All issues relating to coming out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual can be difficult for LGBT people to deal with, and the anxiety experienced whilst in the closet or prior to coming out is equally difficult to deal with. Most people who are closeted experience feelings of isolation, emotional distance, frustration and anxiety, because they feel unable to tell close family and friends who they are, and to live their own life.
However, most people have really positive experiences with coming out and often regret not doing it sooner. It’s really important, though, that you take the time to consider your own personal circumstances when making the decision to tell people close to you, that you are gay, lesbian or bisexual. What may be right for one person, may not be right for you. Your safety and wellbeing should always come first.
These tips are designed to help you to think about different ways you can approach coming out, and help you to do so, with the least amount of stress. So before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to be sure of a few things first before we start coming out to others.
Before Coming Out
Tip 1: Coming out to yourself is a big deal and coming out to others is much easier once you have first come out to yourself, and accepted your sexuality. The most important person you will ever come out to is yourself. Many people can and do spend years denying or suppressing their sexuality to themselves. This is not uncommon in older generations, but as acceptance of LGBT people has increased, this is becoming less of an issue. Most people are not ready to start talking about their sexuality to others, whilst they are still dealing with it themselves. A lot of anxiety can come from fighting yourself, and once you find self acceptance and make peace with yourself, you will start to feel much better and more confident. Some of the common thoughts that hold people back from self acceptance might be:
"I don’t fit the stereotypes so I won’t fit in."
"I’m religious and it’s against my faith."
"I don’t have many close friends and family and don’t want to lose them."
Tip 2: Forget the stereotypes. When gay people first started to appear on TV and in the media, the stereotypes that were common were those of effeminate camp men and butch women. Some people still think that every gay man and woman have to fit those stereotypes. Some people are a lot like the stereotypes and others are totally different. One of the greatest attributes of the LGBT community is our diversity. Being lesbian, gay or bi does not have to define you. It doesn’t mean you have to wear certain clothes, have a particular haircut, or listen to certain music. Just be you. Discovering your sexuality is all about finding out who you are, what you like and how you want to be. You don’t have to change who you are in order to try and fit in.
Tip 3: You don’t have to choose between your faith and your sexuality. Most religious groups have LGBT followers. There are also some faiths that are especially welcoming to the LGBT community. You don’t have to choose between faith and your sexuality.
Tip 4: You gain more than you lose. People often have anxieties over losing friends and family after coming out. It is unlikely that you will lose the people closest to you, but you can and most likely will lose a few other people from your life. Some friendships are lifelong, but a lot of friendships are shorter, and most people in our lives don’t stay forever for lots of reasons. In the end, ”those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.” More important, is that coming out will open the door to a whole new life and friendships and people who you cannot even imagine right now. People like you.
Tip 5: It’s ok to be scared. Everyone is. Any big changes in life always come with a degree of uncertainty and that can be scary. Being scared is a natural reaction to leaping into the unknown. That is what this guide is for, to help to make the unknown a bit less scary.
Tip 6: If you have any unresolved anxieties which may or may not relate to your sexuality, think about obtaining counselling before coming out. Some people may have unresolved issues, other than their sexuality, which is causing them additional anxieties and possibly depression. If this sounds like you, try and arrange for counselling to help you overcome or understand any wider issues first, so that you are more confident when coming out. This will make the experience easier. Your GP or local health care centre will be able to arrange this for you. Alternatively your local LGBT group should be able to signpost you to a counsellor.
Tip 7: You don’t have to come out. While many people find coming out a great relief and a weight off their shoulders, some don’t want to come out, seeing their sexuality as their own private business. It really is up to you. You should only come out when you feel confident and comfortable doing so.
Tip 8: Your personal safety should come first. Some LGBT people have a very difficult time coming out, as they are located in areas or are part of a community which has yet to understand about LGBT issues and may even be very homophobic. If coming out is likely to put your life or wellbeing in danger, then you should not do so yet. You may need more help from LGBT support groups who understand your particular needs before doing anything else. There are support groups for people from all kinds of religious faiths, or cultural backgrounds who have experience of dealing with the difficulties of particular groups. You can find these usually through google or your local LGBT group.
