One of the first steps to coming out is self-acceptance. Understanding who you are, and being proud of it can be a process that takes a long time to realize. Acknowledging for the first time that you are lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, or questioning can be very frightening. You may be afraid to admit these feelings or may deny them completely. Most likely, they will come up again. It can be a difficult time, and the process to accepting yourself can be very challenging. Societal pressures, family roles, one’s own beliefs around what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning, and fears about what this all means for you and your future can feel overwhelming. Educating yourself about what it means to be LGBT or Q, the challenges one faces, gaining support from educational resources and exploring your own feelings can all be very helpful in this process. Once you are able to understand your identity and accept yourself, it usually feels like a relief. The inner struggle is over and pride and acceptance can begin.
Who do i share this with?
The next question after self-acceptance is “who do I share this with?” As a college student struggling with issues of sexuality can be very challenging because of fears of people’s reactions. There are many decisions that have to be made when disclosing your sexual orientation or identity to family, friends and loved ones. Coming out is not a one-time event. It is a process and can be life-long. You have to choose whom to come out to, why, when and finally, how. The following are questions to consider when coming out.
How close is this person to you? Is it important to you that they know?
Decide how trustworthy this person is before you tell him/her. As much as it may be important to tell people about your sexual orientation or gender/identity, you need to be aware of possible reactions they might have. The more you know someone and the more you trust them, the better you will be at anticipating their reaction. Likewise, it’s comforting to know that those closest to you and those who are the most important people in your life, are the people you share this information with first.
How might this person react? What should i say?
Although you can never know for sure how someone will react to your coming out, if you know him or her well, you will probably have a good idea as to how they might respond, then you can decide how you might tell them. For instance, if you think someone might be shocked initially, but overall, okay with the news, you may want to test the waters here and there, and drop subtle hints so they might begin to think it could be a possibility. Another suggestion is to start a discussion about someone whom you know to be gay, i.e., a celebrity like Ellen. This would allow you to learn how they feel about LGBTQ or gender identity issues. But definitely make sure it is in a confidential setting, that you trust this person, and know that you’ll have their undivided attention for a good period of time.
Parents may react very differently to your coming out than friends or other relatives for many reasons. Just as you want them to understand where you are coming from, it may be helpful if you understand where they are coming from as well. Just as it has been a process for you, it will be a process for them too. They may not be one hundred percent accepting at first, but with time, patience and communication, hopefully, they will come to understand. If your parents react negatively, they are probably shocked and may be responding based on past faulty perceptions. Education and awareness may help to dissipate some of the feelings or opinions they may have. Information for parents, friends, family & allies can be found at Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG). Time may also help, by giving your parents some space to assimilate this new information.
Parents also want to protect their children. Remember when you were younger and your parents became angry with you when you frightened them? For example, when you got lost in a store, or came home late? Most likely they were mad at you because they wanted to teach you not to do things that would put your safety at risk. Coming out to them could initiate the same kind of response. Parents may react with anger because there are afraid of the backlash that you may experience in today’s society with hate crimes and discrimination being prevalent. Again, giving them information could help ease their fears. Most fears around coming out to parents stem from fear of abandonment. You may be worrying that your parents will reject you or throw you out of the house. In many cases this doesn’t always happen. It is very difficult for a parent to stop loving their child and completely reject them. And although extreme cases do occur, in time parents can come to a better place of acceptance.
Why come out?
There are many different reasons why people decide to come out to others. One of the main reasons is that it is very difficult to live a dual life and have those closest to you not know who you really are. Some just can’t stand to live with the secret anymore and it becomes imperative to share this information with people who are close to them.
Some people come out by simply answering “yes” if/when someone asks if they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Others decide whom it is that they want to share this information with and tell them privately. There are some things to consider when deciding whether or not to tell someone. The most important thing to remember is to give yourself time to process all the emotions that go along with coming out — It is not an easy decision and it’s okay to take your time, to be nervous, or to be apprehensive.
“Almost everyone I know has had a better experience coming out than they thought they would.”
– Barney Frank, U.S. Congressman
Who could I talk to for advice and support?
- You might want to consider talking to a friend or relative who already does know, and get some feedback from them. If they are not gay themselves, they might be able to tell you how to approach someone, and get feedback from them as to what someone who is not gay might be thinking when they hear the news.
- Talking with a counselor is also a good idea if you are struggling with who to tell or how to tell them.
- You can also contact a 24/7 hotline such as the Trevor Lifeline at 866-488-7386 that could answer questions you have about coming out and related issues. Please see Resources below for further information.
The Trevor Project; The Safe Zone Project; The Human Rights Campaign for LGBTQ; Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD); National Center for Transgender Equality; Lesbian & Gay Immigration Rights Task Force (LGIRTF); National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (LGIRTF); It Gets Better Project.
- Beyond Acceptance: Parents of Lesbians and Gays Talk About Their Experiences. Griffen, Carolyn Welch and Marian J. Wirth and Arthur G. Wirth. St. Martin’s Press.
- Coming Out: An Act of Love. Eichberg, Robert, Plume.
- Now That I’m Out, What Do I Do? Thoughts on Living Deliberately. Ncnaught, Brian. St. Martin’s Press.
- Passages of Pride: Lesbian and Gay Youth Come of Age. Chandler, Kurt. Alyson Press.