For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals, coming out is a process of understanding, accepting, and valuing one’s sexual orientation/identity. Coming out includes both exploring one’s identity and sharing that identity with others. It also involves coping with societal responses and attitudes toward LGBTQ people. LGBTQ individuals are forced to come to terms with what it means to be different in a society that tends to assume everyone to be heterosexual and that tends to judge differences from the norm in negative ways. The coming out process is very personal. This process happens in different ways and occurs at different ages for different people. Some people are aware of their sexual identity at an early age; others arrive at this awareness only after many years. Coming out is a continuing, sometimes lifelong, process.
While some anxiety related to sexuality is common among college students, the problems facing LGBTQ people are often more difficult than those facing others. Because positive role models are often difficult to identify, LGBTQ people may feel alone and unsure of their own sexual identities. Fear of rejection is greater among LGBTQ people due to the prejudices in society against them.
In coming out to others, consider the following:
- 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. Do not forget that it took time for you to come to terms with your sexuality, and that it is important to give others the time they need.
- Have friends lined up to talk with you later about what happened.
- Don’t give up hope if you don’t initially get the reaction you wanted. Due to prejudices, some people need more time than others to come to terms with what they have heard.
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, that’s not your fault. Keep in mind that this initial refusal may get reversed once the individual gets used to the idea that you are LGBTQ. If time does not seem to change the individual’s attitude toward you, then you may want to re-evaluate your relationship and its importance to you. 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 orientation, and in no case is another person’s rejection evidence of your lack of worth or value.
The decision to come out is always personal. Whether to come out and, if so, when, where, how, and to whom are all questions you must answer for yourself. 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. Coming out is one way of affirming your dignity and the dignity of other LGBTQ people. Remember that you are not alone; there is a viable LGBTQ community waiting to be explored, and more heterosexual “allies” are willing to offer their support than you might have first imagined.
Now That You Know. Betty Fairchild & Robert Leighton. New York, NY. Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich, 1989.
Beyond Acceptance. Carolyn Welch Griffin, Marina J. Wirth & Arthur G. Wirth. New York, NY. St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
Straight Parents/Gay Children. Robert A. Bernstein. New York, NY. Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1995.
(Information from: LGBT Ally Training Manual by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Ally Network)