Coming Out

The term “coming out” (of the closet) makes reference to the life-long process of developing a positive LGBTQ+ identity. For many, coming out is a very arduous task as they must confront homophobic attitudes, harassment, and discrimination through this process. A large number of LGBT individuals must first confront their own internalized negativity, stereotypes, and homophobia that they learned and internalized since childhood. Before they can have a truly positive self-identity, they must confront these personal constraints and gain appreciation for themselves as LGBT individuals. Coming out is a gradual and on-going process that begins when one acknowledges to themselves that they are LGBT, and may or may not eventually let others know that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

When/If you’re ready to tell that first person about your sexuality – or even those first few people – give yourself time to prepare.

Think through your options and make a deliberate plan of who, what, why, and how. Remember that if you don’t choose to come out now, or ever, your identity and experiences are still legitimate and valuable. You get to decide what and when is right for YOU!

We recommend that you ask yourself the following questions as a place to start, if you are ready to come out.

What signals are you getting from the people/person?

You can get a sense of how accepting people will be by the things they say – or don’t say – when LGBTQ+-related issues come up. Try to bring the topics up yourself by talking about an LGBTQ+-themed movie, TV character or news event. If a person’s reactions are positive, chances are they will be more accepting of what you have to tell them, though this is not always the case. If you choose to bring up topic try to have another “friendly” person around to offer support or perspective.

Do you have accurate info?

The reactions of others will most likely be based on how they were socialized and the information/misinformation they have, and in some cases these can be negative portrayals of LGBTQ+ people and communities. If you’ve done some reading on the subject, you’ll be prepared to answer their concerns and questions with reliable and accurate information. Most (not all) people are afraid of what they don’t know or what they think they know. Having good information will help both them and you because it is likely that every person has heard negative things about LGBTQ+ people or the community. 

Do you have support?

You don’t have to do this alone. A support system is an invaluable place to turn to for reassurance and affirmation. Sources of support can be other LGBTQ+ people, LGBTQ+ hotlines, advisors, counselors, your spiritual community, or, if you are coming out for the second or third time, perhaps the first person you opened up to initially. Also, if accessible, a supportive mental health professional can often help (Student Counseling Services has wonderful counselors). You should also consider what physical and financial support systems you have if you choose to come out to your parent(s)/guardian(s). College can be incredibly expensive and if they withdraw support can you afford to be self-sufficient in financing you cost of attendance, housing, food, and other general needs?

What is it you want to say?

Particularly at the beginning of the coming out process, many people are still answering tough questions for themselves and are not ready to identify with a certain label. That’s okay and very common. Maybe you just want to say you’re attracted to someone of the same gender and/or sex, or that you feel uncomfortable with the expectations of cultural “gender norms.” Maybe you just want to say you’re feeling your true sexuality does not align with the expectations placed on it because of your assigned sex or gender identity. Labels aren’t important; your feelings are. You may want to try writing out what you want to say to help organize and express your thoughts clearly. Expressing yourself in a way that feel authentic to you and is clear (at least somewhat) to others helps understanding. Take time to connect with your thoughts, feelings and attractions as this mindfulness will help you. Also, practice self-love throughout your process. For some people their sexuality is a fixed point but for others it develops/changes overtime and is fluid.

If your currently in a relationship:

Coming out while you are in a relationship can be particularly tricky. Honoring your own feelings as well as someon else’s is always challenging but trying to manage a connection with another person adds another level to that challenge.  Self-love and protection are key here, although we recommend coming out the other person with kindness and understanding. If you are in a relationship with someone and coming out to parents/guardian(s)/family we recommend that you do not coming out while introducing this person to your parents/guardian(s)/family. Having this other person there may cause additional stress on you, them, and your parents/guardian(s)/family.

What are your best- and worst-case scenarios?

Thinking through what might happen when you come out to different people can help you be prepared. Could your housing or financial situations be affected? Make sure you have alternatives in place. What is the ideal reaction you’re hoping for? Think about specific steps or actions that could help make it a reality. Many people go into situations including coming out hoping for a specific reaction. Be honest with yourself about what you are hoping for and/or need from the coming out interaction. If you are looking for support and/or affirmation and you are worried about what that person’s reaction could be, we would advise you having a conversation with someone who can provide that. The key here is being honest with yourself about what you’re hoping for and/or need. Plan for the worst and expect the best could be a good rule to live by.

Why now?

Timing can be very important. Be aware of the mood, priorities, stresses and problems of those to whom you would like to come out. Be aware that if they’re dealing with their own major life concerns, they may not be able to respond constructively to yours. You also want to be aware and mindful of what is happening in your life. Are you coming up on mid-terms, finals, major projects or commitments? Knowing why you want to share this information at this time in your life will help you more clearly think about the potential challenges associated with coming out. Are you doing this for your or because you feel pressure to come out.

Be realistic

Sometimes we come out and expect that the other person/people will be immediately accepting and affirming of our identities. This is often times is not the case and our friends and loved ones need time to adjust to what may seem like a different reality or way of knowing you. Your coming out can be a process of gaining understanding and ways knowing for the other person/people. While it might be your job to be patient, you are NOT responsible for their process. You may need to refer them to a PFLAG or similar support organization to help support them. Being their only or major support system can have negative impacts on your own process of self-acceptance and love.

Can you be patient?

Some people will need time to deal with this new information, just as it took time for many of us to come to terms with being LGBTQ+. When you come out to others, be prepared to give them the time they need to adjust to what you’ve said. Rather than expect immediate understanding, try to establish an ongoing, caring dialogue. Likewise, be patient with yourself as you continue through the process. Many people do not immediately have all the answers about how we feel, love, and/or express. If you are not ready to come out or choose to never do so- that’s okay and you should not be forced into doing so. Your story is your own to write and like all good novels is takes time, rewrites, and patience as you move through the difficult and exciting parts. 

Created with inspiration from the Coming Out Consideration at the University of Wisconsin- Madison

Considering Coming Out as Gender Variant/Transgender?

The Gender Unicorn, Graphic by TSER (Trans Student Educational Resource). Gender Identity (Female/Woman/Girl, Male, Man, Boy, Other Gender(s)), Gender Expression/ Presentation (Feminine, Masculine, Other), Sex Assigned at Birth (Female, Male, Intersex), Sexually Attracted to (Women, Men, Other Gender(s)), Romantically/ Emotionally Attracted to (Women, Men, Other Gender(s)), all on separate spectrums and represented by a visual unicorn. To learn more, go to: Design by Landyn Pan.

Planning can help make this difficult decision easier. Many young people have come out successfully through well-planned efforts. The Trans Youth Family Allies provides helpful tips on formulating a plan for coming out, and how parents might respond.