Coming out is one of the most widely discussed aspects and experiences concerning the life of LGBTQIA+ people. It is a concept surrounded by numerous myths, misconceptions, and pieces of advice. There are no coming out standards, there is no handbook to guide you through this journey. There are just some tips that you can come up to after asking around, searching, reading, and communicating with other people of our community. Are you ready before coming out?
Coming out as a gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, asexual, or person of another identity under the LGBT umbrella to the people around you may be a challenging process – and also very important to you. You may be scared of it or you might feel like you sorely need it. You might want to feel guiltless of hiding something, or simply true to yourself and your loved ones. You may cease to feel like you’re invisible in a hetero/cis-normative society. And at the end of the day, finding acceptance by the people who are more important to you is truly valuable.
So, which are the things you should better keep in mind before coming out to your friends, family, partner, workplace, etc.?
- You don’t have to!
This is the number one golden rule of coming out: if you don’t feel ready or safe enough, don’t!
The common narrative wants coming out to be a compulsory part of your journey of self-love, acceptance, or even accomplishment as a LGBT+ person. We are told every day that coming out is needed, that somehow we have to do it – for the sake of visibility, society, the community, yourself – but in reality only that last bit matters in this personal journey: you. You can be political enough or make a change in a different way in each context and environment. Coming out isn’t always obligatory, especially if it might render you unsafe or cause you big, irreversible problems.
For example, if you live in your parents’ house and are financially dependent on them, but are 99% sure they are going to react negatively, you may want to measure the possible outome beforehand. Or if you simply don’t feel ready enough to share such personal news about your identity, if it would feel as a violation to your personal life to you, keep it for as long as you need to.
- Don’t let anyone pressure you into it
Seriously, don’t do it out of any kind of social pressure. And if anyone knows about your identity but you want it to be kept between you, let them know that it is in no way okay to out you without your consent, in the same way that you should never out anyone unless they have explicitly told you they don’t mind.
- Coming out doesn’t happen once
Coming out is a process that will most likely follow you throughout your life and you’ll have to repeat – if you want to – again and again. Unfortunately, this is the case because you are not considered “the default” by society. If you fitted in the norm you wouldn’t have to come out. Society automaticelly assumes you are cis, straight, or sexual, unless told otherwise. So keep in mind that, while the first time you share your feelings with someone might be truly empowering, you won’t be over and done with.
Coming out to each person is different – and you can choose who will know and who not. I can’t give a single answer when asked about my coming out, because it didn’t happen in a single moment. Coming out as bisexual to my friends from school was very easy – they were more open-minded than even I was at that period, and they had more-or-less seen that coming – , all but one: she never spoke to me again. Coming out to my then partner was an easy process and I felt very accepted. However, coming out to my parents went worse than I’d have expected, and it was a process that never really ended and went through many varying levels. I know that I will never come out to my grandmother and uncles, but when I came out to an otherwise traditional and more conservative aunt that I still trust and love so much, her reaction was overwhelmingly positive.
You don’t have to come out to everyone at the same time – or in the same way. Start with a person you trust and know the opinions of, a person who will most likely be supportive.
I still have to constantly come out when I get tired of people assuming I’m either straight or cis.
Sometimes people’s reactions are problematic: they’ll either react negatively or ignore what I told them. But many other times people will be supportive, and I will find the validation I needed for my identity!
- Assess every environment
In the same way, ask yourself: is this safe? Will it possibly affect a relationship I want to keep no matter what, or a relationship I don’t feel very strongly about? Do I need it in order to feel better in this environment? What are the chances? Am I going to risk losing a job I need?
- Give people time – and take your own
People need time – that doesn’t mean you must tolerate all the shit that comes from everyone forever, but sometimes even people with the best intentions just can’t grasp an identity or experience they cannot identify with immediately. Yes, there are some people that will never come around, but I know many stories of parents, for example, who seemed far away from understanding, and eventually accepted their children and made considerable effort to properly support them.
Also don’t expect everything to be all unicorns and glitter right after you first come out. Sometimes it doesn’t immediately get better, but eventually it will. It might be hard at first. Take your own time until you feel ready. There is no deadline; you don’t owe this to anyone. Don’t guiltrip yourself in doing it before you’re ready; you’re not being hurtful or untruthful while simply deciding to keep something for yourself until the time feels right.
