If you’re reading this then you’re likely thinking pretty seriously about coming out in your life. Welcome! You may be feeling nervous, scared and perhaps also excited? 

We tend to talk about ‘coming out’ as if it’s a singular event, yet it’s a series of occurrences, repeated throughout a lifetime, each time assessed for emotional and physical safety. This is due to societal norms around gender, sexuality and relationships which privilege certain experiences (e.g. heterosexuality) as the norm.  As a result there is the assumption that people are heterosexual or cisgender (for example) unless they say otherwise. This can put a lot of pressure on those who are gender, sexual or relationship diverse to either ‘put up’ with incorrect assumptions about who they are (which is psychologically harmful) or to ‘come out’. Maybe this is something you can relate to?

Let’s unpack the idea of ‘coming out’ for a moment. The narrative of coming out and ideas around ‘being in the closet’ often imply that someone is lying or hiding information from others. There is an assumption that others deserve to know. This idea can be very dangerous, indeed it has been used in attempts to justify violence against LGBTQ+ people, particularly trans people.  Yet, all of us have the right to privacy around our gender and sexuality and do not need to justify or explain our self-experience. It’s also very important for us to recognise that coming out is simply not an option for some people (due to cultural considerations) and can place some people at great risk of harm. I recently enjoyed Karamo Brown (Queer Eye, Series 6) sharing his thoughts on coming out, noting he prefers to think of it as an ‘inviting in’. Noting it is our choice if and who we decide to tell, and that it is privilege (and not a given) for the other person to be let in.   

Yet coming out can provide a huge relief for people and is a means to an end. Maybe you are socially (and perhaps medically) transitioning and you need others to know your authentic gender identity and gender you correctly. Maybe you are tired of feeling like your life is on hold and you’re exhausted pretending to be someone you’re not. You want to go out and live your best queer life, and hey, why shouldn’t you?

This doesn’t mean you need to come out to everyone in your life, but you’ll want to be open with some key people. Not being able to be open about who we are can cause great mental conflict and distress-and it certainly gets in the way of forming deep connections with others. Something we humans really need in order to survive.  In fact, a common positive that people tend to report when coming out is feeling more connected to their feelings and feeling able to form healthier, more rewarding relationships with others.  Of course, coming out isn’t easy and doesn’t always result in the outcome we hope for-that’s why it can feel so scary. 

Here are some tips when coming out:

Remember you don’t have to go it alone-Identify Support

In fact it really is important that you don’t go it alone. 

Identify someone in your life who you trust. Perhaps you’re confident that this person is ‘queer/poly/kink friendly’ or experience this person as kind, open minded and understanding. Coming out to this person may not only provide relief but also support you in going on to disclose to others.  It can useful to think of a snowball, the more you build your support network the bigger the snowball gets thus increasing its resilience when it meets grit (resistance) in the road. 

Many people find talking things through with a counsellor who is welcoming of gender, sexuality and relationship diversity particularly helpful. It can be a safe space to explore your hopes and fears around coming out and to discuss your options. The therapeutic relationship can also provide ongoing support and help you to process challenging feelings that may emerge. For instance, people can find feelings of grief and sadness emerge when coming out later in life. It can also be rewarding to share positive experiences with your counsellor! 

Social and support groups can be a wonderful space to meet similar others and make new connections. Many people enjoy the practical and emotional support that such groups can bring and find there is often nothing quite likes someone who ‘get’s it’.  You can find these groups in most cities, for instance in Leeds we have a wealth of thriving social groups including Lesbian Socials, Non-Binary Leeds, Trans Leeds, Yorkshire O.P.E.N. These groups tend to have confidentiality guidelines in place so you can safely attend knowing this is kept private. 

Attending groups is of course challenging for many people due to chronic health and some disability related issues, work and family commitments and mental health challenges such as social anxiety or being isolated rurally. This can feel very isolating.  During lockdown spaces have emerged online and improved accessibility-hopefully these will continue. 

Take the time you need

Coming out/disclosing can feel urgent yet it’s important to take the time you need. Taking time allows to clarify your thoughts and feelings and to prepare psychologically for speaking to others; it also allows you to be more in control of your narrative.

Consider how you want to come out

The method you use to come out may depend of various factors such as the closeness of the relationship and the physical distance. It may be that you come out face to face to a parent (again, depending on depth and distance) and then online to your community (if this feels safe). Feeling like you need to come out to a lot of people at once can feel overwhelming. Many people find it helpful to enlist close family support when coming out to extended family and some people find printing resources off to give to family can be helpful. Everyone’s experience is unique so talking through with a counsellor what feels right for you can be really helpful. 

