Relationships

Um, Mom and Dad, Well, You Know…

Coming Out to My Parents

Our series of true dating stories continues with today’s essay by comedy writer Nikki Palumbo. Four years ago, 25-year-old Nikki walked up to her parents and began the most highly anticipated conversation of her life thus far. Here’s how it went…


I came out to my parents on a Sunday evening, standing in the middle of their kitchen.

Earlier that day, we were sitting around the dining table with my sister and her boyfriend, eating Chinese food — a fairly usual occurrence.

My mom and sister were laughing about something. My dad and Dan, my sister’s boyfriend, were having a chat about who knows what — sports, home improvement, history. Whatever they were talking about, they were very much on the same page. But I felt like I was in a different book, the odd one out. Oh, the jig is kinda fucking up.

The jig being my never bringing home, or even talking about, anyone I was dating. Here was my sister with Serious Boyfriend #2, and I still had a goose-egg on my side of the relationship scoreboard. (With siblings, everything’s a competition, whether they’re actively participating or not.)

In retrospect, I had no real reason to keep myself in the closet for so long. My friends knew. Even my sister knew.

My parents were the final frontier, and they didn’t need to be. Sure, you can’t get more traditional than two Italian-Americans from New Jersey, a nurse and an accountant, who sent their daughters to Catholic school. But they had never been anything other than loving, open-minded and supportive. It was my mental block that assumed everything would be different if their oldest daughter swapped out an adjective. Through high school, I’d been their AP student and four-year, two-sport varsity athlete. In college, the overachievement continued with honor awards and societies and degrees in journalism and Italian. Totally normal to have never brought home a boyfriend in that time. I was busy!

For years, I’d hidden behind an Annie Hall Goes to J. Crew appearance — straight brown hair, cardigans and ballet flats — but a few months earlier, I had started shedding that disguise. I cut my hair short and settled into chukka boots. I was on the path to making my outsides match my insides. The same insides that realized I was gay as soon as I learned what gay was.

The last hurdle was to reveal myself to the people who loved me the most. Watching how comfortable everyone was around the dining room table made me want to be that comfortable, too.

I spent the rest of that Sunday mulling it over and went to my bedroom. Soon. I’ll do it soon. Lying there, sleepless, I mentally pulled out my years-long pros and cons list.

Pro: Never again get anxious anytime they ask you if (or whom) you’re dating.
Con: They might be disappointed? But, probably not.
Pro: Get to invite a girlfriend to dinner.
Con:

The cons weren’t coming as easily as they had in the past. Was I out? Of cons, that is? Seemed like it.

My heart nearly beat out of my chest. This was it. Right now. The straight Band-Aid was coming off. I went searching for my parents and found them in the kitchen, their natural habitat — laughing, barely listening to the TV and digging through the cabinets for snacks. They’re too happy to be judgmental now.

Taking a deep breath, I launched into one of the more nonsensical explanations of my life. A lot of “ums” and “wells” and “ya knows” and even more broken eye contact. There were a few false starts, when I actually considered just going back to bed. But finally, I threw together a string of words that will forever be the words I used to come out. And even then, I couldn’t seem to use the terms “gay” or “lesbian.” Instead, I said to my parents:

“You know how Chrissy has a Dan? Well, I figure I should tell you now instead of just surprising you one day. I won’t be bringing home a Dan. I won’t ever have a Dan. I mean, maybe there’s a 2% chance that I’ll marry a Dan, but I’m mostly just saying that to make you feel better. There won’t be any Dans for me.”

Then we had that moment — that cinematic moment I always thought must be wish-fulfillment for screenwriters — where my parents hugged me and said they just wanted me to be happy. And that, honestly, they had never been quite sure who I’d eventually bring home. (News to me that they also didn’t anticipate any Dans in my life.) And that they’d love to meet the person special enough for me to want to share.

These days I don’t shut up about who I’m dating, and my current girlfriend has made it to two Sunday dinners — and a Christmas. Not only am I finally on the scoreboard, but I feel like I’m winning.


Nikki Palumbo is a comedy writer based in New York. She writes sketch comedy for UCB, Above Average and Funny or Die and she speaks enough Italian to disappoint her nana.

P.S. 10 wedding dos and don’ts, and how long do you wait to sleep with someone?

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Kiara says...

    Great story! I don’t have kids, but I hope someday I will. And if they are gay, I want them to feel so comfortable, not only with family but with the rest of the world too! I want them to feel comfortable with being gay at a young age, so they don’t have to wait and stress about the moment they finally “come out.” I want them to feel comfortable from day 1.

