LGBTA-Q Resource Center
I Think I Might Want to Start Coming Out...
- The Process of Coming Out
- Coming-Out for the First Time ~ A Possible Pathway
- The Stages of Coming Out
- Some Suggestions for Coming Out to Parents, Relatives and Straight Friends
For too long we have been told we must hide our homosexuality. We have been asked to live a lie. We have been forced to live double lives. We have been told by our homophobic society to deny who we really are and whom we love. We have lived with enormous fear--fear for our rights; fear for our jobs; fear of the loss of those we care about; and, at times, fear for our lives. Coming out is a step towards greater integration in our lives. It is a testing of our fears and our paranoia about personal rejection. It leads us towards fuller and more honest and satisfying relationships with those around us. Coming out will not solve all our problems; indeed it can create new ones. But coming out to others offers a greater sense of reality about the loves, fears and relationships in our lives.
Those who have come out, in whatever ways and to whatever degree, have generally experienced a great sense of relief and increased self-esteem through sharing the 'secret' of their sexual orientation. This fact is documented in a growing number of personal accounts written by lesbians and gay men and in studies carried out by professional researchers.
The Process of Coming Out
Coming out of the closet is an ongoing issue in the life of virtually every gay person. There are many stages in the process, and most of us embark on that process time and time again. It is not simply telling one's parents, joining a gay organization, having a lesbian or gay love affair or moving to the gay 'ghetto' in a large city. Coming out has to do with the way we perceive ourselves, with how we deal with our sexualities, how we structure our lives and how we present ourselves and our loved ones to our families, to our friends and to the world. It is a life long process, in which we constantly deal with the acceptance and integration of our gayness within a partially repressive and hostile society.
For some gay men and lesbians the process of coming out is a relatively easy one-- there never is any great difficulty in recognizing or accepting homosexual feelings. For many others of us the process in its initial stages is often more painful. We may struggle with great difficulty for a long time before we are able to affirm ourselves as gay people, to say nothing of sharing that fact with those whom we love.
We live in a society in which we have been consistently indoctrinated with the worst myths, fears and stereotypes about homosexuality. We were consistently told as young people that it is not good to be gay. Indeed our society is structured in a way that often assumes that everyone both is, and ought to be, heterosexual. Within such a context it is not surprising that many people are they old or young-have experienced the gravest difficulty in accepting their homosexual feelings or orientation. The guilt has been unwarranted. The pain cannot be justified. The occasional suicides represent a tragic fact.
The homophobia that so affects the feelings and behavior of non-gays towards us has a very damaging effect upon the ways we may perceive ourselves.
The process of recognizing and accepting one's gayness can be a very lonely experience, but it is becoming easier for us to accept our feelings and our gay or lesbian identities. We can see our sexuality as a positive and joyful part of our lives. We can see the injustices we face and the immorality of failing to tell young people the truth about homosexuality.
The term "Coming-Out" refers to the process of developing a positive lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender identity. Before an individual "comes out" they are commonly in a period of "questioning," in which they are curious about and either actively or inactively exploring their sexual identity. It is a long and difficult struggle for many questioning individuals because they often have to confront the phobias that they are socially instilled with while growing up. Before they can feel good about whom they are they have to challenge their own acquired beliefs and move from a negative attitude of repulsion and pity to feelings of appreciation and admiration. It often takes years of realization to develop a positive LGBT identity.
Coming out is a process that can be very difficult- however, in addition can also be extremely liberating and thus relieving- but queer individuals can to decide when and to whom they will disclose their sexual identity. The easiest way to come out would probably be to advertise on international television- instead of having to endure the constant agony face-to-face conversations and wondering how someone might initially react, especially a loved one- but of course, that idea is preposterous to anyone who doesn't have thousands of dollars for advertising purposes. There are many ways an individual can come out, but most choose to relay the information in person.
- Be comfortable with yourself. Learn more about the queer community. Find resources about the queer community and resources on personal identity. It is very common for "questioning" individuals to have a personal identity crisis involving personal culture and religion. I strongly encourage individuals to join a coming-out support group. These groups give an individual a support network, protection, and help with working out a plan of action. Once you know you are comfortable, make a plan of action. Remember once you come-out, there is no going back.
- The first one. Choose an in individual to be your first. This individual should be someone you trust, love, respect, and admire and who you can tell. Confiding in the first person can start a negative or a positive chain reaction.
- Choose the medium of communication. Face to face is the best way. Coming-out is a very personal matter and needs to be done in a comfortable environment. Choosing another medium like email, letter, or IM may not be the best way as many written communications can be misinterpreted.
- The time and place. A public bar may not be the most appropriate place to come-out to an individual. Choose the place where you feel the most comfortable. Remember you may feel valuable during this experience and so will the individual. A calm and personable environment is needed. You and you only will be able to know when the suitable time is.
- Ask permission to confide. Coming-out is a very personal matter. Once you tell someone they now have a part of your identity; this may be a burden for some individuals. By asking the individual for their permission you will also set the scene that what is about to happen is serious.
- Come out. Less is always more. The fewer the words the better the comprehension will be for the individual. You are being fully honest with them for the first time about your sexuality. Do not be afraid of silence. There is a lot of power in silences. You need to remember that the individual maybe in shock at first and it took you a long time to discover your identity, so give them the time they need.
- Ask and answer questions. Be prepared with answers to some of the common questions individuals ask queer individuals like, "Are you sure," "When did you know," "How do you know?" Keep cool and answer all of their questions honestly. The pace and the level of emotion are now in your hands. The more calm you are the better the conversation. They are learning what you already learned. This is their time to understand you. Take the time.
- Saying thank you. Whatever the reaction maybe from the individual, remember to thank them. The two little words, "Thank You," can mean so much to them at the time. You have confided to them a valuable piece of your identity.
