LGBT Coming-Out Considerations: How Siblings Factor In

Two women sit on the beach talkingDiscussions 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.

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  • Kimmie

    April 30th, 2015 at 12:40 PM

    My sister has always been my biggest cheerleader so telling her was the least of my worries!

  • Garrett

    May 2nd, 2015 at 6:02 AM

    If you were never really close to each other as kids then there is a good chance that a revelation like this could drive a wedge between the two of you. One may even run to their parents and try to create even more division when your parents are concerned. I think that when you do your reveal to the family these are all things to think about and consider. This is going to make bonds that are strong even stronger but could make those that are weak just a little weaker. Or maybe a little more challenging I should say.

  • chelsea

    May 4th, 2015 at 10:37 AM

    Sometimes coming out to your siblings can be rough, because these are the people who you have always looked up to and very much want and need their approval even.
    It’s hard when it feels like you are disappointing anyone in life and the last people I would want to hurt would be my brothers.
    We might not agree on everything but I don’t want to do anything that would create a wedge between us and complicate the relationship that we have with each other.
    You feel like your parents are going to love you unconditionally so you hope for the same with your siblings.

  • Monty

    May 6th, 2015 at 1:34 PM

    I never wanted to be the type of guy who would hide things but i still haven’t worked up the courage to come out to my family.
    Maybe a part of this is that I haven’t really had that relationship yet that makes me want to let him meet my family, but at the same time I start to wonder if maybe that is what is actually holding me back from finding someone, knowing that it will then be the time that I have to finally come clean with all of them.

  • Susan J. Leviton, MA, LMFT

    May 8th, 2015 at 6:11 PM

    Chelsea makes a good point. It is very hurtful to have a sibling’s love turn to disdain, or to have their respect disappear. If there was a good bond to begin with, hopefully that wouldn’t happen. But if it does, the sibling might need some time to process the situation before they come around. And some reminders that you are still the same person.

  • Robben W

    December 8th, 2016 at 8:45 AM

    I come from a Socialist family, yet my affiliation with the American system is far reaching and advancing. I had thought being extremely liberal had turned me inward in an introverted LGBT Struggle. I still had more research to do in being male to female, with a sense of envy for my sister. My mother makes sense of what could be my own pacifistic rite in having same sex relations. in some ways my ego and my libido are being renounced from political struggles, especially ones that only cry out for religious freedom. Today I no longer have to divorce myself from politics, or the less welcoming members of my family, to believe in myself , not as a woman who is divorced from men, or a man divorced from women, but as a biogenetic formation of the women my sister and mother, under scrupulous pretenses, consider me to be in my traces of awkward, and backward moments that were my chains and isolation of homophobia.

  • Jim

    June 3rd, 2017 at 1:02 AM

    My stepsister just came out to me (no one else yet, but she says some of her friends know) and I can just say that even for someone who wants to be nothing but supportive and have a good relationship finding out can still feel like getting punched in the gut. This feeling doesn’t fade after a few minutes, either. Just make sure you trust them and be open to talking about it with them when you first let them know, especially if you aren’t ready to tell anyone else and want them to keep your secret. Also keep in mind that however difficult to process it’s been for you, they have to do it all at once.

    If anyone’s wondering, I’m a straight male approaching the end of high school and my sister is a little younger than me.

  • kat

    September 5th, 2017 at 3:12 PM

    is there any online sources that older siblings can use like chats that will list to rants and disagreements and frusterations about the feeling of there sibling being transgender.

  • Jack

    May 18th, 2018 at 10:15 PM

    To be honest, it helps when you out yourself on accident :/ You don’t have to deal with all that “emoshibul” stuff about wants
    Eixhibit A:
    Mom: Oh Jhonny boy I never wanted you to feel bad about yourself *starts sobbing*
    You: Who said I was feeling bad?
    You: ???????????????

    (3 hours later)
    Mom: *still whimpering* *through sniffles she manages to say* What….did…we…do…wrong…
    You: *extremley offended*
    Dad: *reads you expession incorrectly and thinks you are making that distorted angry baby face because you hate them* WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT YOUR ROOM……EH…? YOU BELONG IN IT… NOW GO BEFORE THE GWOBBLEY WONL GETS YA

    You: What the **** is going on right now, like I accidentally out myself and I’m still thoroughly confused about how to come out to my siblings…

  • Lily

    September 16th, 2020 at 10:04 AM

    My middle sister who is 6 years older than me outed that she’s a lesbian to me this morning. My sister being extremely intellectually profound has always tried to provide me with guidance whenever I required any. Although technically we are cousins and probably meet face to face once every year, the conversations I have with her are the most emotionally liberating for me. I really love my sis and have always supported her till date and when she told me this morning that she was a lesbian, I just jumped into her arms, unable to control the mix of the overwhelming emotions of pride and joy which i was feeling for her. I just want to ask whether there is something which I can tell her in this regard. I seem to be at a loss for words.

  • Marin

    November 28th, 2021 at 3:48 PM

    I accidentally said something to my mom, who knows that I’m LGBTQ+, that suggested a secret when my sister was around. She doesn’t know, and now she is saying that I’m keeping a stupid secret from her. I feel so hopeless! I can’t tell her yet. Any advice?

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