  2. Kate says...

    If my kids are gay,I want them to just BE out. I don’t want to raise them in an environment where they feel like them being gay is news to me. Kind of sounds like it also wasn’t news to your parents. This is a story for the world. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I love this story! This is what true unconditional love should look like. And one more thing- ‘Annie Hall Goes to J. Crew’ appearance made me laugh so much! Loved it x

  4. loved this!! your family sounds rad, and good luck in love ;)

  5. Laura says...

    Goddammit. You made me cry at my desk… again! Brava Nikki!

  6. Madesyn Mackenzie says...

    I’m crying as I type this!

  7. Well that made me cry in the middle of my Friday. Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  8. Pamela says...

    Man, I wish my brother had gotten this reaction from my parents when he came out a couple years ago. My parents will never be accepting or supportive due to their religion. It’s caused my brother so much sadness. And me too. It’s hard to see your family dynamic change like that.

  9. jaclyn says...

    I’m out and I was talking about it to a childhood friend recently. She’s thinking about coming out too. She said she admired how I did it. I didn’t come “out” as much as I just started telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There were MANY revelations on my end when I did that. It was strange to see what part of my personality was real and what was a convention, or an idea of myself that I had created for other people- “straight” me. I always gobble up other people’s experiences! Every one is different! Thanks for sharing.

    • Kathy says...

      I’d love to hear more about this!

  10. Lainey says...

    thank you for sharing. picked me up while also making me tear up. i’m dealing with similar things myself. :)

  11. You know what I love and appreciate about Nikki’s story? It is that her inner being, which I believe to be our true guidance system, already knew and was completely lined up with understanding that she was loved and would continue to be fully loved and that her conscious physical self just had to catch up with that clarity. Bravo for loving families everywhere and may their clear intentions be the dominant vibe that creates the wave of love and acceptance globally.

  12. Emily S. says...

    This is so wonderful. Thank you for sharing!! xo

  13. Loved reading your story! Thank you so much for sharing. I am so glad your parents had this reaction, although really — all should.

  14. Taylor says...

    Fabulous! It is so encouraging to hear more stories of accepting parents! My sister came out to my family and very catholic grandparents this past year and was met with the same love from all. Thanks for sharing this story with us, Nikki.

    And to those who are commenting and wishing your parents were the this accepting, I’m sending you all the vibes that they will with time. For now, read this thread and know you aren’t alone and we have your back.

  15. I am reminded of my younger brother coming out to me – we were at a family wedding, both a little drunk, hadn’t seen one another is too long, and he was telling me yet another story about his female best friend, and I casually asked if he had feelings for her. His answer: “Me, Kayla? Really?”. It was something I had questioned since he was a child, but there it was, the final confirmation. I’m sure those three words were not exactly how he had it planned – honestly, I think he surprised himself the most that he even said it out loud (yay for alcohol!) I think it just reiterates that the words don’t always matter as long as the message is clear.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that, kayla.

  16. Lauren says...

    This is lovely and made me tear up a bit, it reminded me of all the conversations I’ve had with my traditional, Italian parents over the years where they shocked me with their acceptance. Thanks for this.

  17. I love reading these stories of acceptance :) This made me happy, thanks for sharing!

  18. Andrea Wee Jensen says...

    This made me smile. Thanks for your bravery and for sharing. :))

  19. Thanks for sharing. Glad for the happy ending

  20. I’m enjoying my spare time reading this. So inspiring and encouraging. Good job!

  21. Rachel says...

    Nikki, I read your piece with a sense of both familiarity and universality — and a kernel of disappointment that the fears associated with coming out to parents in 2017 sound a lot like the ones I had 25 years ago. I hoped it would have been easier.

    But most importantly, congratulations — for showing your parents and the world more of who you really are (which allows you to live out loud more of who you are). And congratulations for getting to be a lesbian! Being a lesbian has offered me a kind of freedom to be a woman–and to create a life–in ways I never could imagine as a young girl in the 1970s and early 80s. As you continue to come out (I still do it every time I speak to strangers and refer to “my wife”) I’m wishing for you a terrific sense of freedom and the vast possibilities to create your life.

  22. Stephanie says...

    There is something so sweet about the words we say when we don’t quite know what to say. There’s innocence, some naivete, genuineness, and some natural stumbling. I find that when I speak so plainly about something I know or feel deep down, that’s when I see the most honest version of myself.

