Coming Out to Your Friends and Family
To “come out” is to publicly declare one's identity, sometimes to one person in conversation, sometimes to a group, or in a public setting. Coming out can be difficult for some because reactions vary from complete acceptance and support to disapproval, rejection and violence. Coming out and living openly aren’t something you do once, or even for one year. It’s a journey that we make every single day of our lives. And it’s a life-long process; in each new situation a person must decide whether or not to come out.
Coming out can be one of the hardest things someone can do. If you identify as GLBTQ or are questioning your sexual orientation or gender identity, you may struggle when deciding whether to come out to your friends and family. Telling your loved ones can definitely have its rewards – sharing such important, personal information about yourself can strengthen your relationship with them and may even deepen their trust in you. But it’s not always easy and some family and friends react poorly.
It is important to remember that you shouldn’t feel pressured or scared to come out or stay in the closet. Everybody’s story is different; always listen to yourself. You know what is right for you!
Questions to Ask Yourself
Are you well informed about GLBTQ issues?
The reactions of others may be based on misinformation, and in some cases, even negative portrayals of GLBTQ people. If you’ve done some reading on the subject, you’ll be prepared to respond their concerns and questions with reliable and accurate information.
Are you comfortable with your sexuality or gender identity?
Coming out may require tremendous energy on your part; it will require a reserve of positive self-image. If you’re wrestling with guilt and periods of depression, you may be better off waiting.
Do you know what it is you want to say?
You may also want to try writing out what you want to say, to help organize and express your thoughts clearly. Particularly at the beginning of the coming out process, many people are still answering tough questions for themselves and are not ready to identify as being GLBTQ. That’s ok. Maybe you just want to tell someone that you’re attracted to a person of the same sex, or that you feel your true gender does not align with cultural gender norms based on the sex you were assigned at birth. Labels aren’t important; your feelings are.
Do you have support?
In case your parents’ or friends’ reaction isn't what you hoped for or expected, there should be someone or a group that you can confidently turn to for emotional support and strength. Maintaining your sense of self-worth is critical.
What’s the emotional climate at home or school?
If you have the choice of when to tell, consider the timing. Choose a time when your family isn’t dealing with extremely stressful stuff like the death of a close relative, a pending surgery, the loss of a job or home. And consider your safety at school – are you being bullied, are you in an important year for your grades, do you have an ally in the faculty or administration? Your emotional and physical safety is always important.
Can you be patient?
Your parents or friends may require time to deal with this information if they haven’t considered it prior to your sharing. The process may last from a few months to years. Everyone is different.
What’s your motive for coming out now?
Hopefully, it is because you love them and are uncomfortable with hiding an important part of yourself. Never come out in anger or during an argument, using your identity as a weapon. It will be harder to get support later.
Are you financially dependent on your parents?
If you suspect they are capable of withdrawing college finances or forcing you out of the house, you may choose to wait until they do not have these things to hold over you.
Is this your decision?
Not everyone should come out to their parents. Don’t be pressured into it if you’re not sure you’ll be better off by doing so – no matter what their response may be.
Coming Out Benefits
- Living an open and whole life
- Developing closer, more genuine relationships
- Building self-esteem from being known and loved for who we really are
- Reducing the stress of hiding our identity
- Connecting with others that identify as GLBTQ
- Being part of a strong and vibrant community
- Helping to dispel myths and stereotypes about GLBTQ people and what our lives are like
- Becoming a role model for others
- Making it easier for younger GLBTQ people who will follow in our footsteps
Coming Out Risks
- Not everyone will be understanding or accepting
- Family and friends may be shocked, confused or even hostile
- Some relationships may permanently change
- You may experience harassment or discrimination
- Your physical safety may be at risk
- Some young people, especially those under age 18, may be thrown out of their homes or lose financial support from their parents
If you or someone you know has been thrown out or is at risk for homelessness, Project SAFE -safe accommodations for everyone- can help! You don't have to figure it out alone, contact Landon Woolston, Homeless Service Liaison, for support.