If you’ve recently figured out your orientation, you might want to come out.
If you do, you’re probably wondering how — like when to do it, who to tell, and what to say, just to name a few. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!
Remember that everyone’s journey is different
There’s no wrong time to come out.
Some people come out at a young age, some never do. Some people tell everyone they know, others only share it with a select few.
There’s no right or wrong way to go about this, because how you come out will depend on your own experiences and situation.
If you want to come out, go for it!
Most people expect others to be straight unless they say otherwise, which is why people come out. Coming out can be a liberating and exciting experience.
There are many reasons you might want to come out. For example:
- You’re in a relationship and you’d like to introduce people to your partner.
- You’re looking for a relationship.
- You want to connect with people who are the same sexual orientation as you.
- You simply want to share the news.
You don’t need a particular reason to come out — if you want to do it, that’s reason enough!
If you don’t want to or feel like doing so could cause harm, it’s 100% OK not to do so — it doesn’t make you ‘fake’
You don’t ever have to “come out of the closet” if you don’t want to. Really, you don’t.
Modern discussions on queerness seem to center around coming out.
An unfortunate side effect is that many of us feel very pressured to come out. Some of us even feel like we’re being dishonest because we’re pretending to be straight.
Nobody should feel forced to come out before they’re ready — or at all.
There are many reasons people avoid coming out. They might feel it’s dangerous because they don’t believe they’ll be accepted. They might also feel like it’s too emotionally stressful, or private. Or, they might simply not want to come out.
No matter the reason, it’s OK to not come out. It doesn’t make you a fake or a liar.
How you go about it ultimately depends on who you want to tell
Perhaps you have an anonymous social media account and you decide to tell your followers.
Perhaps you tell your friends, but not your family members. Perhaps you tell your siblings, but not your parents. Perhaps you tell your family, but not your co-workers.
You’re well within your rights to ask whoever you tell to keep it private. If you’re still closeted to some people, tell your loved ones not to discuss it with anyone else.
You don’t have to tell everyone at once — or even at all
When I was a teenager, I thought “coming out” would entail a huge coming out party where I’d gather around everybody I know and tell them I’m bisexual.
That’s not what happened — and thankfully it wasn’t, because that would have been pretty overwhelming.
While you can throw yourself a coming out party, or come out in a Facebook post, or call everyone you know on the same day, most people actually don’t come out to everyone at the same time.
You might choose to start with your friends and then tell your family members, or whoever you choose.
Start by determining which parts of your life feel safe to come out in
When it comes to coming out, you might be worried about your safety. Sadly, people are still discriminated against because of their orientation.
If you feel that you’ll be safe and accepted coming out to everyone, that’s awesome!
If you’re not, you might want to start by coming out where it’s safest: whether that’s amongst your family members, friends, religious community, school community, or colleagues.
Make sure you consider the overall tolerance level of your individual communities
To determine how safe it is to come out in a certain area of your life, you should consider how tolerant your communities are.
You might find it helpful to ask yourself the following questions:
- Are there antidiscrimination policies at my school and work?
- Are there any laws protecting me from discrimination?
- If so, how do these laws work?
- Overall, is there an attitude of tolerance at my school and work? Remember, just because discrimination is illegal doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
- In my community, how do people treat openly queer people?
Get a sense of how receptive the audience will be before you tell them
You can never tell whether someone will accept your orientation.
You could make an educated guess based on how they react to other queer people. This can include people you personally know, celebrities, or even fictional characters.
A common strategy is to bring up queerness or sexual orientation in passing. You might say something like, “I hear Drew Barrymore is bisexual,” or “Did you hear about the new antidiscrimination law?” or “Ellen and Portia are so cute!” (Yeah, I’ve used all of those).
You might use their reaction to gauge whether they’ll be accepting of you.
Of course, this isn’t a foolproof method — some people might be tolerant towards some queer people but not towards others.
You may find it helpful to start with one trusted person
This may be a loved one who’s compassionate and open-minded. It could also be someone who’s already openly queer and has been through the process of coming out.
You could also ask them to help you tell others and offer you support during the coming out process. Sometimes, it’s simply helpful to have a friendly face present when you tell others.
Consider which method you’re most comfortable with
Coming out doesn’t need to be a formal conversation unless that’s what you prefer to do. You might come out by casually mentioning your partner, or going to an LGBTQIA+ event, or something similar.
It doesn’t need to be a face-to-face conversation unless you want it to be.
Video or voice calls can be helpful because you can always hang up the phone if the conversation sours. The physical distance can also give you the space to process the conversation alone afterward.
Many people prefer texts and emails because they don’t demand an immediate response. Often, people don’t know what to say — even if they’re supportive of you — so it might help to give them some time to come up with a response.
Social media posts may be even less anxiety-inducing. Since a general coming out status isn’t directed at anyone specific, there isn’t an obligation for any particular person to respond.
