For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, coming out is a process of understanding, accepting, and valuing one’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Coming out includes both exploring one’s identity and sharing that identity with others. It also involves coping with societal responses and attitudes toward LGBT people. The coming out process is very personal. This process happens in different ways and occurs at different ages for different people.
Recognizing your own identity and working toward self-acceptance are the first steps in coming out.
There are many things to think about when considering coming out. Some of the positive outcomes may be increased self-esteem, greater honesty in one’s life, and a sense of greater personal integrity. In addition, there is often a sense of relief and a reduction of tension when one is able to share such an important part of his/her life. Coming out can lead to greater freedom of self-expression, positive sense of self and more healthy and honest relationships.
One safe means of beginning to come out to yourself is through reading about how others have dealt with similar issues. There are many books and periodicals available on all facets of LGBT life, from clinical studies on LGBT people to collections of coming out stories.
Often, after spending some time getting in touch with one’s own feelings, the next step is to come out to others. It is usually advisable to come out first to those who are most likely to be supportive. LGBT people are a potential natural support system because they have all experienced at least some of the steps in the process of coming out. Sharing experiences about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can help you decrease feelings of isolation and shame. Furthermore, coming out to other LGBT people can help you build a community of people who can then support and assist you in coming out to others in your life. Many LGBT communities offer a number of helpful resources, including local coming out groups, switchboards, social outlets, and political and cultural activities and organizations.
Coming out to other people does not need to happen quickly. Also, choosing to do so does not mean that you must conform to real or presumed expectations of the LGBT community.
What is most important is that you seek your own path through the coming out process and that you attend to your unique, personal timetable.
You should not allow yourself to be pressured into anything you are not ready for or don’t want to do. It is important to proceed at your own pace, being honest with yourself and taking time to discover who you really are.
In coming out to others, consider the following:
- Think about what you want to say and choose the time and place carefully.
- Be aware of what the other person is going through. The best time for you might not be the best time for someone else.
- Present yourself honestly and remind the other person that you are the same individual you were yesterday.
- Be prepared for an initially negative reaction from some people. Do not forget that it took time for you to come to terms with your identity, and that it is important to give others the time they need.
- Have friends lined up to talk with you later about what happened.
- Don’t give up hope if you don’t initially get the reaction you wanted. Some people need more time than others to come to terms with what they have heard.
Above all, be careful not to let your self-esteem depend entirely on the approval of others. If a person rejects you and refuses to try to work on acceptance, that’s not your fault. Keep in mind that this initial refusal may get reversed once the individual gets used to the idea that you are still you. If time does not seem to change the individual’s attitude toward you, then you may want to re-evaluate your relationship and its importance to you. Remember that you have the right to be who you are, you have the right to be out and open about all important aspects of your identity, and in no case is another person’s rejection evidence of your lack of worth or value.
The decision to come out is always personal. Whether to come out and, if so, when, where, how, and to whom are all questions you must answer for yourself. Taking control of this process includes being aware in advance of potential ramifications so that you can act positively rather than defensively. Coming out may be one of the most difficult tasks you confront in your life, but it can also be one of the most rewarding.
Remember that you are not alone; there is a viable LGBT community waiting to be explored, and more “allies” are willing to offer their support than you might have first imagined.
Need Additional Help?
Some suggested readings to help you throughout this process are:
- Now That You Know. Betty Fairchild & Robert Leighton. New York, NY. Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich, 1989.
- Beyond Acceptance. Carolyn Welch Griffin, Marina J. Wirth & Arthur G. Wirth. New York, NY. St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
- Straight Parents/Gay Children. Robert A. Bernstein. New York, NY. Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1995.
Coming Out was originally developed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It is published here with their permission.