Coming out is a lifelong process of understanding, accepting, and acknowledging your identity as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer (GLBTQ), or a combination of these or other identities.
Coming out includes both exploring one's identity and sharing that identity with others. The first person you have to come out to is yourself. The coming out process is very personal; it happens in different ways and occurs at different ages for different people. Some people are aware of their sexual identity at an early age; others arrive at this awareness only after many years.
Coming out is a continuing, sometimes lifelong, process. It involves being open and honest with friends and family about who you really are. Because of the personal nature of identity, coming out can be very scary for GLBTQ individuals. It is common to fear rejection from loved ones, friends, or even strangers. It is this fear that causes many people to hide their identity because it can be quite difficult to know how people will react.
If you would like to read more about coming out, please check out:
How do I come out?
Make sure you are ready.
Coming out is an important part of a person's life. For heterosexuals, it is an easy process since we live in a world that assumes heterosexuality. For GLBTQ people, this process is very different. It is important that you have gone through the first step of coming out: Coming out to oneself. During the process of coming out to yourself, take the time to read stories about other people coming out, books about sexuality, or other resources. This research will help you to understand yourself and give you an idea of what you can expect during the coming out process.
- Make a plan
- Decide who to tell
- Choose the right time
- Be patient
- You don't have to do it all at once
Making a plan to come out might seem like overkill, but being prepared is one of the best ways to feel confident about talking about your identity. Among other things, you will have to decide who to tell, and when to tell them. Try to avoid telling people during major events such as holidays or birthdays, unless that is the only time that will work.
Remember to be patient. It can take time for loved ones to completely process what you are telling them, especially if they have never known a GLBTQ person or grew up being told it was wrong. Being patient allows friends and family the chance to process and ask questions. Being honest and sincere with one another will honor your relationship as well as help facilitate the coming out process.
Finally, remember that you do not have to come out to everyone all at once. Choose one person; choose a few. Do what makes you feel most comfortable and happy. Coming out should happen at your own pace.
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. Coming out is one way of affirming your dignity and the dignity of other GLBTQ people. Remember that you are not alone; there is a viable GLBTQ community waiting to be explored, and more heterosexual "allies" are willing to offer their support than you might have first imagined.
What to do when someone comes out to you
During the 'coming out' conversation:
- Thank your friend for having the courage to tell you.
- Respect your friend's confidentiality.
- Tell your friend you still care about him/her, no matter what. The main fear for people coming out is rejection.
- Ask any questions you may have, but understand that your friend may not have all the answers.
- Don't judge your friend. If you have strong religious or other beliefs about GLBTQ identities, keep them to yourself for now. There will be plenty of time in the future for you to think and talk about your beliefs in light of your friend's identity.
- Don't be too serious. Sensitivity worded in humor may ease the tension you are both probably feeling.
Now that you know that your friend/family member is GLBTQ:
- Include your friend's partner in plans as much as you would any other friend.
- Be prepared to include your friend in more of your plans. He/She may have lost support of other friends and family, and your time and friendship will be even more precious to him/her.
- Don't out your friend to others without his/her permission.
- Offer and be available to support your friend as he/she comes out to others.
- Be aware that this is a highly emotional time for your friend.
- Do the same activities that you have always done together.
- Don't allow your friend to become more isolated. Ask him/her if he/she would like to know about organizations and places where he/she can meet other GLBTQ people or supportive allies.
- If your friend has attractions or feelings for you that you don't share, you can handle it in the same way as if anyone you aren't attracted to had feelings for you.
- If your friend seems afraid about other people knowing, there may be good reason. People are sometimes attacked violently because they are perceived as GLBTQ. Sometimes people are discriminated against in such things as housing and employment. If your friend is discriminated against illegally, you can help him/her in pursuing his/her rights.
- It's never too late. If someone has come out to you before and you feel badly about how you handled it, you can always go back and try again.
- Learn more about the GLBTQ community. This will allow you to better support your friend, and knowing about his/her world will help prevent you from drifting apart.
Who can I talk to?
If you're looking for support because you would like to come out, have recently come out, or think you might be GLBTQ you may want to connect with some of the resources available here at UND.
Or, if you're looking more for information about how to connect with other GLBTQA individuals check out the Ten Percent Society (TPS).
*Adapted with permission from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Counseling Center and University of California Berkeley's Gender Equity Resource Center.