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How to come out to your partner in a straight relationship

BY Hannah Shewan Stevens

2nd Nov 2023 Dating & Relationships

4 min read

How to come out to your partner in a straight relationship
Realising you are part of the LGBTQ+ community while in a straight relationship can be daunting. Here’s how to come out to your partner sensitively and safely
Thanks to the (ongoing) liberation of the LGBTQIA community, more people are coming out later in life. This means that many new additions to our vibrant community are realising their identity while in a heterosexual relationship. 
Navigating a shifting identity with a partner is understandably daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Maybe this change in identity means the end of the relationship, or perhaps it needs a simple conversation or a shifted dynamic. 
Intersectional psychologist and consultant Zayna Brookhouse explains why staying in the closet can be more harmful and how to broach the conversation sensitively and safely. 

Prioritising yourself

It’s tempting to smother a newfound identity if it feels like the path of resistance, even though this can lead to:
Instead of swallowing your wondering, stop judging yourself and ask questions. Do I connect with my current gender identity? Do I feel sexual attraction for more than one gender? Have I been hiding my true self?
Take your time because there is no time limit for figuring out who you are. No matter when you come out, your identity is valid. Speak to trusted friends and reflect until your feelings crystallise. 
"No matter when you come out, your identity is valid"
“Who you are is not dependent on if anyone else knows or not,” added Brookhouse. 
It might be tempting to suppress your identity if it would protect your current relationship. Choosing this path places other people’s well-being above your own, neglecting the opportunity to forge a connection with your queer self. 

Framing the conversation

Straight partner upset by news of their husband coming out
Although space for introspection is crucial, a conversation has to take place sometime. Before approaching it, create a safe space for all parties.
Find a moment in a neutral space, ideally in a period of time when there aren’t too many outward stresses demanding attention.
You are struggling with your identity, and that’s normal. They may struggle with the new information, and that’s OK too. There is plenty of room for everyone to have their feelings while respecting everyone else’s.

Case studies

Cassie Brooks, a children’s author, felt her bisexual identity brewing under the surface for a long time before she spoke openly with her husband. After taking some time to reflect, she decided to prioritise herself. 
“I truly didn’t know what it would mean for us,” she said. “To my utter relief, when I shared this revelation about myself, he said ‘I know’.”
"When you think you have communicated enough, do it some more"
Now, the pair have created space for Brooks to explore her newfound sexual orientation while maintaining their relationship. 
“Communicate as much as you can, and then when you think you have communicated enough, do it some more,” said Ashley T Brundage, president, and CEO of Empowering Differences Inc, who came out as a transgender woman to her now ex-wife. 

Dynamic of the conversation

The dynamic of the conversation shifts depending on the nature of your identity. If newfound labels still align with being with a heterosexual partner, the conversation may focus on wanting them to understand or adjusting the boundaries of the relationship to allow room for exploration. 
When it’s necessary to end the relationship, be clear and concise. Do not allow confusion or misinterpretation to become the lasting impression of the conversation. Allow room for hurt on both sides and keep space for future talks; you do not need to resolve everything all at once. 
"Keep space for future talks; you do not need to resolve everything all at once"
All of this changes if a partner holds prejudiced views. Their feelings are not more important than your safety.
If a potentially volatile reaction is on the cards, consider asking someone else to be present to act as a mediator. Or tell them from afar via letter, email, or even a voice note to protect your physical safety. 

Forging a new relationship (with them and yourself) 

Woman comforts partner who is coming out
A shift in your identity may change nothing in the partnership, or it could change everything. Embrace the transformation and reconnect from a foundation of knowing each other completely. 
“A new relationship can flourish from the embers of the previous one,” says Brookhouse. “Being an active part of a multi-orientation relationship doesn’t have to mean you need to make life-changing adaptations.”
Remember, in a heterosexual-appearing relationship, your sexual orientation and gender identity are still real and beautiful. No one gets to invalidate them because of ignorant views. 

Be proud

However your revelations pan out, everyone has the right to be who they truly are and feel safe to do so. So, don’t hesitate to speak up.
Silencing ourselves is all too easy, but your sense of self deserves liberation from the closet to breathe fresh, prideful air. It could be life-changing, in the best possible way. 
“I spent my entire lifetime behind a religion that didn’t accept me,” says Brooks. “I don’t need them to because I choose to do so myself, and that’s where our power lays—choosing for ourselves who we are going to be.”
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