For today’s blog, “I want to come out to my parents but I don’t know how” we had the privilege to interview Paul Everett Hembd, a Therapist in South Florida area specializing in LGBTQ counseling.
He was open and willing to share his personal experience in hopes to help and assist those who are thinking, processing, or playing with the idea of coming out.
Thank you Paul for taking the time to be interviewed and sharing your professional and personal experience with Bloom Sooner and our community.
Here we go…
How did you know you were ready?
“Every situation is unique, it is not a one size fits all.”
As a young child, I knew I was “different.” I grew up in a Christian religious household, which delayed the coming out process.
Based on discussions that we were having around the dinner table, I knew what my families’ feelings were around the topic.
You know if you have a red light or green light if it is safe. But the religious aspect suppressed me coming out.
I had to begin looking inward. It was a process but the turning point was that I knew that I deserve to be happy.
What age did you come out?
I was 24 years old.
Everyone is different in their coming out process because of different reasons. For example, their may a a situation where a parent is providing financial support for housing. If the person comes out then they have to take that into consideration into their coming out process.
You have to think what are the pros and cons? Financial security? Some youth are becoming homeless due to coming out, so there are things to consider which makes the process unique and different for everyone.
Everyone is sharing different stories. I personally know of individuals recently coming out in their 40’s and 50’s)
The first step is processing what is occurring with yourself internally. I am a nerd at heart and I personally looked for resources and read lots of material to reconcile my religious beliefs and being gay.
Who did you tell first?
It takes a lot of bravery and courage to come out. I knew that saying the words, “I am Gay” – you couldn’t take them back. It was nerve wrecking and scary.
I told my best friend first who was a female. Her response was very positive and supportive but that may not always be the case.
Befriending a small group of supportive gay friends helped me become more comfortable and confident; which gave me additional courage to tell my parents. It was different because they were at a different process of coming out. Some have been out for many years and others not.
I had to do a lot of sneaking around to do as others did not know that part of me. I had a lot of mixed feelings and felt as if I were living a double life.
What was your experience like?
I was very strategic with coming out. As I mentioned it is was a step by step process. First, I had to internally process with myself, then I informed the gay guys I was hanging around with, then my best friend and then other friends.
Some friends did not take it well at all. Unfortunately, many friends made it about themselves, which is not uncommon. They would say things like, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner” “I wish I would’ve known so you wouldn’t be suffering alone.”
You have to keep in mind that everybody processes in a different way. That process may take days, weeks, months, and sometimes you’ll have friends that will never quite understand At some point, it’s healthy to agree to disagree.
There is really no right way or wrong way to come out. I would suggest looking inward, going at your own pace, and assessing your safety regarding disclosing. Ultimately, your personal happiness is what matters most.
Was your parents’ reaction what you expected?
It was the opposite of what I expected, what I mean by that was that my father was the more serious and quiet one and when I came out to him he was extremely supportive. He just said to me, “As long as you stay true to your values and continue to be the person you are then I support you.”
On the other hand, my mother was very outgoing, had friends that were gay and I thought she would be more supportive than my father but that was not the case. She did not have a good response and still struggles to understand due to her religious belief system.
How did you cope with people’s reaction if they weren’t positive?
A variety of ways.
Once I reconciled my sexuality and faith, I was less inclined to be immensely hurt by others’ reactions. The thrill of being my authentic-self with new friends loving me unconditionally outweighed the negative aspects. It is important to allow others time to process your coming out experience as well. I always say, “It took me 24 years to come out, I don’t expect you to get it overnight.”
It’s unrealistic expectation to believe that everyone will understand immediately. Yet, after a certain point, it is healthy to invest in those that accept you fully versus pleading with others to change.
Yes, the vast majority of my Christian friends cut me out of their lives. Essentially, I had to start with a whole new friend base and support system. It definitely hurt and still does until this day. Yet, for each friend that leaves, there are dozens willing to love you just as you are!
If someone wanted more resources about coming out to their parents/public, where would you guide them too?
1. You have to feel safe -talk to a trusted person perhaps at school such as counselors or a respected teacher.
2. Call 211 it’s an anonymous teen hotline 24/7 with trained facilitators for you to talk about your feelings and feel supported
3. Trevor Project – Crisis hotline 1-866-4UTREVOR is a 24 hours crisis hotline and the trevorproject.org
4. There are many online resources especially on Youtube but you must be careful because parents may review your search history and find something that you’re not ready to share.
sunserve.org – LGBTQ youth department is located in Broward
pridelines.org – LGBTQ that specializes with youth ages 14-24 years old. They have a lot of programs especially for youth at risk of becoming homeless
What advice would you give teens?
Know that you are NOT a mistake. You are not alone! It will get better.
The commonality is feeling like you’re the only one.
Once you feel safe and begin sharing your authentic self, support and acceptance is available each step of the way.
The LGBTQ community is tremendously welcoming because they have been where you are in some form or fashion. Among the many strengths of the gay community are caring about one another, resiliency, and advocacy.
You may not fit various “stereotypes”, thus feeling that you may not find support. For instance, society often associates gay men with sex, drugs, and alcohol. However, know that doesn’t represent the entire community. For example, there are plenty of healthy avenues such as gay athletic leagues, organizations, social groups, etc. In other words, anything that exists for the straight community is likely available for gay individuals as well. I am happy that as equality increases, we find that there is less polarization between gay and straight individuals. It is becoming more common to simply live your best life and to recognize that your sexual orientation is just one aspect of your being without the need to find safety with strictly those that identify the same way. Personally, I strive for a healthy balance of interacting with a diverse group of friends. I feel too much of anything is likely problematic. Ultimately, do whatever is best for your well-being.