Disclaimer: In this article, for the sake of simplicity and consistency, we will be using the term “queer” as an umbrella term to represent all gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, questioning, and other non-heterosexual orientations. If you would like to learn more, you can read our Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity article. If you need resources or support, you can visit our Support Groups and Organizations page, as well as our Resources page.
Some gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people choose to keep their sexual orientation/identity a secret, while others choose to reveal their orientation to friends, family, and the public. Coming out and identifying as a member of the LGBTQ community is not a one-time experience, but instead, it is a lifelong journey. No two people’s coming out processes are the same.3 Each person who is coming out should remember their experience may be unique. The act of coming out can be liberating for many individuals. It can help a queer individual take charge of their identity and to have the freedom to live their preferred lifestyle.
What is Coming Out?
The process of publicizing one’s sexual orientation is often referred to as “coming out of the closet,” or simply “coming out.” Coming out can include: a first same-sex sexual encounter, the personal acceptance of identifying at LGBTQ, or the revealing of one’s sexual orientation to others.1 The process of coming out is important for queer individuals because it a pivotal step of self-identity and self-acceptance.2 As coming out is a personal decision, individuals who come out should do so in their own time. After coming out, a queer individual will hopefully feel more confident and can live a more open life.
The process of coming out can be stressful. Not knowing how people will react can cause significant worries. Family and friends may not initially understand what the queer person has been through. However, there are steps that a person can take to help make the process of coming out as comfortable and smooth as possible. Coming out may be difficult for some, but it can also be a rewarding experience. Successfully coming out can help an individual who identifies as LGBTQ live a more open and honest life.
Who is Your Audience?
One of the first things an individual should think about when coming out is who they are coming out to. Some people choose to first tell close family members, including parents and siblings because it can be easier to rely on familial love and support. Others choose to come out to trusted and intimate friends, hoping they will be understanding and compassionate and support the discloser’s decision. However, every experience is different, and one should tailor how they come out to what is most comfortable. It is not easy to predict how a person will react to a coming out. For some individuals, the people around them are very accepting, but unfortunately, others receive negative reactions to their coming out even from their loved ones. The first time an individual is coming out to another person can be critical to whether or not they continue the process. Because an LGBTQ individual may not be truly comfortable unless they are living openly, deciding whom to come out to is an important decision that should be made carefully.
What Situation to Come Out In?
The next aspect of coming out that should be considered is in what situation or environment to do it. Sometimes one’s family and friends may not be the best people to tell due to personal or religious beliefs. In these situations, the home may not be the best environment to first come out. People in this situation may choose to only come out at work because they are worried their family is not going to have a tolerant attitude. Other times someone might only come out to family because they do not want to risk discrimination at work, school, social spheres, etc. For those who do not feel comfortable coming out to family, friends, or co-workers, support groups are a great option.
Resources and Support Groups
There are many resources available for individuals who are going through the process of coming out. The following is a list of links provided by the CDC for LGBQT youth and friends:7
- Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Teens: Facts for Teens and Their Parents
- Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN): Student Action
- Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Network
- It Gets Better Project
- StopBullying.gov: Information for LGBT Youth
- The Trevor Project: Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention
Below is a list of mental health organization:8
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
- The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association
- The Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists
Below is a list of resources for online queer support groups:8
Organizations such as the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) have fought for the rights of LGBTQ individuals and are a great resource for individuals faced with discrimination. The ACLU continues to fight to make sure that the LGBTQ community can live openly while enjoying the freedom of expression, personal autonomy, and the equals rights as every other citizen in the United States.10 These resources are put together to help anyone struggling with coming out or those who feel they are being treated unfairly because of who they are.
Timing is critical and can ease the process of coming out. In certain situations, such as when the individual has a very conservative family, timing can have a large effect on the process of coming out. For example, if the person is financially reliant on their family, they may choose to wait until they are financially independent before coming out to their family.4 A study from Britain showed that for individuals over the age of 60, the average age of coming out was 37 years old. For the individuals in their 30s, the average age of coming out was 21 years, and for the group aged 18 to 24 the average of coming out was 17 years old.5
Reasons for Coming Out
Deciding to come out is often a life-changing decision. The following is a list of reasons people choose to come out:6
· They want to date openly, and they want everyone close to them to be aware of who they date.
· They are tired of gossip and want people to stop making assumptions about them.
· The use of stereotypes and negative labels are frequent, and the person wants them to stop.
· They feel like they are living a deceiving life, and want to be accepted for who they are.
Reasons Not to Come Out
The process of coming out can be stressful and has the ability of causing dramatic changes in an individual’s life. The following are some reasons people choose not to come out:6
· They are not certain about their sexual orientation and want more time to discover who they are.
· They believe that sexual orientation or gender are private topics, and do not feel the need to discuss theirs publicly.
· They are worried about what might happen if people find out, and they do not want to be bullied, harassed, and discriminated against.
· They are unsure of how their family will react, and are scared of the negative consequences.
It is important for someone who is coming out to remember that they have a right to their own body, mind, and sexuality. Queer individuals have the freedom to express their sexual identity just like everyone else. This right cannot be taken away by anyone, even if other people dislike this new disclosure. People who are receiving this “new” information may not always handle the news well: some may react with support and love while others may react with anger, denial, or disappointment. A person who is coming out should never feel isolated, because they are not alone in their struggle. There are many support groups and hotlines that can help a person through tough situations. Certain support groups and hotlines may suggest that the individual see a therapist or counselor for professional support. However, someone coming out should be comfortable telling supportive loved ones. Of course, sometimes it might not be “news” to the loved ones. Parents may have expected their child is gay or bisexual and have been waiting to feel comfortable enough to come tell them personally. No matter the circumstances, queer individuals who choose to come out will ideally be met with open arms from loved ones. Although this might not always be the case, there are many national organizations and LGBTQ allies who will continue fighting for the equality of this community.
It is important to keep in mind that a queer individual should only come out if they are comfortable. While it may be difficult, the experience may be positive and life-changing. Everyone comes out in a different manner, and there is no right or wrong way to come out. However, it may be helpful to control whom they tell and when they come out. Coming out may be one of the most liberating experiences for a queer individual.9 By coming out, an individual is joining the LGBQT community which immediately brings them an entire system of support from all members of the community.
1. Tamashiro, Dustin. "Coming Out." GLBTQ (2015): 1-5. Web.
2. Watson, Rob. "Nine things NOT to do when you come out of the closet." N.p., 11 Oct. 2013. Web.
3."Explore: Coming Out." Human Rights Campaign. Human Rights Campaing, 2017. Web.
4."Coming Out." KidsHealth. Ed. D'Arcy Lyness. The Nemours Foundation, July 2015. Web.
5.Williams, Rachel. "People coming out as gay at younger age, research shows." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 15 Nov. 2010. Web.
6.Couse, Loren. "How to Come Out of the Closet." MQ – The Best for Men. N.p., 8 June 2016. Web.
7."LGBT Youth Resources." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 Oct. 2015. Web.
8.Tracy, Natasha. "Gay Support: Where to Find LGBT Help and Support Groups." HealthyPlace. N.p., n.d. Web.
9."BBC Radio 1 – BBC Advice – Coming Out." BBC News. BBC, 2017. Web.
10. "LGBT Rights." American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., 2017. Web.
Last Updated: 11 March 2017.