- Do your homework
Try to feel comfortable having this conversation first – and by comfortable, I also mean with your arguments. You can research some of the most effective answers to the most common homophobic or transphobic comebacks. Knowing your feminism and equality stuff can always help you bust some myths more easily! Even when the questions coming are the most harmless, it plays a big role for you to properly explain how this works – you probably know better about your own experience than the person facing you. On RUComingout you can find countless coming out stories, and EverydayFeminism is a great place if you wish to further educate yourself in numerous, intersectional social justice issues.
- Put your feelings first
Don’t let anyone invalidate how you feel – and let the other person know how that is. If someone loves you, they need to respect your feelings, especially when this conversation concerns primarily you. It may be a challenge for a parent to get used to their child’s new pronouns, and they will need your help for that, but if they try to put their own feelings over how you are affected when you are being misgendered, then what they do is wrong.
Practice self-care. Give yourself time to heal from arguments and harmful behaviors and events. Keep manipulative relationships and people away from you – if they can’t care for you in the way you truly are, they aren’t meant to be kept in your life. No one’s approval is needed for you to live your live authentically.
As I mentioned before, I had a childhood friend who never spoke to me again after my coming out as bisexual in my first year after school. It hurt a lot – we had been together since second grade, after all. It was one of those relationships where you made life plans about moving in together one day. Soon enough, I stopped feeling anything about this. What kind of best friend doesn’t speak to you again? I lost the need to reconcile.
Sometimes, you just have to put your safety, wellbeing, and feelings at the front. And people must learn that they have to respect them.
- Choose the right moment
Sometimes the excitement may be palpable, or you might simply want to get it out of your system. Still, you need to pick the moment carefully. Don’t do it when a situation is already tensed. Don’t do it during a period where you don’t feel at your strongest – you may feel like you will burst out if you keep it a secret for longer, but having negative reactions tied to your confession and backlashing will affect you negatively. Don’t try to predict people’s reactions, because you will likely not get it exactly right, but try to see when it’s particularly risky – some people may help you in a hard period, stand by you and make you feel like you’ve done the right thing, others may make it considerably harder.
- Expect all kinds of different reactions
Some people will pretend like you never said anything. Some will embrace you – some of the reactions will positively overwhelm you. First reactions aren’t necessarily determinant of the other person’s eventual attitude towards you.
- Offer sources of support – and seek support for yourself
Sometimes, other people might make it all about themselves – how hard it is for them and how they need support; sure, they do need support, but they can find it in a million places: in support groups, among organizations of parents, siblings or lovers of LGBT people, or mental health services. You can help your parents or friends find other allies to share their own experiences, but it’s not your job to support the people around you; especially during a time that may also be stressful and hard for you, a period when you are the one who most of all will need support.
Remember to seek support for yourself. Coming out takes lots of courage and energy, but it can also be a scary, or emotionally draining process. You deserve people who will validate you, care for you, and stand up for your decisions by your side.
Also, search for support networks within your religion, if faith is important for you. Know that there will be prejudiced people around you, but not all of them are that way. Try to find other LGBT people who belong to your local religious community. It will make a tremendous difference, and you need to know that in the end there will eventually be a place where you will feel like belonging.
- If it doesn’t go well, remember to never beat yourself up about it
People around may not understand for a multitude of reasons: they may be uneducated and ignorant, or they may simply be prejudiced – and that’s not always easy to change. You can try to sensitize and educate them, but if they don’t understand it doesn’t mean you’ve failed somewhere. It probably has nothing to do with the way you did it. It may simply need time, or it might never come, but that also has to do with the others – not with you.
- First come out in a place where you’ll be welcome
Coming out within a community can be very empowering, and you need the empowerment. Before coming out to your family, you can try visiting a local LGBT event (best case scenario, a support event) – chances are that, even if you don’t know anyone there, you’ll meet people soon and they will be as receptive as you need them to.
If you don’t feel ready to be seen, or to meet other people, you can try it online – read other stories, speak at forums and chats, establish that you’re feeling good about yourself among a community before talking to people out of it.
- It won’t always be bad
That’s a promise! It might seem hard now, but you will eventually find your much-needed community where you will belong and be embraced you with no bargains and conditions! Put your awesome self first, and take care of your colorful self!