit, you don’t have to do all the educating. Wouldn’t it be lovely if you were spared some ignorant questions?
Here are a few good ones for them to start with:
They will find frequently asked questions and a glossary of terms.
The Polyamorists Next Door by Elisabeth Sheff
Open by Jenny Block
Be somewhat patient with them.
You absolutely deserve understanding, acceptance and affirmation. You know that, I know that…and they don’t get that yet. This is brand new to your family members, so give them some time to be clueless and say fairly stupid things. Listen to their fears. You’ve been learning about polyamory for a long time. They are brand new to it.
Don’t be TOO patient with them.
While you may choose to give your family some time to learn and grow, you’ve got to set some boundaries. If they continue to show disrespect or put you down for being poly after the initial coming out period, you may need to give them an ultimatum. They can be disrespectful or they can spend time with you, but not both. You get to choose how much runway to give them, but think months rather than years.
Make this about you, not your partner(s).
Your family will be very likely to look for someone to blame for your coming out, so make this about you. If you introduce your family to a new partner or two at the same time as you come out as poly, your family is likely to focus all of their negative feelings on your partner(s).
For example, let’s say Suzi is planning on coming out as poly to her mom. Her mom has negative associations with open relationships, and is unfamiliar with polyamory. Suzi’s been dating Jane for three years, and has taken her to several family events. Suzi and Jane have become seriously involved with Grace in the last year. Suzi wants to bring both Jane and Grace to thanksgiving at her mom’s house. Suzi also wants to come out to her mom as poly. If she comes out and introduces Grace at the same time, her mom is likely to blame Grace for this change in her daughter.
A better choice might be to bring both women to thanksgiving and wait to come out. Her mom is likely to assume Grace is a good friend of Suzi and Jane. She’ll get to know Grace and perhaps enjoy her company. Then when Suzi comes out as Poly at New Year’s, her mom will already know and like Grace.
Find an ally in your family.
Do you have a family member who is likely to be poly affirming? Come out to that person first, and ask them to help your other family members. Ask your ally to reach out to your family members and offer an ear. Your ally can help you feel less alone as you walk through this courageous process.
Lean on your community and perhaps a great therapist.
Tell your close friends you may need to call them or text them for help after your conversations with your family. Consider working with a therapist who can help you stay grounded through the whole process. You will need to talk to people who totally get it. You may need to cry, vent, or hopefully celebrate! Lean on those who can give you unconditional love and understanding.
Looking for a therapist to help you navigate your relationships? Call us at (415) 534-4051 or schedule a free consultation now.