The Stages of Coming Out
There are a number of stages in the coming out process. The first step is acceptance, which presupposes the recognition of being homosexual. You say to yourself, as one lesbian put it I always knew I was different, and this was it.
- Stage 1 - Coming to have positive feelings about one's homosexuality is an essential part of the coming out process. Until one feels good about being gay, it makes little sense to share the fact of one's sexual orientation with others (unless they are very clearly friends or helping professionals who are prepared to assist you towards greater self-acceptance). The person who says to a parent, friend, or employer I have something horrible to tell you about myself is not coming out. She or he is seeking pity or revealing self-hatred.
- Stage 2 - Celebration comes next, as you begin to co-ordinate your feelings and desires with your place in society and to feel good about yourself. Celebration is when you are happy to be you. Celebration is saying, "This is who I am, and I am going to enjoy it!"
- Stage 3 - The next stage in the coming out process is sharing the fact of your sexual orientation with others. This goes hand in hand with the integration of your sexuality with the rest of your life and consciousness. Most individuals consider their sex life, including their sexual orientation, to be a very personal matter that they do not want to discuss with all and sundry. But among heterosexuals, by social convention, while detail of sex practices are kept private, relationships are openly acknowledged and celebrated; wedding bands are exchanged, shared activities are described, joint invitations are given and received. This kind of public acknowledgement gives support and pleasure to the couple. This is the kind of public acknowledgement that gay couples also need and want.
- Stage 4 - The final step in coming out, after telling other gay people, is telling your family and friends and that the general feeling of "I don't care who knows, I'll come out to the world!" is present. Sometimes this is done by wearing buttons or T-shirts with gay slogans, sometimes by exaggerated, overtly gay behavior. But, most often, secure and confident gay men and women let the world know by just living their normal lives and not lying any more.
The steps are not always taken in this order. The process is not always a smooth and easy one. As one gay man said, I seem to take two steps forward and one step back sometimes. I get scared, occasionally.
Some Suggestions for Coming Out to Parents, Relatives and Straight Friends
When you do begin to come out to non-LGBTI people, your experiences will probably vary. Sometimes it will go well. Occasionally a relationship will be terminated abruptly or will fade away unexpectedly. From the experiences of many LGBTI, their parents and friends, we offer a number of suggestions about coming out. You need to evaluate these suggestions in the light of your own personal situation and needs.
- Be clear about your own feelings about being gay. If you are still dealing with a lot of guilt or depression, seek help in getting over that before coming out to parents or other non-gay people. If you are comfortable with your gayness, those to whom you come out will often see that fact and be aided in their own renewed acceptance of you.
- Timing can be very important in coming out. Be aware of the health, mood, priorities, and problems of those with whom you would like to share your sexuality. The mid-life crises of parents, the relationship problems of friends, the business concern of employers, and countless other factors over which you have no control can affect another's receptivity to your information.
- Never come out during an argument. Never use coming out as a weapon. Never encourage parents to feel guilty for having "caused' your sexual orientation - they didn't.
- When coming out to parents or family, try to affirm mutual caring and love before launching into your announcement about your gay or lesbian life.
- Be prepared that your revelation may surprise, anger, or upset other people at first. Try not to react angrily or defensively. Try to let other people be honest about their initial feelings even if they are negative. Remember that the initial reaction will not likely be the long-term one. Ultimately the individuals who have really faced and dealt with their homophobia may be far more supportive than those who give an immediate but superficial expression of support.
- Emphasize that you are still the same person. You were gay yesterday and will be tomorrow. If you were responsible and caring yesterday, likewise you will be loving and responsible tomorrow.
- Keep lines of communication open with people after you come out to them - even if their response is negative. Respond to their questions and remember that they are probably in the process of reexamining the myths and stereotypes about gay people which we all have received from our culture.
- Be sure that you are well informed about homosexuality. Read some good books about the subject and share them with individuals to whom you have come out.
- Encourage your parents or others to whom you come out to meet some of your LGBT friends.
- Remember that it takes many LGBT a very long time to come to terms with our own sexuality and gender identity and even longer to decide to share the fact with others. When you come out to non-LGBT people, be prepared to give them time to adjust and to comprehend the new information about you. Don't expect immediate acceptance. Look for ongoing, caring dialogue
- If someone to whom you have come out rejects you, do not lose sight of your own self worth. Remember that your coming out was a gift of sharing an important part of yourself, which that person has chosen to reject. If rejection does come, consider whether the relationship was really worthwhile. Is any relationship so important that it must be carried on in an atmosphere of dishonesty and hiding? Was the person really your friend or simply the friend of someone he or she imagined to be you?
- Remember also that the loss of a friend is not the end of the world. Coming-out decisions must be made cautiously, but integrity and self-respect are extremely important in the long run.
- A casual or offhand approach often works best with workmates and relatives. Sometimes a confrontational situation can be avoided simply by being honest, in a conversational way, about whom you live with and date, and how you spend your leisure time. The other person is given a chance to recognize the circumstances of your life and to admit to your homosexuality without being obliged to make some immediate response on this issue.
- Remember that the decision to come out is yours. Don't be guilt-tripped into it by people who think that everyone must come out or by snooping people who ask impertinent questions. You can usually decide when, where, how, and to whom you wish to come out. At this stage in our society, full public declarations about one's sexuality are not necessarily the best decision for most people.
- Try not to let your family and close friends find out about your gayness from third parties such as neighbors or the media. Try to tell them personally beforehand.
- Whenever you come out, reflect upon the experience and learn from it.
- Never let yourself be pressured into coming out before you are ready. Not by this leaflet. Not by anyone.
- Coming out is one of the most difficult things we do in our lives. It won't always go well, but most of the time it is a very freeing experience.