The Coming Out Process
What is Coming “Out”?
Coming out (of the closet) is a life-long process which begins when an LGBT person recognizes his/her own feelings and shares those feelings with one other person. Since people in this world tend to assume a person is straight, LGBT people are put in the position of deciding who they would like to inform of their sexual preference.
What Stages Are Involved in Coming Out?
The first step in the coming out process is moving toward a recognition and acceptance of one’s own sexual preference. Gaining support from other LGBT people is another important part of the process. For some, their first same-gender, sexual experience represents a profoundly important part of the coming out process. Others have acted upon their feelings long before they clearly identified themselves as LGBT. Other important parts of coming out include first visits to queer bars, organizations, and religious groups, all of which can serve as important supports for LGBT people. Lastly, coming out involves telling non-LGBT people, including friends, co-workers, and family members.
Why Come Out?
Coming out serves a number of important functions:
- It can help LGBT people feel more positive about themselves.
- It can help an LGBT person gain more support.
- It can make friendships closer by sharing such an important part of one’s life.
- It can free a gay person from the “hiding game” – living a double life – one gay, one straight – which is very energy draining.
Being honest with significant others in their lives can be a very enriching experience for LGBT people.
Suggestions for Coming Out
- Be clear about your own feelings about being gay. If you feel comfortable with your sexual preference, those to whom you come out will be aided in their acceptance of you.
- Timing can be very important. Be aware of health, mood, priorities, and problems of the folks to whom you’d like to come out.
- Never use coming out as a weapon. Coming out is a fit you give to another person which communicates you care enough to share a significant part of your life with them.
- It’s a good idea to start by talking about your caring/love for the other person so he/she understands you are coming out to him/her for positive reasons, i.e. to enrich your relationship.
- Try to be prepared for negative reactions, such as surprise, anger, or hurt. Try not to react angrily or defensively. If you can accept a person’s true feelings, even if they are negative, you communicate a message that you care. Remember, you probably had similar negative feelings (homophobia) at first – it took you time to work through them – so give your friends and family time.
- If you do receive negative reactions, keep the door open to further communication. Offer the person opportunities to talk further to learn more about LGBT lifestyle. Remember, people with negative feelings often know very little about the truth of living an LGBT lifestyle. Help them re-examine their stereotypes.
- Be sure you are well-informed about homosexuality. There are lots of positive gay books you can read.
- It may help to introduce your friends/family to your LGBT friends – to help them realize LGBT people are people!
- Remember your own self-worth is not dependent on acceptance from others. Get support from your friends if you do experience rejection.
- Remember, it is your decision who to come out to. You don’t need to come out to everyone – only those people with whom you want to share your sexuality.
- Coming out is a risk – you do not know who the person may tell. You certainly have the right to ask the person not to share your sexuality with others. Tell them you’d prefer to share this personal part of your life with others when you feel ready.
- You may want to ask a friend/counselor to role-play with you – get feedback on how you come across, verbally and non-verbally.