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What is Coming Out?

  • by Jamie Skylark

Coming out is when a person accepts and appreciates their sexual orientation or gender identity and shares it with others. It is a lifelong process. An individual may be "out" to important people in their life, but may also continually “come out” to new people such as medical providers, new friends and co-workers.

Why come out? Risks & Benefits?

Coming out is a process that involves considering both internal and external factors. Sometimes, coming out results in joy, happiness, and relief, while other times it can be met with pain, misunderstanding, and hardship.

Members of the LGBTQ+ population "come out" in many different ways to many different groups, and the coming out process will look different for each individual. Important to note is that coming out is a continual process. As LGBTQ+ people enter new environments and meet new people, they are put in a position where they may have to "come out" again. This is because the LGBTQ+ population is an "invisible minority," meaning that you cannot recognize LGBTQ+ individuals by the way they look. 

Coming out can be a liberating experience for LGBTQ+ people. It can give LGBTQ+ people a sense of autonomy and affirmation around their identity. However, you do not have to come out if you don't want to. Deciding not to come out does not diminish an LGBTQ+ person's identity. 

Some Risks

  • Not everyone will be understanding or accepting.
  • Some relationships with friends, family members, or co-workers may be permanently changed in negative ways, and you could end up losing some of this support system.
  • Individuals under the age of 18 may be thrown out of their homes or lose financial support.
  • Students may lose their financial support for school from their parent/guardian.
  • An individual may experience harassment or discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. In many cases this harassment or discrimination has no legal protection, therefore an
  • LGBTQ individual may be terminated from their job, denied housing, or denied insurance.

Some Benefits

  • Individuals will have the ability to live their lives openly.
  • Individuals may build up their self-esteem by being honest with themselves.
  • Individuals may develop closer, more genuine relationships with new friends and family.
  • Some relationships may be changed permanently in positive ways.
  • Individuals may be able to connect more with individuals who identify as part of the LGBTQ population and become a part of the community.
  • Individuals may alleviate the stress associated with "hiding" their identity or living their life "in the closet."
  • After coming out an individual may be able to change the common misconceptions about the LGBTQ population simply by speaking out and being open with others. The best way to change an individual's mind is through a personal relationship.

Coming out: Issues & Concerns

The previous section discussed the risks and benefits associated with disclosing one's sexual orientation or gender identity with others or coming out, this section breaks down some further reasons an individual may choose to or not choose to come out.

What might people who are a member of the LGBTQ population be afraid of when coming out?

  • Rejection: loss of relationships with friends and/or family
  • Gossip: rumors spread about their sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Loss of spiritual foundation: rejection from their church, mosque, temple, etc.
  • Being thrown out of the house or of the family
  • Loss of financial support
  • Harassment or abuse
  • Threat of physical violence
  • Discrimination
  • Loss of employment or discrimination by their employer
  • Questions surrounding their personal or professional integrity
  • Questions surrounding their intimate relationships and their health (both mental and physical)
  • Being seen by others as sick, immoral, perverted, anti-family, or sinful

How might people who are members of the LGBTQ population feel about coming out to someone?

  • Scared
  • Vulnerable
  • Unsure of how others will react
  • Relieved
  • Proud

What might people who are members of the LGBTQ population want from others when they come out?

  • Acceptance
  • Support
  • Understanding
  • Comfort
  • Reassurance that their relationships has not changed in a negative manner
  • Closer relationships to friends and/or family
  • Acknowledgement of their feelings
  • Understanding and compassion for their coming out process
  • Love

When someone comes out to you

If an individual chooses to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to you it is important that you take some time to review your own feelings, prejudices, and hetero/cis-normative ideals. The coming out process can be difficult for surrounding individuals in a similar way as it is for the individual coming out.

How might someone feel after someone else comes out to them?

  • Scared
  • Shocked
  • Disbelief
  • Uncomfortable
  • Not sure what to say or do
  • Concern for them
  • Supportive Feelings
  • Flattered
  • Honored
  • Angry
  • Disgusted
  • Feeling that they are coming on to you

How You Can Help Someone Who Comes Out to You

  • Remember that the person has not changed. They are still the same person who you knew before; you just have more information about them than you previously had.
  • If you are shocked, don't let the shock lead you to view the person as suddenly different.
  • Don't ask questions that would have been considered rude within the relationship you had before they disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Recognize that everyone's experience is unique and don't assume you know what a LGBTQ individual is going through.
  • Remember that they may not want or need you to do anything. Often it is simply affirming for the individual to disclose this personal information.
  • Consider it an honor that they have trusted you with this very personal information. Thank them for trusting you.
  • Clarify with them what level of confidentiality they expect from you. You never want to share this personal information with others without their consent.
  • If you don't understand something or have questions, remember that persons who are LGBTQ are often willing to help you understand more. But remember they are not experts of ALL LGBTQ people. If you want to learn more, utilize your resources not the person coming out.
  • If you find yourself reacting negatively, remember that your feelings may change. Try to leave the door open for further communication.
  • Remember that you too are never alone and that there is a network of Safe Zone members here to support both you and the person who came out.
  • If you would like more information, ask in an honest and respectful way. If you show genuine and respectful interest in their life, they will most likely appreciate it. Some good questions are:
    • How long have you been aware that you are LGBTQ?
    • How is being LGBTQ for you?
    • Is there some way I can help you?

What NOT to Say

  • You're just going through a phase.
  • It's just because you have never had a relationship with someone of a different gender than your own. 
  • You can't be LGBTQ; you've had relationships with someone of a different gender than your own. 
  • When will you get the surgery?
  • You can't be LGBTQ, you're too pretty.
  • You can't be LGBTQ you're to masculine/feminine.
  • You're just depressed.
  • You're just confused.
  • You need some therapy and it will all be better
  • You just need to go to church and they will fix you.
  • Do you really want to be LGBTQ?
  • When did you choose to be LGBTQ?
  • You will get AIDS.
  • It's not normal.
  • Do you like to wear women's/men's clothing all the time?
  • How do you know you're LGBT?
  • Have you had sex with someone of the same gender yet?
  • Make sure you take some condoms with you
  • Which genders do you like better?
  • It's about time you came out; I always knew you were LGBTQ!
  • I love LGBTQ people!
  • Some of my best friends are LGBTQ

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