Coming out of the closet as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender can be an overwhelming, frightening situation for sure, but it doesn’t have to be if you are willing to prepare, give yourself time, be patient, and do some hard thinking before you make the leap into stepping out as your true self.
1. Be Prepared
Before you consider telling the world the good news and letting everyone see who you really are, be aware that not everyone will be on the same page as you and understand what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. They won’t necessarily know what it means to be a friend, sibling, parent, or ally to someone who is now coming forward as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Folks who thought they knew the real you might feel a variety of things: Surprised, shocked, disappointed, betrayed, confused, or angry. They may also feel excited for you, happy, supportive, accepting, and encouraging as well. I imagine though that at the very least they will need time to process this new development and will have questions and will need time to process what is going on. The person they thought they knew may no longer be the person you really are in their eyes. They will see differences and will need time to adjust and adapt to those changes. Some will need more time than other to accept this part of you that is coming out.
Be prepared by really first coming to terms with yourself. You may need to seek the advise and counsel of a counsellor or therapist specialized in LGBT issues. You may want to prepare yourself with brochures, pamphlets, information, and come ready to address the most common questions your loved ones may have for you. You may also have a lot of questions yourself.
2. Take Your Time
Never feel pressured or rushed to come out of the closet. You decide when the right time is for the situation and persons you wish to come out to. Don’t let anyone make these important decisions for you. This is your identity and personal safety and privacy afterall and this is a part of who you are. Many people may present very different opinions and beliefs regarding gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people. It can be a very scary thing to come out and share your story with others. Their recations could be hostile or kind and everything in between. You should only come out if you feel confident in yourself and sure about the person you believe you are.
3. Have a Support System
In a perfect world we would hope that the people we love and care about would feel the same way about us as we do about them, but that is not always the case. Coming out is not just a life changing experience for you, it can also be a life changing experience for your friends and family as well and often is. Before coming out to your parents, consider sharing your thoughts, feelings and concerns with your very best, most trusted friend. Make sure you have friends who are willing to accept you and support you and help you along the journey before taking on the challenge of coming out to those you are most unsure about. Often, many LGBT youth and teens express to me that coming out to their parents is often the hardest thing they ever do. They are often affraid that their parents will be angry or that they will be rejected or thrown out of the house. Sadly, this can happen. Having friends and a support system in place before you approach your parents will at least ensure that if your parents become upset or if they reject you or present an unsafe or hostile situation, you will have some place to go and stay until things can cool off, get settled out, or a better situation can be arranged. I am not saying the worst case scenario will happen, but do be prepared to have a support system of friends to help ease the nerves and anxiety. It also might help the parents come to understand if your friends show support–and show that your relationships will remain strong.
You can include, teachers, counsellors, friends, coaches, people you trust in your support system. Anyone that can lend a helping hand, another voice to the coming out conversation, an ear, a place to cool off and work out the nerves if things look tense or heated can be in this support system.
4. Consider Writing Letters
One bit of advice that was suggested to me as I considered coming out transgender to friends and family was to write personal letters to those I wanted to come out to. Sometimes it can be easier to organize our thoughts and feelings on paper than to speak on the spot and off the cuff. Some people are better writers than speakers when it comes to very serious subjects. Rather than feel like you are delivering a speech in front of a family meeting or delegation of the United Nations, try writing things down in a letter. This will give you plenty of time to organize your thoughts and put your feelings down. It also gives you the chance to edit, re-write, change your mind, or provide special messages one at a time for each person you care about. The things you wish to say to a friend will probably be different from the things you’d say to your mom, dad, or grandma, for example.
In your letter, assure your loved one that you are always going to love them and care about them no matter what. Parents and relatives need to hear that and love the mooshy stuff and need to know that no matter how you identify, you are obviously a member of the family and family ties shouldn’t change. No need to bombard your parents or relatives with an encyclopedia of terms or a stack of statistics. Just cover the essential points– you have had the feelings and attractions for a while, you have strong feelings about the person you are, and want to continue to be their loving child. You can explain that you are on a journey of self-discovery. You can share that you may still have many questions and would like their help, support, and advice. If you have brochures or information you’d like to pass on to them, you could add these to the letter or simply set them aside when they are ready to learn more or ask questions.
5. Be Positive
Be positive, show confidence in yourself, and carry with you a light mood. Coming out doesn’t have to be a grim and scary or super serious situation. Approach coming out with a relaxed frame of mind. If you are calm, cool, relaxed, and casual, it takes some of the fear and tension away from the situation. If people see that you are relaxed and calm and not ready for a fight or disaster, they will be just as relaxed and calm as you and will be more willing to listen and be receptive. You might be excited, hoping for a gala celebration or gigantic coming out party– that may come soon enough– but for first impressions, simply approach things calmly and casually. You want to make things nice and easy and not be abrupt, shocking, surprising or awkward.
Be prepared for all kinds of different reactions but do try and stay positive. Keep in mind that if people react with suprise or shock or disappointment or anger… their feelings can change over time. The first time we hear something that changes the way we think about something, it can affect us in a shocking way or feel scary to us or be like a kick to the back of the head. It sometimes takes us a while to see things as they really are or to make sense of what’s been said. Sometimes we need a moment to adjust and think about the things we’re not so sure about.
When it comes to coming out and living as a member of the LGBT community, we are not expected to become experts or have PhDs in psychology or biology or sexual education. The same goes for those that are taking in what we have to say. For many people, the idea that someone they know could be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender may be an entirely new concept or wholly new experience. There are no manuals that I am aware of on how to be an ally or parents or friend of someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. There are resources and information out there, thankfully, but do not expect parents or friends to fully understand everything from the get-go. And that goes especially for you too. It’s okay to not know the answers to their questions. It’s okay to feel unsure or questioning. It’s okay to be nervous or afraid about things you don’t necessarily understand. Know that you have much to learn as well and share that with your parents and friends. All of you can learn together and make the adjustments that much easier if you educate each other and yourselves as a group. Some may need more time to understand than others so let them have the time they need. Don’t force understanding and don’t force acceptance of everything you just told them. Acceptance can’t be forced and shouldn’t be forced. You should however, have the same amount of respect as you give to them. Respect should be universal and whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or straight, every person deserves to be respected.
I hope these tips and suggestions help you and should you need more resources and help, consider these organizations:
PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)
1828 L Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
If you or someone you know is struggling with a crisis or contemplating suicide or suffering from depression with regards to coming out or bullying:
The Trevor Helpline
This number is toll-free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A free and confidential crisis and suicide prevention hotline for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender or questioning youth and teens.