Discussions about coming out typically deal with telling the parents. That makes sense, especially for young people still living at home. However, siblings play a role in the process as well: they can help ease the way or contribute to the conflict. They may have issues of their own stemming from a sibling’s coming out. No matter the situation, these issues should be acknowledged.
There are many factors that may determine how siblings react to your coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender: their age, their relationship with you, maturity level, parental influence, religious views, and so on. In general, if you were close before, you will probably remain close. Your sibling may even have guessed already, or maybe you told him or her first. The sibling may take your side if your parents give you a hard time. Even if the sibling is much younger than you, his or her support may be very meaningful.
On the other hand, if the relationship was not good to begin with, siblings can make the experience all that much harder. Old jealousies or resentments may have new fuel. There is a new vulnerability that the sibling can choose to take advantage of. In cases where parents are accepting of who you are, such a sibling may be even more enraged and do everything he or she can to make your life miserable.
When you come out, your life changes—hopefully for the better, but in some challenging ways, too. The life of a sibling can also change as a result of having a LGBT brother or sister. Sometimes siblings are pressured to take sides. In some families, they may be forced to play peacekeeper. They bear witness to anger, disappointment, fears, and criticisms that may fly back and forth. If they are of school age, they may be the butt of jokes, bullying, or even hatred. Parents and the LGBT child may be so wrapped up in their own problems that the sibling issues aren’t addressed.
When you come out, your life changes—hopefully for the better, but in some challenging ways, too. The life of a sibling can also change as a result of having a LGBT brother or sister.
Many of these issues may occur even when you and your siblings are adults when you come out. The relationship issues you had as kids may never have been resolved. Old rivalries may be stirred up, and the chance to be the “good” child may be too strong to resist. In addition, adult siblings may have to deal with the feelings and reactions of a romantic partner and/or children. If the partner’s feelings differ from the sibling’s, it could cause conflict in the relationship. The adult sibling may feel protective of older parents, sympathy or empathy for his or her brother or sister, sadness over the rift between the parents and the newly out sibling, and so on. These feelings may be subconscious, making them even harder to work with.
Naturally, there are families in which both the parents and the siblings are loving and accepting of their LGBT family member. That is, of course, the best-case scenario, an ideal outcome of coming out. When this is not your situation, however, here are some things to remember:
- Acknowledge any support you get from siblings in coming out. Share your gratitude.
- Regardless of what your relationship is like, know that your siblings may be affected by your decision.
- Be aware of how your relationship may affect a sibling’s attitude. If the relationship is poor, you may think you don’t care what the sibling thinks. But he or she can abuse this new knowledge to “out” you to the rest of the family, friends, or school when you aren’t ready.
- Don’t use your sibling as the middle person between you and your parents. Let your sibling act (or not act) on his or her own.
- Give your sibling a chance to share his or her experiences. Try to be sympathetic and offer support, regardless of his or her level of support for you.
- Remember that if a sibling is young, he or she might have questions or be confused. Talk about it. Be as open as is age-appropriate. And, hard as it may be, try not to bad-mouth your parents. Your sibling needs them.
No matter what your relationship with your siblings is like, your decision to come out is likely to affect them—and, more than likely, your relationships with them. Being aware of this, and being prepared to handle it, can help your coming-out process go as smoothly as possible.
© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.