Although “coming out” can be incredibly stressful and complicated for some, coming out can oftentimes be a crucial (and inevitable) part of accepting one’s sexuality. Coming out, or “coming out of the closet,” refers to the process of a non-heterosexual person accepting their sexuality and beginning to tell others.1 The process of coming out can vary greatly from person to person. Numerous individuals find coming out relatively easy while others struggle to find acceptance from their loved ones. While the following advice for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning) individuals may not ensure a completely positive and successful "coming out," it will hopefully serve as a useful reference guide for those of any age who want to avoid unnecessary difficulties in their journey out of the closet.
The most important thing about coming out is to accept yourself and your sexuality so that others may do the same. Due to society’s constant reinforcement of heterosexuality as the accepted norm (i.e., heteronormativity) learning to think positively of your queer sexuality can take some time to develop. Some people embrace their queer identity early in life and decide to come out in their early teenage years—others find it difficult to accept their sexuality and do not come out until much later in life. No one should feel pressured to come out; only you can decide if and when you are ready. It is important to remember that not everyone comes out. Some people believe that the benefits associated with coming out (such as living an open life, never lying about your queer sexuality, or finding a partner) are outweighed by potential negatives (harassment, rejection by family and friends, or violence).
Choose Your Method Wisely
If and when you do decide to come out, avoid doing so prior to a potentially stressful event (e.g., coming out the night before a big test or interview, before driving a car, or during a family holiday). Make sure you and the parties involved are relaxed and attentive—people tend to be curter and less receptive when preoccupied.
Additionally, try to tell each person individually rather than telling them in a group settings. In group settings, intimacy can be lost while trying to keep everyone focused on the conversation. Furthermore, people in group settings may not want to share their true emotions because of fear of disagreeing with other more dominate viewpoints.
Lastly, avoid alcohol or any other mind-altering substances before coming out. Although alcohol may lower inhibitions and give you more courage, it might also significantly stunt your ability to fully express yourself in a manner that in comprehensible.
Learn to Walk Before You Run
For many people, coming out can be an immensely rewarding experience that allows family members to better know and understand one another. For some, however, coming out may not be a pleasant process. Unless you are financially independent, coming out to your family or guardians should come later in life for several reasons. If your guardians do not immediately embrace your queer sexuality or need some time to comprehend the new information, you might be left economically unstable. Additionally, telling your close friends (who do not support you financially) will reward you with valuable experience on how to come out to your guardians. You will be better able to understand which situations and environments are best suited for your conversation. Moreover, confiding in close friends or siblings will provide you with a support group. America is becoming a more accepting place for individuals who identify as nonheterosexual. Although record-braking percentages of people believe in gay marriage and are more than willing to accept their non-heterosexual children, some individuals are still unable to find acceptance from their guardians. If this is the case, seeking out support group could provide you with a loving and caring environment and help you through negative circumstances.
Words Spread Fast
As heteronormativity, the sexual orientation of classmates, coworkers, or acquaintances is a frequently discussed topic of conversation among many social circles. While it might be nice to your coming out to remain private and highly confidential among close friends, this may not be realistic. When coming out to friends and family, be assertive about your privacy. If you do not want anyone else to know about your sexuality, tell them. Knowing someone’s personal information is a privilege, not a right. Remember, it is your sexuality—you should choose who you share it with.
When preparing to come out, one of the most important things to do is to imagine how others will react. The most common reaction is not of anger or frustration but rather of confusion. Some people do not understand nonheterosexuality and need some guidance. Bias and prejudice from mainstream media outlets have led people to develop many misconceptions about the LGBTQ population. Many people are shocked and confused by a loved one’s coming out because they feel they no longer know the person as closely as they believed. Others feel betrayed or misguided because they were not informed sooner. Regardless of how rational these issues may actually be, you should not feel offended, and it is best to address these issues honestly and reassuringly. However, there is a fine line between curiosity and offensiveness. If you feel a question has gone too far or has negative connotations, do not feel compelled to answer it. Answer only the questions that you feel comfortable with.
While there are no magic words that will address every issue or concern that may arise, the way that you conduct yourself can be just as important as what you say. Avoid coming across as defensive, or aggressive; but instead, be positive and respectful, even if you are faced with uncertainty or hostility. Remember that your open announcement to coming out is not only an intensely emotional and life-changing experience for yourself, but it also has a profound effect on the people you come out to as well. Even if things do not go well at first, do not lose courage or strength: remember that in most cases, it is better to be true to yourself than to hide who you really are.
Seek Additional Support
Although there is an increasing amount of people that support nonheterosexualities, not all friends and family members may accept your process of coming out. There are quite a few excellent support organizations specifically made to help support LGBTQ individuals. Additionally, many colleges and schools have clubs and other organizations to educate and support the LGBTQ community. Other online establishments, such as the Trevor Project, help with LGBTQ support and specialize in anti-bullying and suicide prevention.3 Furthermore, that are some resources that may help provide information to guardians and friends. PFLAG is the nation's largest family and ally organization. Made up of parents, families, friends, and straight allies united with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT), PFLAG is committed to advancing equality and societal acceptance of LGBT people through its threefold mission of support, education, and advocacy.
Love Yourself and Do Not Give Up
Coming out may seem daunting at first, but many individuals sense contentment and feel empowered once they have gone through the process. Never be ashamed or apologetic for telling the truth about yourself. Instead, be positive and hold your head up high. You may need your support system to remind you what an incredible person you are, which is perfectly normal. Love yourself and accept yourself for the beautiful person you are! Coming out is one of the bravest thing anyone can do. We wish you the best of luck in stepping out of the closet!
1. "How to Come Out As Gay or Lesbian." WikiHow. Ed. Tom Viren. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.
2. Neece, Randy. "The Parent Crap: 10 Tips for Coming Out." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 12 Nov. 2012. Web. 21 May 2014.
3. Land, Abbe. "Mental Health Matters." The Trevor Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.
Last Updated: 23 July 2014