Coming out of the closet, or simply coming out, is a metaphor for LGBT people’s self-disclosure of their sexual orientation or of their gender identity. (Wikipedia)
Those of you who know me may be having a bit of a laugh at this topic, as you will know that I have had to come out three times in my life, due to retreating back into the closet at certain points, for years at a time.
I first came out (by accident) when I was 16 years old, then at age 18, I hopped back in the closet, because it seemed “easier” at the time. I came out again when I was 21, this time until I was in my mid-twenties. My final time coming out was less than a year ago, and I’m now 29 years old, still out, proud, and loud. Now I hope to share my advice based on my experiences in the hope that others who read it won’t have to repeat my mistakes.
Being re-closeted was so painful for me (both times), so if I can help anyone avoid going through that, I’d like to do so. Also, my first two times coming out didn’t exactly go particularly well, because I wasn’t prepared and it just kind of happened accidentally, so the shit hit in the proverbial fan both times.
Sometimes, coming out is a breeze. If you’re surrounded by a loving support system who accept you exactly as you are, no matter what, you may not feel that you need any of these tips. Nevertheless, for others, coming out can be a bit more complex. This advice is really aimed at those who believe they may encounter problems when coming out.
1. Don’t rush it
This might seem to contradict the popular notion that we all need to be out and proud as soon as possible, but if it’s not safe for you to come out – don’t. If it’s a choice between coming out or putting ourselves in danger, whether it’s from potential violence, being made homeless, or losing our employment, then just wait. Make other arrangements first to keep yourself safe, whether it’s sorting out alternative shelter or moving jobs, and so on. I’m not saying hide it forever. I’m saying make sure you’re safe before rushing into it. It can’t hurt to have a backup plan. If you’re not prepared, you may find yourself in a dangerous situation, or in a situation where you are forced back into the closet for your own safety.
2. Be selective
You don’t have to tell everyone. You don’t owe it to every person in your life to tell them about this. It’s completely your choice who you tell, so don’t feel like you have to explain yourself to your militantly homophobic cousin if you don’t want to. Your life doesn’t have to be a protest if you don’t want it to be.
3. Be realistic
Unfortunately, we still live in a world where coming out can and does result in negative reactions, so it’s important that you go into it with realistic expectations. That’s not to say that people won’t pleasantly surprise us, but it’s very possible that if someone in your life has been consistently and openly bigoted, they may not react well to your announcement. Having said that, don’t go into it assuming the worst in everyone. There is someone I came out to who used to be not *maliciously* homophobic, but they would make thoughtless homophobic jokes, and since I came out they have completely changed their attitude, not only towards me but towards their entire perspective of the LGBTQ+ community, and how their language and behaviour affects others. So it’s just a case of managing your expectations realistically, then anything else is a bonus.
4. Tell the easiest ones first
If you’ve got a friend or family member who is openly accepting and supportive, tell them first. I know “they” tend to say get the hard stuff out of the way first, but in this case it is a hell of a lot easier to deal with negativity and homophobia if you already have a solid support system behind you, rather than facing it alone and convincing yourself that everyone is going to react the same negative way. If you have a friend who is an ally, tell them first. They will then have your back when you’re dealing with telling others who might not take it so well.
5. Be proud of yourself
Coming out can be really difficult. Whether you choose to tell people, or keep it to yourself, be proud of yourself for who you are as a person. Deciding not to come out does not make you weak, and it doesn’t make you any less valid. No one but you knows your situation, so ignore the haters and remember that you are a badass. Also, if you do get a negative reaction, it may not be that that is final, and with some time and thought, that person may well come around. Bigotry often comes from ignorance, so when someone they love comes out as gay and they start to see that LGBTQ+ people are just “normal”, everyday people, not the aliens they originally thought, their attitudes can quickly change. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, some people will never accept you. It’s a horrible, unfortunate fact, but it doesn’t make you or anything about you being LGBTQ+ wrong. You are who you are, and you are valid.
If you’re worried about coming out or any other LGBTQ+ issues, I’ve left some links to services that can help and support you at the bottom of this post.
Do you have any other concerns about coming out that I didn’t mention? If you’re already out, what was your experience like? Are there things you would do differently if you had the chance? Let me know in the comments.
- The Proud Trust
- LGBT Foundation
- The Terrence Higgins Trust
- The Trevor Project