It can also be helpful to have people you’ve already told leave supportive comments, as this shows other people how to respond appropriately.
The downside of social media is that it’s very public. You can’t always tell whether somebody saw your post or how your post is shared.
Ultimately, it’s best to choose whatever method you’re most comfortable with.
Regardless of the method, consider the time and location
There isn’t a perfect time or place to come out, but it’s important to consider which time and place will be comfortable and convenient for you.
- It might not be a good idea to have it in a public place where strangers could overhear you, especially if you want privacy.
- You might want it to happen in a public place if you’re afraid that who you’re coming out to may become physically violent.
- It might also be best to choose a place that’s quiet — not a noisy nightclub or restaurant.
- If you’re comfortable discussing it in a private place like your home, try that.
- If you’d like support, have one or two open-minded friends with you.
- If you think it could go badly, avoid doing it before you have to spend a lot of time together, like a Christmas dinner or a long flight.
- If you send a text or email, it’s best to avoid doing it while they’re on vacation or at work.
Ultimately, it’s a good idea to choose a place and time that feels comfortable and safe.
Prepare for questions and potential disbelief
People might have a lot of questions when you come out to them. Some common questions are:
- How long have you known?
- How can I support you?
- Are you dating anybody?
- How do you know?
- Are you sure?
You don’t have to answer these questions — even the well-intended ones — unless you want to.
Unfortunately, some people may not believe you. Some people do believe being gay is a choice, and some people believe that bisexuality, pansexuality, and asexuality don’t exist.
Some people might say that you can’t be queer because you’ve dated people of the “opposite” gender. They might try to convince you that you’re not queer.
Remember that your identity is valid, no matter what others say.
Nobody knows your identity better than you know yourself — not even your parents or partners — and nobody else gets to define it.
You can set a firm boundary and say that you’re sure of your orientation and that you want support, not doubt.
What to say
If you aren’t sure of exactly what to say or how to phrase it, here are a few examples:
- “After thinking about it a lot, I’ve realized that I’m gay. This means I’m attracted to men.”
- “Since you’re important to me, I want to let you know that I’m bisexual. I’d appreciate your support.”
- “I’ve figured out that I’m actually pansexual, which means I’m attracted to people of any gender.”
Allow the other person space and time to process the information
Even well-intended and open-minded people might need time to process the information. Often, people want to say something supportive but don’t know how to respond.
A non-response isn’t necessarily a bad response. The uncomfortable silence may be unpleasant, though.
After a few days, it might be a good idea to send them a text along the lines of, “Hi there, have you thought about what I told you the other day?”
If they seem unsure what to say, tell them. Say something like, “I’d really appreciate it if you could tell me you still love/support/accept me” or “If you’re unsure what to say, that’s OK — but I’d like you to say you understand and accept me.”
Make sure they know whether they can share this info
If you’re coming out to people gradually instead of telling everybody at once, it’s important to let the folks you do tell know.
You could say something like:
- “I haven’t told my parents yet. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell them until I got a chance to talk to them.”
- “Please don’t tell anybody else at this point — it’s important for me to speak to them at my own pace.”
- “I’m not ready to tell anyone else at this point, so please keep this private.”
You can suggest resources for them to learn more about how to support you. It might be a good idea to send them a link to an article about supporting LGBTQIA+ people.
Try not to take any negative reactions personally
It’s hard not to take negative reactions personally — but remember that their response is a reflection of them, not you.
As the saying goes, “Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.”
If you feel like your safety is in question, you have options
If you were evicted from your home or if the people you live with threaten you, try to find an LGBTQIA+ shelter in your area, or arrange to stay with a supportive friend for a while.
If you’re a young person in need of help, contact The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. They provide help and support for people who are in crisis or feeling suicidal, or for people who simply need someone to talk and vent to.
If you’re being discriminated against at work, speak to your HR department. If your employer discriminates against you, and you’re based in the United States, you can file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Lean on your chosen community and surround yourself with a support system
It’s a good idea to surround yourself with supportive friends around this time, especially if you feel you’re in danger. Try to find out if your school or local LGBTQIA+ group offers support groups or counseling.
It’s ultimately on your terms
Coming out is about you and your identity. It should be done on your terms.
You get to decide if you want to tell people, when or who you tell, which label you choose (or don’t choose), and how you come out.
Ultimately, you get to choose what makes you happy and comfortable.
It’s an ongoing, never-ending process
Unfortunately, we live in a world where you’re assumed to be straight unless otherwise indicated, so you might have to correct people over and over again.
Coming out is never a one-off thing, even if you literally tell everybody you know at the same time.
You’ll probably have to come out again and again to new people you meet, such as new neighbors, co-workers, and friends —that is, if you want to.
Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice, cannabis, and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.