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Some background:

I have a small number of close family members, and all of them (apart from my siblings) are socially conservative (ranging from quite socially conservative, to very socially conservative).

About half of these close family members also belong to a sect of Christianity that is quite conservative and literal in their interpretation of the bible when compared to mainstream religion (I'm happy to share which sect if it's deemed relevant to the question).

I was raised in said religion but left a few years back; it was difficult at the time, but it's generally accepted at the moment, with the caveat that it's a subject none of us bring up at risk of painful arguments ensuing.

As an aside, I have a great relationship with almost all of my family, especially my parents and grandparents, and none of them (apart from my siblings) know, or even seem to suspect, that I'm gay. I'm also not currently living with, or dependent on, my parents.

My current situation

I'm worried that my parents (or other family members) might find out about me dating other men through word of mouth. Unfortunately, it's not as secret as it used to be, and I'm worried about one particular individual who now knows, and might decide to inform my family about this. In any case, I think they're going to start questioning my lack of a girlfriend at some point (I'm currently 24).

I'm starting to think that instead of continuing to hide it from my family, the best approach might be to tell my parents, and other family members, about it first. Rather than them hear about it through someone else before me, or start asking awkward questions that I'm not well prepared to answer.

What would be the best way to do this? Sit down and talk to them about it? Write them a letter? Tell a more distant family member (aunt) first to gauge their reaction before talking to my parents?

I'm really struggling to think of a good way of doing this; I'm expecting the reaction (at least initially) to be quite bad, but hopefully if I approach this in the right way I can mitigate that?

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    What are you hoping to accomplish? Them accepting it (and your potential partners)? Them just not treating you any different? Them not blowing up? The approach might be different. – Erik Feb 8 '18 at 18:40
  • Well ideally I'd like them to be completely accepting. But I know that won't be the reaction I get (especially from my Grandparents who I highly suspect would disown me). Really any advice to mitigate a bad reaction would be good. – John Feb 8 '18 at 21:16
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I'm not sure if there's a "good way", but there are some pitfalls to avoid.

  • Try to avoid coming out at large family gatherings.
    • Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Grandma's birthday etc. are generally bad times. It may seem convenient because they're all in the same place, but it can add the animosity of "ruining" the occasion.

  • Try not to get sidetracked into theological debate.
    • It's about your relationship with your family, challenging their belief system isn't going to help with that.

  • Probably better to introduce your partner at another time.
    • It's natural to want your partner there for support, but coming out with them there adds stress to an already stressful situation. You end up asking your family to accept your sexuality and this new person at the same time.

  • If you opt to tell family members one on one, don't be surprised if someone let's the cat out of the bag.
    • I decided it was better to come out slowly, telling one or two people at a time, unfortunately news travels fast, so be prepared for that if you go that way.

  • Try not to tell people in an environment that you can't easily extract your self from.
    • If you don't have your own transport, make sure that you can quickly and easily make an exit if need be.

Like I said above, there probably isn't a good way to come out to potentially phobic people. All you can really do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Some people surprised me when I came out and were much more accepting than I expected, while some others surprised me with the opposite reaction. Try to be prepared for people to react poorly, some people will, and there's not much you can do about that.

If you encounter strong negative reactions, try not to argue or fight back. Just take a deep breath, and take your leave until things calm down. Often the worst reaction will be the initial reaction, and people often come around after they've had some time to think things through.

I know I'm probably painting a pretty bleak picture, but trust me, it's still worth it. It feels really good to be out once the dust settles.

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    Thanks for the answer, there's some really good advice in there :) – John Feb 12 '18 at 15:56

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