Tip 9: The time to come out, is when YOU are ready. Everyone should come out in their own time. You may feel under pressure to tell those close to you that you are gay, lesbian or bisexual before you are ready. Don’t. Coming out is about you and no one else. If you start to think about pleasing others you will lose sight of what is really important – your happiness. Focus on yourself and what’s important to you. That will ultimately make those you’re close to, happier as well.
Preparing For Coming Out
Ok, so assuming that you have reached the point of accepting who you are, and that you want to start the coming out process, are there any things you can do before you take the leap, to make things easier? Of course there are!
Tip 10: Read about other people’s coming out experiences. There are many online resources which can be helpful, and may give you ideas and encouragement. It helps to know that other people have experienced what you are feeling and have come through it ok. Some websites to try are www.RUComingout.com which contains hundreds of coming out stories. There are also online forums where you can chat to other people who are or have come out, where you can talk anonymously. This can be a very powerful help if you have felt unable to talk to anyone about your sexuality before — try www.Emptyclosets.com.
Tip 11: Connect with the LGBT community. Some people come out first, before venturing into the LGBT world. That’s ok if it works for you, but remember, you don’t need anyone’s permission to be you. Connecting with the LGBT community first, will allow you access to support groups and for you to make friends who can give you emotional support during this time. You don’t have to go through this alone. Check online if there is a local LGBT group, who can be a great first point of contact to other services to help you. Icebreakers Manchester is a group which gives support to people before, during and after coming out. You will likely find that connecting with the community for some time before coming out, will make you more confident, since you know you have a support network behind you. Also spending time around other LGBT people, will help you to feel more at peace with yourself and helps take away the fear of coming out.
Tip 12: Coming out is a really positive experience. It feels so liberating to be able to be authentic with family, friends and colleagues. You can also be a positive role model to others around you who may be considering coming out.
Tip 13: Coming out is easier if you are self dependent. This tip may not affect everyone, but if you are dependent on someone say for housing, who you think may react really badly, then it might be better to wait until you are self dependent before coming out to them.
Tip 14: Come out before you come out. Some people hide their sexuality so well, that when they do come out to someone, who had absolutely no idea, the reaction is likely to be more animated, even though the person may have no issues with it. It helps therefore, to drop a few hints and clues along the way in the months beforehand, so that these people already have an idea, before you tell them. That way you are just confirming what they already know or suspect, rather than telling them something different to what they assume about your sexuality. These can be simple things like showing that you have a positive attitude to LGBT issues and watching the gay character storylines on TV. Liking LGBT stories on Facebook and simple things like that can help give people a few gentle hints in advance.
Tip 15: Join your university or workplace LGBT group. If they have one, consider joining. This can be an easy way to make some new friends and allies, and to obtain support and access to information. Some students use this as a way of starting to come out when they first join their university.
Starting To Come Out
Tip 16: Pick the right time. There are times when coming out can be more difficult because other events are putting pressure on the person you want to come out to, and you won’t have their full attention. Some more difficult times to come out might be; your Mum’s birthday party, seasonal holidays, or if your family or friends are going through a difficult emotional time themselves. Try waiting until after the event, when things are more calm.
Tip 17: Coming out to new people is easier than to people you already know. This is because new people don’t have pre-conceived ideas about who you are, and also you haven’t invested anything yet in their friendships. Facing a rejection from someone new won’t matter so much as rejection from a lifelong friend. Use this thought when starting new things in your life, like a new job, university etc. It is much easier to be open at the beginning, than allowing people to form ideas about who you are and then coming out to them later.
Tip 18: Don’t Label yourself if you don’t want to. Some closeted people find it hard to say the word gay or lesbian and it becomes a very emotive word for them. If this sounds like you, then think about another way you can tell people, that works for you, like, “I’m not into girls, I like guys.”
