What is coming out?
Coming out is the process of telling people that you are gay. It’s often referred to as coming out of the closet. The closet represents the hiding of your sexuality. A person that chooses to hide their sexuality from everyone is often referred to as ‘being in the closet’.
“After being with my girlfriend for a while I decided to tell my parents that I was gay. They were fine with it. I feel as though maybe my mother isn’t pleased about it, but she’s coming to terms with it. My father’s really fine with it. They both treat me the same and nothing’s changed. I’m still their daughter and I’ve been accepted for who I am.” – Rebecca
Coming out as gay can be complete, also know as ‘out to everyone’. This means that you tell most people and don’t generally mind who finds out. Alternatively, coming out might be limited to a few people, perhaps just family and close friends. Remaining closetted doesn’t mean a person can’t have a romantic and sexual life, but it is restrictive and involves a level of deception and secrecy that I believe is limiting, lonely, and prevents gay individuals from thriving.
Benefits of coming out
- Coming is a statement of self-acceptance and saying to the world that you think it’s okay for you – and anyone – to be gay. It’s an assertive thing to do, a confidence boost, and can kick-start a new chapter of positive changes in your life.
- Coming out can bring you closer to your friends and family. Secrets create barriers that keep people apart. Once the truth is out a gay person often becomes more relaxed and open. They can be themselves and allow their friends and family to get to know them much better. Many people report that friendships and family bonds become stronger once the secrecy of being in the closet is lifted.
- It’s easier to meet other gay people if you are out. Pretending to be straight is a huge obstacle to finding gay friends or a partner. An out gay person is more visible and accessible to other gay people and easier to get to know. An out gay person is more likely to go to a gay venue, join a gay social group or go on a date, making it much easier to meet people.
- You may find that coming out gives other gay friends, colleagues and acquaintances the courage to do the same. You might be surprised at how many other gay people seem to appear once you get the ball rolling. I remember starting a new job a few years ago. There was a man in the office who I had a feeling was gay. When he saw how people responded positively to the news of my sexuality, he came out too and seemed much happier and more relaxed in the office. He’d been there for many years before I arrived, sidestepping and avoiding the topic of his personal life.
- Many people feel happier, calmer, more confident and more positive about the future after coming out. Being in the closet can be a lonely, anxious and unhappy place. Denying your feelings, lying to loved ones and putting on an act to please others is unhealthy and can be costly in terms of your emotional well-being. I very much believe that the only way to have a chance at real happiness is to have the courage to be yourself.
“Right this minute I’m thinking about coming out at college, but I don’t think I will for a while at least, but I don’t really mind who knows any more and I like who I am – I actually like being gay, so it shouldn’t be too awful!! Anyway, if someone asks me I’ll admit to it, apart from that, well we’ll see.” – Fina
How to come out
- Being honest with yourself about your sexuality is the best place to start. Pretending that you are not gay is as pointless as feeling bad because you aren’t a badger! Denial will only make you unhappy in the long term. Come out to yourself first.
- You should only come out when you feel ready. Never do it because someone else thinks you should. It’s a personal choice so take all the time you need.
- If you’re not sure how a person will react, get them talking about homosexuality in general and see what they say and how they behave. Mention a famous gay person in the news, a gay storyline in a soap, a gay singer, or the new gay bar that’s just opened nearby. If people respond in a neutral or positive way, then you may feel more confident about coming out to them. On the other hand, if a person is negative or even hostile around the subject then it’s wise to be more cautious. Keep in mind that some people behave differently when around their friends, so don’t be too quick to write someone off as homophobic if they say a few thoughtless things. Someone who jokes when a gay person comes on TV might react very differently to the news that a friend or family member is gay.
- A lot of straight people don’t consciously know any gay people, so your coming out may well be a new experience for them as well as for you.
- Think about the extent to which you want to come out. Do you mind if everyone knows or do you want more control over your news? It’s no good coming out to the school gossip if you aren’t ready for everyone to know. Telling a close and trusted friend may be the best place to start. You might benefit from their support when you tell other friends and family members.
- Some people say coming out to girls is easier than to boys as they are often more openly sensitive. Girls aren’t governed by macho image and how they feel homosexuality compromises it. Start with a female friend if you think this might be an easier place to start than opening up to your football team mates. Not all guys are hung-up about how big their muscles are, though, so don’t write them off! I’ve had some lovely straight male friends who couldn’t have been more supportive.
- Anticipate the questions you might be asked, from the constructive to the downright daft. You may encounter some of the common misconceptions featured in the gay myths and stereotypes section. Prepare yourself so that you can give calm and considered replies. Try not to be too touchy, even if some of the things said seem offensive. It’s often the result of a lack of knowledge rather than a deliberate attempt to hurt your feelings. Be patient, especially with parents and older people. They may have all sorts of weird ideas about what being gay means and entails. Point them in the direction of the advice for parents and friends section.
- Help people to see that you’re still you. Being gay doesn’t define you.
- Try to pick a time to come out when the person is relaxed and not in the middle of an upheaval or upset of some kind. This is especially important when coming out to parents. Choose a moment, if at all possible, when the home is tranquil.
- Consider telling one parent first, perhaps one you feel will handle your coming out better than the other. This way you may have the support of one when you tell the remaining parent.
- Pick a time when you’re as sure as you can be that you won’t be disturbed. Meet at a favourite café or go for a walk together – and turn your mobile phone off! Allow plenty of time.
- Try not to be disappointed if you don’t get cheers and congratulations. Often people just don’t know how to react to the news but it doesn’t mean they have a problem with your sexuality. Again, be patient with people. It may be your first time coming out but it may also be the first time they’ve been come out to. This is very personal information you’re presenting.
- If you come out when very young (under 16) you may find that you are told that you are going through a same-sex attraction phase and will grow out of it. This was a very popular idea when I was at school (22 years ago!) and still seems to be thrown around more than it should. It is true that sexuality can take time to fully take shape for some more than others, and that a lot of young people have same-sex experiences but go on to consider themselves as heterosexual adults. But it’s also true that a lot of gay and bisexual people know full well what they are from a surprisingly young age. Be patient with people but be firm too: your feelings are real and valid. Sixteen year old straight kids don’t get told to wait a few years before their sexual preferences will be taken seriously.
“I was very nervous but I made myself do it. My mum was in her room and I said ‘Mum can i talk to you’ then I told her I was gay, and she smiled and hugged me for ages and said ‘I love you so much’. Then I told my Dad and he was so fine with it I couldn’t believe lol. I had the best night sleep that evening because it felt like a huge weight had been taken off me and the knot in my belly I had felt for so long was gone. I feel like a new person, I feel like me now. Believe me I know how hard it is not just to come out but to admit you’re gay to yourself, but I would strongly recommend it because everyone needs to be happy. I’M PROUD OF WHO I AM.” – Eddie
“It took a few days to prepare myself, my Mom has a short temper and I never really bothered asking about her views on the subject, but when I did I got a fairly shocking response. Mom: ‘So you’re bisexual.’ Me: ‘Yep.’ Mom: ‘Me too.’ She wasn’t kidding.” – Alvi