There can sometimes be particular fears around coming out to elder members of the family, it can be useful to remember that while we have more visibility today, gender, sexual and relationship diverse (GSRD) people are certainly not a new phenomena! Many older people have known GSRD people personally in their own lives and may even be GSRD themselves. People can often be pleasantly surprised by others responses.  

It’s vital to remember that while we may have known who we are for a long time, to others this will come as some surprise and may take some adjustment time. This certainly does not mean you have to put up with bad behaviour but it’s important to remember that many unhelpful initial reactions improve with time.

If you are coming out face to face you may find it helpful to write down what you want to say first, this can be helpful if you expect to struggle to say what you need to due to the high emotion of the situation. It can also help to ask people to wait until you have finished speaking before asking questions. As coming out can be emotionally demanding it’s important to think about how you can debrief and unwind after speaking to others. 

Some people prefer e-mail or letter due to the lack of interruption, it’s important to consider though that there is little control over when the person may read it and what mood they may be in at the time. Some people find flagging up that something important is coming (in the post or e-mail) is useful. Waiting on a response may also feel very anxiety producing and some people find arranging a follow up video/phone call eases this somewhat. 

Coming out on social media is a great way to tell lots of people at once but it can be harder to control someone you don’t want to know finding out. In addition, close relationships can be strained by this method due to the lack of personal touch.  

It can feel very different to come out as a something other than gay or lesbian due to less general awareness and understanding. For instance when coming out as non-binary, bi/pan sexual or polyamorous, due to societal norms that focus on binary understandings and harmful stereotypes. Responses can be invalidating and hurtful due to this lack of understanding. 

If you are living with someone you are coming out to it’s good to have a back up option in case it doesn’t go as hoped-for instance staying with a friend for a bit. You may like to prepare an overnight bag with essential items in. 

Finally, it’s helpful to have a reliable friend/partner on hand when coming out to others so you have comfort and reassurance as even a good response can feel overwhelming. 

Remember your journey is individual

In coming out we tend to encounter the expectations from others around our disclosure for instance how we should express our sexuality or gender (e.g. in traditionally feminine ways). It’s important to hold onto who you are as an individual and what feels right for you. How you personally experience and express your gender, sexuality and relationships is always valid. 

When we use terms to describe our gender, sexual or relationship diversity, others may assume a meaning that is different from the one we feel-even if they also use this term! Recognise what it uniquely means to you and that you don’t have to fit into anyone else’s definition. 

Know you always have a right to privacy

Some people do not understand the weight of coming out and may not treat the information you share with the respect it deserves. It’s often good to remind others that you are sharing a confidence and the importance of discretion. Remember you always have the right to privacy and control over coming out-it is valid to feel hurt and frightened if someone has disclosed your information without your consent. 

Familiarise yourself with your rights

Know that you have the right to respect and fair treatment. Organisations such as Stonewall, LGBT Foundation, GIRES, Action for Trans Health can help you to get familiar with your rights. This can be really helpful when coming out at work or accessing your GP and gender identity clinics. 

Access resources

Books. There is a wealth of books out there often written by LGBTQ+ authors for those who are gender, sexual and/or relationship diverse.  Indeed, the last few years has seen an exciting explosion of publications of trans binary and non binary authors. While many books highlight the new knowledge around gender, others offer a practical guide and support to coming out. For people coming out later in life it can be particularly rewarding to read about the long and rich history of queer and trans lives and liberation.  There is also some wonderful fiction that’s emerged over recent years.  

Social Media-a positive aspect is the increased visibility and opportunities to see and connect with someone of a similar gender and/or sexuality. Perhaps connect with someone of the same or similar background in terms of heritage. Whether it’s feeling inspired by following someone on Instagram or Twitter, or watching a guidance video from someone on Youtube.

Remember your strengths

Everyone’s journey is unique and valid. Start from where you are. You are now on your way and you don’t have to do it all alone. There will be companions along your journey to help you though-counselling can be one of them. Consider talking it through with a counsellor who is experienced in supporting round gender, sexuality and relationship diversity.

Finally, people vary in their experiences of coming out-while some people’s journeys are smooth, others encounter challenging obstacles. Remember your resilience and the support you have in your life. Remember to acknowledge and celebrate each step forward as small steps reach big destinations.

Image Credit
By craft_ear. Licensed under Creative Commons