Coming Out

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For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people, coming out is a process of understanding, accepting, and valuing your sexual orientation/identity. Coming out includes both exploring your identity and sharing that identity with others.

It also involves coping with societal responses and attitudes toward LGBTQ people. While there has been a great deal of progress in advancing rights for LGBTQ individuals, U.S. society can still be geared toward the assumption that everyone is heterosexual and fits within the gender binary. The coming out process is very personal and happens in different ways and occurs at different ages for different people. Some people are aware of their gender and sexual identities at an early age; others arrive at this awareness only after many years. Coming out is a continuing, sometimes lifelong, process. You may sometimes feel alone and unsure of your sexual identities, but building a support network of people who support and understand you can help you become more comfortable with yourself.

Coming Out to Yourself

Recognizing your gender identification and/or sexual attractions and working toward self-acceptance are the first steps in coming out. It helps to think of sexual orientation and gender identity as a continuum rather than fixed points. Exploring your sexual and gender identities may include determining where you presently fit along that continuum.

Concerning self-acceptance, it can be helpful to seek out positive, well-adjusted, and comfortable role models among LGBTQ people. Building on the positive does not mean that you pretend that our society is past its discrimination, fears, and negative myths concerning LGBTQ people, or that these things do not have any effects on LGBTQ people. However, you should realize that these negative aspects of how some see LGBTQ people is in no way reflective on your worth as a person. Part of developing a positive sense of self is understanding that your negative thoughts about who you are usually are the result of anti-LGBTQ biases that you’ve been exposed to for much of your life.

There are many things to think about when considering coming out. Positive outcomes may be increased self-esteem, greater honesty in relationships, and a sense of greater personal integrity. Also, there is often a sense of relief and less tension when you stop trying to deny or hide such an important part of your life. Coming out can lead to increased freedom of self-expression, positive sense of self, and more healthy and honest relationships.

One safe way of beginning to come out to yourself is through reading about how others have dealt with similar issues. There are many books and websites available on all facets of LGBTQ life, from clinical studies on LGBTQ people to collections of coming out stories.

Coming Out to Others

After spending some time getting in touch with your own feelings, the next step is to come out to others. It’s usually advisable to come out first to those who are most likely to be supportive. LGBTQ people are a potential natural support system because they have experienced some of the steps in the process of coming out. Sharing experiences about being gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or queer can help you decrease feelings of isolation and shame.

Also, coming out to other LGBTQ people can help you build a community of people who can then support and assist you in coming out to others in your life. Many LGBTQ organizations offer a number of helpful resources, including local coming out support groups, social events, and political or cultural activities.Coming out to other LGBTQ people doesn’t need to happen quickly. Also, choosing to come out doesn’t mean you have to conform to real or imagined expectations of the LGBTQ community. What’s most important is that you follow your own path that feels comfortable to you. Take things at your own pace, be honest with yourself, and invest the time to discover who you really are.

It can feel difficult to come out to those who don’t identify as part of the LGBTQ community. While discrimination is much less of an issue today than in the past, there is still a potential risk of judgment and negative outcomes. When considering whether to come out to someone, always remember that you’re in charge—trust your instincts to determine if it’s safe and in your best interest to share this part of your identity with others. While some people in your life may initially be shocked or upset when you come out to them, others who’ve done this have determined the benefits of being open and authentic outweigh possible negative consequences.

Coming out is more likely to be a positive experience when you’re secure in your identity and less dependent on what others think. It can take time to get to a place where you feel confident enough to not look to others for approval, and you may have setbacks along the way. 

Things to Consider When Coming Out to Others

  • Think about what you want to say and choose the time and place carefully.
  • Be aware of what the other person is going through. The best time for you might not be the best time for someone else.
  • Present yourself honestly and remind the other person that you are the same individual you were yesterday.
  • Be prepared for an initially negative reaction from some people. Don’t forget that it took time for you to come to terms with your identity, and it’s important to give others time to process.
  • Have friends lined up to talk with you later about what happened.

Above all, be careful not to let your self-esteem depend entirely on the approval of others. If a person rejects you and refuses to try to work on acceptance, it’s not your fault. Remember that you have the right to be who you are, you have the right to be out and open about all important aspects of your identity including your sexual and gender identities, and someone’s rejection isn’t an indication of your worth or value.

The decision to come out is personal. Taking control of this process includes being aware in advance of potential ramifications so that you can act positively rather than defensively. 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. Remember that you are not alone and that there are many people who support you.

Want to know more?

Trans Lifeline (1-877-565-8860) is completely staffed by trans people ready to provide support and resources to members of the trans community through free phone consultation.

Human Rights Campaign (hrc.org) is aimed at advocating for the respect and equality of the LGBTQ community and provides many resources to LGBTQ individuals and allies.

National Center for Trans Equality (transequality.org) serves to educate the public about trans issues and advocate for equality for the trans community.

PFLAG (pflag.org) is an organization that serves parents, family members, and friends of LGBTQ identified persons, providing them support, education, and resources.

Campus Pride (campuspride.org) aims to promote equality for LGBTQ students on college campus as well as support and resources.

Trans Student Educational Resources, or TSER (transstudent.org) is working to transform the educational environment for trans identified students.

Courage (couragerc.org) is a national Christian-Catholic support network with local chapters for LGB identified individuals and allies. Their website contains information, resources, and support; they also host a national conference. T

he Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender National Hotline(1-888-843-4564) provides free and confidential support over phone and online at glbthotline.org.

Check to see if there are unique resources available to you within your home community.

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