“I’m a 17 year old pansexual girl, and I feel ready to come out to my mom. In the past, though, she hasn’t been very good with keeping my personal things to herself, and my dad believes anything but straight is a sign of mental illness. Mom is mostly chill about it, but she’s expressed that she ‘just doesn’t agree with their lifestyle’ before. What should I do, and how do I explain that being pansexual is not a mental illness?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Anna Krieger
Thank you for writing! This is a very important question, and I’m going to do my best to address it thoughtfully. My hope is that while helping you navigate this process, I can also be helpful to parents as they work to support their children.
First, this is huge. It’s great that you’re feeling ready to come out to your mom! Second, it sounds like you’re considering a bunch of factors here, which is totally understandable. Coming out is complex. On top of navigating that complexity and all the anxiety that comes along with it, you’re pondering your mom’s ability to keep this to herself, and what the ramifications may be if she does end up telling your dad. That’s a lot!
While it’s important to be aware of all of these factors, know that you don’t need to tackle everything at once. Your parents may take a while to understand pansexuality, so it’s important to think about coming out in stages, gauging your own comfort level as you go. Perhaps you can begin by talking about pansexuality generally before you start to talk more specifically about your own identity. Or, you can start by talking openly and honestly about the people you are interested in dating. As you open up more about your love life, you will be able to feel out your parents’ comfort level with your sexuality, while paving the way for deeper and increasingly open conversations around your pansexuality.
When I first came out to my mom, it was very much within a pansexual framework. I explained to her that I was attracted to a girl in my class, and presented this as someone I was attracted to, who just happened to be a girl. Even to this day, when I come out to people, I explain that I am attracted to the person, regardless of gender. I have found that many people actually relate to this explanation, even if they aren’t LGBTQ-identified. However, even well intentioned people may not understand terminology right off the bat; perhaps your parents’ own discomfort around pansexuality comes from not necessarily being familiar with what pansexuality means. You can show them what pansexuality means to you by sharing authentically around your own feelings and experiences, which then might make this more real and normalized for them.
Regardless of anything I’ve shared about teaching your parents about pansexuality, the point is that you’d ideally prefer to come out now, right? The problem seems to be in your mom’s ability to keep this information from your dad, who, you fear, will think you are mentally ill. First, I hope that you know, at least, that his belief that “anything but straight is a sign of mental illness” is a false and outdated view of the LGBTQ community. Sexualities are as varied and diverse as people themselves. Loving someone regardless of their gender identity is not a mental illness. While homosexuality was a part of the DSM (the book of mental illness diagnoses used by psychiatrists) until 1973, the reason behind that was more about homophobia and fear of those different from the cisheterosexual norm, rather than any scientific proof of a disease or illness. Click here to read more about the empirical studies that led psychiatrists to remove this diagnosis from their official manual.
You could absolutely include this worry in the conversation that you have with your mom: tell her that you’re not ready for your dad to know yet, and when you are ready, you would like to be the one to tell him. If you really have concerns about your mom outing you, my recommendation would be to wait until you feel comfortable with both of your parents knowing. While not ideal, you also wouldn’t need to worry about her outing you, or having to hold a secret in the family any longer.
Please remember that regardless of anything, you are brave and strong for beginning to let your family into this part of your identity. You deserve to have so much love around you at this time, and I hope that your parents can fully support you—which includes respecting your right to privacy— regardless of who you happen to love.
As for the parents out there, if your children come to you with a desire to share their identity, this likely comes after much thought and careful planning. Please consider that even if you don’t necessarily understand your child’s identity right away, it is critical to do your best to provide support, open-minded listening, and love.
Anna Krieger, MSW has been committed to social issues since her time as a student at Haverford College, where, as an out student, she led several student groups focused around providing support for the LGBTQ community. Post-graduation, Anna worked in several low-performing middle and high schools in Philadelphia as an Americorps member, and later as a social worker, after graduating from University of Pennsylvania with her MSW. Anna moved to New York last year, where she has focused her career on recruitment, most recently for a non-profit that provides programming for high-need middle schools around the country. In her spare time, Anna likes to sit in the park, eat soft serve ice cream with sprinkles, and attempts to remember to update her blog: www.nougatsofinspiration.blogspot.com.
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