Coming out is different for everyone. For some, the process occurs quickly and naturally, while for others, coming out can take longer with more complications.
We’ve made a list of the top 8 things you need to know and do, whether you’re just starting to think about how to come out or have already started the process.
What is “coming out”?
The phrase coming out is a shortened version of the metaphor ‘coming out of the closet’. It is used to describe the self-disclosure of sexual orientation or gender identity. This means that those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender choose to tell family, friends, colleagues, and others about their identity.
You may already have a good idea of how others will react to your news. If you think that friends or family will be supportive or reassuring, you may feel less burdened by the thought of coming out. If, however, you are worried that you might be met with sadness or anger, the process might feel more worrisome.
Before you come out
Before you come out, it might feel like you have a big, daunting task ahead of you. If you have time to plan for coming out, thinking about how you would like to come out, and to whom, can help to break your task down into more manageable steps.
1. Do you want to come out?
Your first task is to decide whether you want to come out. This might sound odd, as the media would have you believe that everyone must come out. Watching gay or transgender characters on TV or in films, you may start to feel mounting pressure to come out yourself. However, there is no obligation to come out, and if you don’t want to then that is perfectly acceptable.
Some people may choose not to come out because they fear a negative reaction from those they tell. In some parts of the world, it may also be dangerous to come out. Others may feel that coming out would be too emotionally upsetting, and some adults feel that their sexuality or gender identity is private, and therefore does not need to be shared.
Conversely, there are many reasons to come out if it feels right. Some people want to feel more open about who they are with those they are close to. They may have grown tired of pretending to be someone who they are not, and now feel ready to share who they really are.
Some people choose to come out because they are looking for a relationship, while others are in a relationship with someone of the same sex and want to be able to talk about this freely with friends, family, and coworkers.
If you are transgender, you may feel ready to begin living a truly authentic life. You may feel that you need to tell people about your gender identity when you begin living as a man or a woman, or before you access hormones or surgery.
If you are unsure how you feel about coming out, it can be helpful to speak to a therapist. Counseling can help you work through your own feelings about your identity, so that when you choose to come out, you feel confident in yourself.
How to come out
Choosing how to come out will depend on who you want to tell about your sexual orientation or gender identity. Some people might want to tell one trusted friend, while others might broadcast it publicly to thousands via Facebook. Coming out advice might also depend on the laws of the country you live in.
2. Decide who to tell
Deciding who to tell might be an easy choice. You may choose to tell a parent, sibling, close friend or even a therapist. Some people will choose a combination of acquaintances to tell, whilst deliberately not telling others. If you don’t want your confidant to share your news further, you should ask them to keep the news between the two of you.
If you feel nervous about coming out, telling just one person at first may be easier.
3. Keep safety in mind
Although some people feel safe to broadcast their orientation or identity far and wide, this won’t be the case for everyone. Sadly, across the world, including within the USA, discrimination still exists for gay and transgender people.
Be diligent in your research before you come out. Check for any laws that protect you against discrimination, and see if your workplace has an anti-discrimination policy that would protect you should an announcement in the office be received negatively.
Think about your local community and consider how gay or transgender people are treated. If there are no openly out members of the community, this could be a sign that others have not felt able to come out.
4. Decide what to say
Whether you decide to share your news face to face, by phone, text or on social media, it can be helpful to think about which words you want to use to come out. The following phrases may be helpful:
“We’ve been best friends for a long time, but I want you to know the real me. After a lot of thinking, I’ve realized that I’m gay. I would really like your support.”
“I know I’ve always dated men, but I am sure that I’m bisexual.”
“For a long time now I’ve known that my body doesn’t match who I am on the inside. I want you to know that I am transgender, and I identify as a woman.”
Try writing down your own phrases to help you come out. Reading them out loud might help you find the right words.
5. Choose your method
For some, coming out face to face or by video call feels great, while others find it too intense. If you prefer, texting or emailing might feel less stressful, as both you and the recipient have a chance to reply at your own pace.
If a reply doesn’t arrive, don’t panic. Your friend may just need more time to digest your news, and may be thinking of how best to reply in a supportive and accepting manner. If you still haven’t had a reply within a few days, you can send a follow up message asking if they have had time to think about what you told them, and whether they will still support, respect, and accept you.
6. Prepare for questions
Regardless of who you tell, your friend or relative may well have some questions for you. Some questions may seem frustrating, but if you are prepared for them, you may be able to answer more clearly. Questions might include:
- Are you sure you’re transgender/…?
- How long have you known for?
- Why didn’t you tell us sooner?
- How can you be sure you’re gay?
- Are you in a relationship?
- How can I support you?
Just because you have told someone that you’re gay or transgender, it doesn’t mean they have a right to have every question answered. Think about which questions you would feel comfortable answering. If you are asked something that you don’t want to answer, it’s acceptable to politely explain that you don’t feel ready to discuss that.
After you come out
Coming out isn’t something that happens once. Over your lifetime, you will find yourself coming out again and again. You may come out to your neighbors when you move house, to coworkers when you start a new job, or even, when relevant, to your doctor. Whether you’ve come out once or a hundred times, there are some things to remember after you come out.
7. Be honest about what you need
After you’ve come out, you might want to ask those who know about your identity for more support or if they will accompany you to appointments or events.
You can ask your family to validate your identity by using the correct pronouns, or by requesting that your partner is not referred to as a ‘friend’.
If you feel that someone is not being supportive, it’s ok to gently mention this. Some people may feel unsure about how to react, or how to show that they are still there for you.
8. Find your tribe
Being gay or transgender can feel isolating to even the most sociable person. Finding your place in the LGBT community can be empowering. Whether you choose to look for like-minded individuals online or in real life, meeting others may be exactly what you need to continue living your life confidently.
Coming out is a process that you may have to repeat many times over your lifetime. The way that you choose to come out is entirely up to you. Our best coming out advice is to take your time to choose who to tell, speak to a therapist for support, and search for those who will accept and love you for who you are.
Hannah England is a freelance copywriter with a medical degree. After working as a doctor for several years, she now writes medical and well-being articles. Hannah endeavors to empower people by providing informative content that allows them to make healthy choices for improved physical and mental health. Hannah is part of the LGBT+ community and an inclusion expert, allowing her to write copy that is relevant to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or identity. Hannah lives in a village in the South West of England.Read more