Tip 19: Tell one person to begin with. When the time feels right for you, start by telling one person, someone who you trust the most. As soon as you have told them, things will seem so much easier, like a weight off your shoulders. You will also now have someone who you can ask for advice about coming out to others.
Tip 20: Coming out is a process not an event. Coming out is not a one off event. It is really a process which can last months or even years. It is not a race and you should take whatever time feels right for you and perhaps think about coming out in phases to different people in your life over time. Each time you come out, you will feel much more confident afterwards.
Tip 21: Allow for people to be shocked. If you followed tip 14, people should already have some idea before you tell them. However be prepared that some people might be shocked to learn that you are gay or lesbian. This isn’t necessarily a negative reaction, just a reflection that you are telling them something they didn’t know. Remember that it probably took you some time to come to terms with your sexuality, and it may take parents some time to process the information, and that’s ok. Give them time and be sensitive to their feelings too.
Tip 22: Prepare to be underwhelmed. You may spend so much time worrying about negative or angry reactions, that when you do come out, the positive reactions you get and even the indifferent ones, may leave you feeling somewhat underwhelmed and wondering what you were worrying about! Most of the fears and anxieties are in our own heads. Also people you come out to may have figured things out long ago, and were just waiting for you to tell them.
Tip 23: Don’t pin everything on the first reaction. There will be people you tell, who do not react in the way you expected or even don’t react at all. That’s ok. Maybe you’re the first person who ever came out to them. Maybe they don’t know any other LGBT people. Maybe they have other issues going on in their own life. Perhaps they don’t know what to say, so they say nothing. Also if the person wasn’t expecting you to come out and had no idea that you were gay or lesbian, their initial reaction will likely be surprise or shock. Surprise or shock does not mean disapproval. They won’t be thinking about how to react to the news or how to show their support. They will be trying to process the information, so don’t pin everything on their first split second reaction. Don’t be over sensitive to the initial reaction or lack of reaction. Some people need time to process. First reactions are not final reactions, so give people time.
Tip 24: Stay in control of the news. If you want to come out to people one at a time, then it can be important to stay in control of the news, so that close friends or family don’t get to find out from someone else first. If this is how you want to do things, then let people know when you come out to them, that you don’t want the news to get around until you have had a chance to come out to some other people first.
Tip 25: You don’t have to come out to everyone. You are not obliged to come out to anyone that you don’t want to. Most LGBT people start off by coming out to close family, close friends and close work colleagues. These are the most important people in our lives. You don’t have to tell everyone else personally, unless you really want to. After you start coming out, word starts to get around by itself.
Tip 26: Partially out or fully out? Once people have come out to those closest to them, the urge or need to come out tends to lessen for most people. It is quite common for LGBT people to remain partially out after this, sometimes for quite some time. However it is entirely up to you who you want to come out to and in what timescale. Usually LGBT people go from partially to fully out when they get into a long term relationship, and want their partner to be part of their whole life.
Tip 27: Other ways to come out. If you feel confident enough that you want to dive straight in the water, and do a mass come out, technology can help here. Some people post a message about their sexuality on their facebook page. Alternatively you could post a rainbow flag as your picture or feeds about the local pride parade or news feeds and likes that show that you are LGBT friendly. It’s entirely up to you, after all this is your moment and you are in charge. If you feel you can’t tell someone face to face, like a parent, consider writing them a letter if that helps.
Tip 28: Be prepared for questions. Once you break the news, some people will ask you questions. Some will ask “are you sure you’re gay,” or even “how do you know!” Reassure them that you are certain of who you are. Parents and close friends are usually just concerned that you are not putting yourself in any danger. It will help to reassure them that you have friends to go out with or that you have joined an LGBT social group etc. Think about some of the questions you might get asked and be prepared for them. Some people might ask “do you think so and so is gay.” Don’t speculate or gossip about other people. If they are gay or lesbian, they will come out in their own time. If you aren’t ready for questions, then tell them. You will have plenty of time in the future to disclose anything that you choose to.
