Every year on National Coming Out day I see beautiful stories shared on social media about coming out and how wonderful it can be. While I agree that coming out is (ultimately) an amazing experience, I still know that it is extremely difficult for many LGBTQ+ people to do it. I receive many messages throughout the year from people on the fence – young and old – and hope that my page and posts help them better navigate the queer experience. Thinking back to my own reluctance to come out (I did so officially when I was about 23), the eternal pragmatist in me decided to make a list. This National Coming Out Day, I provide 7 practical considerations for people who are terrified about coming out:
1. Do it for you. There is no special day or age that makes coming out a more easy or pleasant experience. Only you will know when it feels right and true to yourself, and do not let others put pressure on your choice. Being outed or forced to come out can be very traumatic, and the whole experience is much easier when you are in control of your feelings and choices.
2. It is not an “all or nothing” choice. One thing that continued to hold me back was the idea that “once I say I’m gay, I can never change my mind and will forever be labeled gay.” I felt like if I came out as bisexual, people wouldn’t believe me and just think I was afraid to fully commit. But the truth is, sexuality is a spectrum and one person’s experience with it can shift (or not) over time. I fully consider it coming out to say, “hey, I have these feelings and I am figuring them out and I don’t want to be labeled.” All this to say, there are many options out there and as long as you are being true to your current feelings, they are all valid.
3. Be smart about it. I often hear from people in a position where coming out will get them immediately disowned from their family or subject them to some type of abuse. While I fully support coming out, I think people in these scenarios should take some steps to be able to protect and provide for themselves in the event of this type of horrible backlash. Think about friends or family you can stay with, whether or not you can begin to provide for yourself with a job, and local organizations who may be able to assist you. Sometimes, a little planning can make things less miserable if it is at all within your control.
4. Stop worrying about how everyone will react. Parents, friends, family, colleagues. Coming out may be a shock to one or many of these people, but you are doing it for you and not them. Some people in your life will need time to process your decision, and may react negatively but ultimately come around. It can sometimes be shocking or hard to believe for people, so just know that an initial reaction is not always a forever reaction. Also, many people (especially good friends) are likely to react more positively then you imagine. If you have people in your life who really love you, most of them will be there to support you.
5. You. Are. Going. To. Feel. So. Good. It’s going to feel impossible to do sometimes, but once you get it over with, you are going to feel so free. We often hold this as a burden on ourselves for years, and it’s amazing to stop caring what others will think when they find out. Once everyone knows, your sexuality (or gender identity) can no longer be used against you. It’s an exciting new phase of your life and you’ll make new friends and ultimately form even stronger bonds with old friends and family that support you.
6. There’s no one way to come out. Whether in person, by phone, or even by e-mail and DM (yes I did), you can get your point across. It shouldn’t be your burden to get on a stage and announce your personal business to people. It’s already ridiculous that you have to come out but it’s more for you than anyone else. Unfortunately, in a heteronormative society, it is something we just have to do if we want to get it off of our minds.
7. Do not let LGBTQ+ stereotypes hold you back from joining the bunch. I remember being hesitant to come out because I didn’t have any LGBTQ+ role models or felt like I wouldn’t belong. There is no defining trait, behavior, or interest that makes anyone LGBTQ+. We are all different people with different personalities and passions and if anything, need more different people to come out so the world can realize we’re as varied as any other group.
I hope these considerations resonate with those of you already out, and help the others of you who are considering it. Happy National Coming Out Day!
– Lex, Esq.