What does “coming out” mean?
The term “coming out” is used by many people and means something different to everyone. “Coming out” often means telling others you’re attracted to people of the same sex, identifying yourself as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, or telling others that you identify yourself as transgender, or deciding to tell others about your feelings and attractions.
Once a person begins to understand and learn more about his or her feelings and attractions, that person can start to feel comfortable with sexuality. For some people, understanding and accepting feelings and attractions is simple and straightforward; for others, it can be difficult. For everyone, gay or straight, accepting and understanding, sexuality is a learning experience.
You might feel comfortable going through this learning process by yourself, or you might want to draw on the experiences of other people. You might want to meet other gay, lesbian or bisexual people for friendship, support or a more intimate relationship. Organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) have local chapters where you can find support from people who have gone through the same things that you’re experiencing now.
Some young people are able to tell family and friends. You might want to tell someone you trust that you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. This might be a close friend or family member whom you trust will be understanding and supportive. You might not feel able to tell people about your feelings right now, and you might feel like you have to keep your sexuality a secret. Remember that deciding whom to come out to and when to come out is completely up to you. The most important thing is that you are honest with yourself.
Unfortunately, people in our society discriminate and are even violent toward people who are perceived as different. However, cultural attitudes about sexuality are slowly changing for the better and are positive in many places. There are also many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy groups that are working to make things better for everyone.
No matter the reason, whether you are at school, work or just hanging out, harassment and abuse—whether verbal or physical—should not be tolerated. Sometimes it’s easier to ignore people who try to hassle you, but factors like your safety and well-being need to be considered. You have the right to feel and be safe. And remember: You are not responsible for other people’s attitudes.
Here are some actions you can take if you’re being harassed:
- Tell friends you trust;
- Report the harassment to someone in authority, like a teacher, boss, or if necessary, the police.
Being harassed or fearing that someone could give you a hard time can be isolating and at times terrifying. You don’t need to deal with it on your own. Talk to someone you trust. This could be a support group or a counselor, or one of the trained volunteers who staff the National GLBT Hotline at 1-888-THE-GLNH (843-4564), the National GLBT Youth Talkline at 1-800-246-7743, or the Trevor helpline at 1-866-488-7386.
Reactions to coming out
Each person that you come out to will probably react differently. Some people will have no problem with your sexuality and be happy for you. Some might have suspected and were just waiting for you to tell them. For others, your sexuality will challenge their feelings toward you. They might be worried, angry or confused, or they might feel responsible. They might also be uncomfortable with what you just told them.
For those people who take your news a little harder, try to give them some time and space. When people are told that someone close to them is gay, lesbian, or bisexual, they might feel shock, denial or guilt at first. Remember that you have probably given your sexuality a lot of thought, but it might be new to the people closest to you. They’re working through the same feelings that you did, but you’re ahead of them in the process. Give them time.
You might want the people around you to understand and grasp this important part of your life right away and give you support. But you might need to give them time to express their own feelings. Try to be patient.
You might also need to explain things a few times. Just because you’ve said something once does not mean others have heard or fully understood it. After they’ve digested the information, they might be ready to ask questions, listen to answers and acknowledge their feelings.
It can be hurtful and difficult if your family or friends reject you because of your sexuality. Try to remember that by sharing your sexuality, you’re sharing an important part of yourself. If people choose to ignore this part of you, they are missing out on knowing who you are. Hold onto who you are. Hold onto the fact that you are a special individual. There are people who will support you.
If you’re having a hard time coming out to the people closest to you, it might be helpful to talk to someone outside of the situation, like a counselor. It might even be helpful to talk to a complete stranger. You can call the above mentioned hotlines - the National GLBT hotline at 1-888-843-4564, the National GLBT talkline at 1-800-246-7743, or the Trevor helpline at 1-866-488-7386 to speak anonymously with a trained volunteer.
How do I know this?
For more information
GLBT National Resource Database
National GLBT Talkline (1-800-246-7743)
National GLBT Hotline (1-888-843-4564)
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
The National Day of Silence (brings attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools).
National Coalition for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Youth
Youth Resource, a website by and for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people
PFLAG, Parents, families, and friends of lesbians and gays
Last reviewed: Mar 13, 2013