“Coming Out” is a term to describe the process of and the extent to which one identifies oneself as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. There are two parts to this process: coming out to oneself and coming out to others. Recognition of one’s own sexual identity and working toward self-acceptance are the first steps in coming out and developing a positive understanding of one’s orientation. It includes the realization that one is LGBTQ, accepting that fact, and then deciding what to do about it. Focusing on the positive aspects about being LGBTQ as opposed to the discrimination, fears, and myths in our society is necessary for self-acceptance.
One safe means of beginning to come out to oneself is through reading about how others have dealt with similar issues. Hundreds of publications are available on all facets of LGBTQ life, from clinical studies to collections of “coming out” stories. Additionally, there are many wonderful films and documentaries about LGBTQ people.
After spending some time getting in touch with one’s own feelings, the next step often is coming out to others, an experience unique to lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender people. The decision to come out to another person involves disclosing one’s sexual side, which is for the most part viewed as being a private matter. Some are afraid of being rejected, but others worry that their sexual identity will be the overriding focus in future interactions with the other person. However, coming out does not always result in negative consequences. It can develop a sense of relief and a sense of closeness. Other issues to consider are the extent of one’s revelation (should everyone know or should disclosure be selective?), the timing of it, and anticipated consequences.
It is usually advisable to come out first to those most likely to be supportive. Other LGBTQ people become a potential natural support system. Within the LGBTQ community, there are a number of helpful resources, some of which are included in the Resources section.
The decision to come out is personal. Taking control of this process includes being aware in advance of potential ramifications and developing a support system to deal with them.
Coming out to parents is particularly an important, and sometimes stressful, event. Some questions students may consider before coming out to parents:
- Are you sure about your sexual orientation or comfortable talking about any uncertainty you may have?
Be prepared for the question, “Are you sure?” If you are not sure, you may want to think about how you will respond to this question.
- Are you comfortable with your sexual orientation?
If you’re wrestling with guilt and periods of depression, you may be better off waiting to tell your parents. Coming out to them may require tremendous energy on your part; it will require a reserve of positive self-image.
- Do you have support?
In the event that your parents’ have a negative reaction, there should be someone or a group that you can confidently turn to for emotional support and strength. Maintaining your sense of self-worth is critical.
- Are you knowledgeable about gayness?
Your parents may respond based on a lifetime of information from a homophobic and heterosexist society. If you’ve done some serious reading on the subject, you’ll be able to assist them by sharing reliable information and research.
- What’s the emotional climate at home?
If you have the choice of when to tell, consider the timing. Choose a time when they’re not dealing with such matters as the death of a close friend, pending surgery, or the loss of a job.
- Can you be patient?
Your parents may require time to deal with this information if they haven’t considered it prior to your sharing. The process may last from six months to two years. Remember, it took time for you to accept it yourself, and you’ve already had more time to think about it. It may take them time to get comfortable with it too.
- What’s your motive for coming out now?
Hopefully, it is because you love them and you want to have an open, honest relationship. Coming out in anger or during an argument can make communication and acceptance more difficult.
- Do you have available resources?
Sexual orientation is a subject about which most non-LGBTQ people know little. Have available at least one of the following: a book addressed to parents, a contact for the local or national Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays (PFLAG), or the name of a non-LGBTQ counselor who can deal fairly and supportively with the issue.
- Are you financially dependent on your parents?
If you suspect they are capable of withdrawing college finances or forcing you out of the house, you may choose to wait until they do not have this control over your life.
- What is your general relationship with your parents?
If you’ve gotten along well and have always known their love – and shared your love for them in return – chances are they’ll be able to deal with the issue in a positive way.
- What is their moral societal view?
If they tend to see social issues in clear terms of good/bad or holy/sinful, you may anticipate that they will have serious problems dealing with your sexuality. If, however, they’re evidenced a degree of flexibility when dealing with other changing societal matters, you may be able to anticipate a willingness to work this through with you.
- Is this your decision?
Not everyone should come out to their parents. Don’t be pressured into it if you’re not sure you’ll be better off by doing so – no matter what their response.