Tip 29: There is help available for parents who struggle with the news. Some parents may struggle to understand how to process the information that their child is gay, lesbian or bi. They may have spent years imagining your heterosexual wedding and grandchildren etc, and have mentally plotted out a life for you. They will need time to adjust to a new reality. They may have lots of questions and also want reassurance themselves, that they are doing and saying the right things. It can help, in such a situation, to direct them to a website such as being gay is ok. This has a section of advice for parents of LGBT people. There may be other online support they can seek advice from, and there are also books available to help them. Point them in these directions if you think it will help.
Tip 30: Some people may act a bit differently around you at first. Sometimes after you have come out, some people who are still processing the information, may seem a bit more physically or emotionally distant than before. This isn’t rejection. It is just them processing the information. It can help to remind them that you haven’t changed, but rather they just know a bit more about you. Things usually settle back down after a short time, once they have processed the information.
Tip 31: Prejudiced people. Some people can be very prejudice about all kinds of issues, when they think those issues don’t concern them. It is only when those people realise that an issue does concern them, or someone close to them, that they confront their own prejudices. This can happen with LGBT issues. Finding out they have a lesbian daughter or a best friend who is gay, can be a real shock to them. However it is their problem to deal with their own prejudices. These types of people may start off with a negative reaction and may even disappear from your life for a while. In most cases it is usually the catalyst for a change of opinions, and these people may later return as a supporter. Sometimes a prejudiced person will not change their opinions and may leave your life for good. Whilst this is sad, it is better to have people in your life who support you and are a positive influence on you.
Tip 32: What if I get rejected? Some people do have negative experiences and may face rejection by a close friend or family member. If you feel a family member, say, is homophobic or may reject you, it is better to come out first to people who you feel will support you. Also you can get support from many LGBT groups or online forums. Then take some time to let your confidence build before thinking about how or if to tell them. If you do get rejected by someone, don’t keep it to yourself, talk about it with the people that support you. Sympathy is a great healer. They can also give you some perspective on the situation and may also be able to talk with the person. There is support available from LGBT groups if you find yourself feeling lost or alone.
Tip 33: Prepare for some different types of reactions. There are a few different reactions that you will likely get when coming out, and it may help to think about how you might react to them in advance. Remember that for the person you are coming out to, this could be a new experience for them too. Sometimes in these circumstances, some people may say something dumb. Try not to be overly sensitive to their first response if it is rather dumb. It’s all new for them too.
Tip 34: Friends might try to send you on a date. Friends might try to match you with another gay friend of theirs, simply because you are both gay. Don’t feel under pressure to go along with other people’s ideas, if they are not what you want. After just coming out, you will probably not be ready to start dating anyway. Take the time you need to find out about YOU, without other people trying to decide what is best or appropriate for you. You have spent enough time conforming to what other people think. Now it’s time for you to finally be you and to live your life, and do what you want.
Tip 35: Don’t let others keep you closeted. When you start to come out, you may find that someone you come out to, tries to convince you that you are not gay and may even advise you not tell anyone else. This can happen more if you haven’t fully accepted it yourself, as you may be giving out vibes of uncertainty. This is why it’s better not to come out unless you have accepted your sexuality yourself. However well meaning this person may think they are, it really isn’t helpful and you should not let them push you back into the closet, if you are ready to come out.
Tip 36: Don’t force others to come out. You may know people whom you suspect are also gay or lesbian. However you should not try and force them to come out. They will do so when the time is right for them, and that time might not be now. Instead just try and be someone who they can feel comfortable around, and in their own time they may just come out to you.
Tip 37: Start living! Well you made it this far, it’s time for you to start living YOUR life and be the person you were always meant to be, without the restrictions of the closet. Remember though to have your safety net of friends and support in case things don’t go exactly as hoped. Make new friends, network, but remember it’s not a race, so walk, don’t run!
Icebreakers is a mutual support group for gay and bisexual men who are coming out, feeling isolated or new to the Manchester area and wish to build friendships. For more information, see the Icebreakers website or Twitter feed: @Icebreakers_MCR
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