  23. Justme says...

    I love this story! My daughter dispensed with the “um”s and the “ya know” preamble and walked in the door from school with the declaration “I’m here and I’m queer!” That sure was an ice breaker, not to mention taking my breath away. In retrospect it was obvious from the time she was 5 years old. Being an artist she has always had a different take on life and the world in which we live. She’s never conformed to society, a thing I adore and respect about her.

    I’m SO happy that you received hugs and love and acceptance from your parents. It breaks my heart when I hear about people who don’t receive that acceptance. Thank you for sharing your story.

  24. shade says...

    Loved this beautifully written piece! Made me teary eyed at the happy ending with her parents.

  25. I’m so glad your parents reacted like that – as all parents should, but not all parents do. My brother suffered a lot of anxiety coming out to our parents and (very Catholic) grandparents, but fortunately he got the same loving reaction you did. If only all kids got that sort of unconditional love and support.

    It feels like an injustice that people have to ‘come out’ and suffer all the associated anxiety, just because they’re not straight. It’s not like straight folk need to announce anything. I really hope this changes… soon.

    Great piece. Thank you Nikki and Cupofjo!

  26. Natasha says...

    Wish my parents responded the same. This is a beautiful story.

  27. Sara says...

    Awww! Love a happy coming out story! :) Congratulations. ❤️

  28. Rebkeah says...

    So nicely written: I felt like I was in your shoes and was feeling the anxiety you were going through even though I’ve never been in that position before. Thank you for sharing and bravo to your parents.

    • Bianca says...

      I really felt like I was in her shoes. So well-written. I had tears from the wonderful ending!

  29. Beautiful, Nikki! I hope to see you at UCB sometime! :)

  30. Jennifer says...

    Few things make me cry. This made me cry & laugh & smile & cry. What an awesome & beautiful story.

  31. Gen says...

    So sweet. It’s wonderful to be living in a time when more coming out stories are like this, instead of the opposite. Thank you for sharing, Nikki. It’s a good lesson in honesty and vulnerability for all of us, gay, straight or whatever.

  32. Louisa says...

    “With siblings, everything’s a competition, whether they’re actively participating or not.”
    Seriously.

  33. Anne says...

    Your posts keep getting better! Love this wonderful story!

  34. Mary says...

    Love this! There is a wonderful new podcast called “Nancy” with a funny/heart wrenching episode about coming out. Every episode so far has been fantastic, I think cup of jo readers would really enjoy it!

  35. What a sweet, lovely story. Thank you for sharing.

  36. Rachel says...

    “Swapped out an adjective” is the BEST description I can think of for how simple I hope the coming out process becomes more often in the future. Bravo, Nikki! And thanks always, Cup of Jo for thoughtful writing.

  37. Julia says...

    Beautifully written! I Love it!!! Wish you are happy Nikki!!

  38. NC says...

    Loved reading this – what amazing parents!!

  39. Megan says...

    Loved it. Thank you.

  40. This made me tear up! Thanks for sharing this sweet story

  41. Britt says...

    Beautifully written! Poignant, brave, and humorous to boot. Thanks for sharing.

  42. Karen says...

    You’ve got fantastic parents and this makes me happy for you Nikki!

  43. Megan says...

    Made me cry. Happy for you to be you with such a wonderful family for support. xo

  44. Lauren E. says...

    Tears in my eyes! Love this.

  45. Ann M says...

    Nikki: as the big sister to a gay little brother (I am 56 and he is 52!) I am here to tell you that I felt sad and honored by his truth when he finally came out. Sad that he ever worried we wouldn’t still love him (I adore him!) and honored that he trusted me. I am so happy that your family got it right.

  46. Brianna says...

    I wish my parents were this accepting of my choices (any of my choices about anything).

  47. Loribeth says...

    Oh wow, this is so lovely!

  48. Cara says...

    LOVE THIS SO MUCH!!!! Why can’t all parents be like these parents? How much better would this world be?

  49. Molly says...

    I’m not crying, YOU’RE CRYING

  50. Leah says...

    Not directly related but, Cup of Jo, you are killing it this week with your posts!

    • Emily says...

      Totally agree Leah! I’ve been a regular CoJ reader for years but this week has been a little power week of fantastic content and I’ve loved reading it xx

  51. Jean says...

    Brava Nikki!

    P.s. I love these essays :)

  52. Sarah says...

    I loooooved reading this. Bravo to you for making a brave choice. I’m so glad that you seem super happy now :)

  53. Sarah King says...

    Love your writing, Nikki! And this journey was brave and inspiring.