Everyone needs to come out at their own time, or as I prefer to call it, let others in. When you do decide to let other people know of your sexual or gender identity, you may find that it feels overwhelming.
Most likely, you’ll also experience a lot of relief. While it can be challenging, it’s a great feeling to able to share your true self with those that you love.
Common Responses to Coming Out
Whether your parents are super tolerant or very conservative, coming out can be tough to do.
Luckily, many people have gone through this before you (myself included) and there are a few common types of responses for which you should be prepared, including but not limited to anger, denial, confusion, or ideally, love and support.
In a recent Twitter poll that I conducted that received 398 responses, the following results were collected.
Question for #LGBTQ+ people: When you came out to your parents, what was their immediate reaction? 🏳️🌈
(Please reshare if possible….my goal is share these insights with younger generations of our community. Thank you! 🙏🏽)
*Comments with details welcome too.
— Cade Hildreth | LGBTQ+ (@CadeHildreth) February 7, 2020
Thankfully, “Loving and Supportive” was the most common response at 33% of respondents, but when you combine the other responses, that also means that approximately 67% (2 out of 3) parents reacted with some element of anger, denial or confusion.
With this in mind, I would encourage you to read the comments in order to anticipate a diverse range of responses and learn from those who have walked this path before you.
Top Tips for Coming Out
Based on the reality that coming out is a powerful yet frequently difficult process, here are our top 11 tips for coming out when the time feels right to you.
1. Ask Yourself If You’re Ready
Even if you think you’re ready, you might feel a little unsure. Remember: there is no rush to come out. It’s on your time, no one else’s. Try asking yourself these questions to find if you’re actually ready or if you need some more time:
- Would I like to come out right now?
- Is it a safe thing to do?
- Do I have support if I came out now?
- What’s the worst case that could happen?
- What’s the best case that could happen?
2. Find Support
The biggest step is often telling the first person. However, if you’re able to confide in a friend, teacher, or family member, having support can make a world of difference.
You can talk through ideas with this person to make sure you are safe when you come out to others. You never know how someone might react when you tell them.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to have someone supportive with you to stand by your side.
Personally, I came out to my sister as gay a few days before I told my parents. She was super supportive and loving and that gave me the courage to talk to my parents next.
If you don’t have anyone in person who can be of support, you might want to look online.
There are hundreds of safe, online communities, blogs, and videos. You’re bound to find someone who has gone through this before you and who can help with any questions.
3. You’ll Find Protection at School
Every school has a legal obligation to protect its students. Most schools offer training for teachers and staff so they can handle homophobic situations.
Most schools also have their own student groups where LGBTQ students can meet.
You shouldn’t feel pressured to join these groups, but they might be a good source of support.
There also may be openly LGBTQ+ teachers at your school who you could talk to. If this is the case, these educators can be a good source of support.
4. Test The Waters
If you’re unsure how someone will react, you can bring up a similar topic with that person first.
Mention an ad you saw. A link to a news article. Maybe even ask if they’ve seen a show that addresses LGBTQ+ or transgender issues.
By bringing up a similar topic, you can gauge their reaction.
This will give you a little insight into how a conversation may go. If it goes well, it may give you the confidence to come out sooner.
5. You Aren’t Necessarily the Stereotype
When gay characters first appeared in the media, the stereotypes were strong. Men were effeminate and women were masculine. There are still people who believe you can’t be gay unless you fall into these categories.
The truth is, being a lesbian, gay, or bi doesn’t define you. If you fit into these stereotypes, that’s ok. If you don’t, that’s okay, too.
Discovering your sexuality is a part of finding yourself. And that doesn’t have to fit in the media’s stereotypical box.
6. Stay Positive
When you decide to come out, there will be anxieties and fears. It might be easy to let those take over your experience.
However, keep a positive foot forward. Coming out means being yourself. It means no more hiding a part of yourself.
Putting those thoughts forward will help you come out to your loved ones.
Before you come out to people you love, consider listening to empowering music, writing yourself a note or exercising. These activities will prime your system to feel (and project) confidence.
7. Allow People to be Shocked
Yes, you want your friends and family to be sensitive to your feelings. You should also be sensitive to theirs. Pick a calm time to tell those you love.
Others might be shocked about you coming out. That’s okay.
They may need some time to process. Allow them to do that and hopefully, they’ll expand the same respect to you.
The reason to allow for this reaction is that the human brain has a region called the amygdala, whose job is to detect fear and prepare for emergency events.
Why is this significant?
It’s significant because people in your life may have a hyperbolic response to the news of you coming out that they will calm down about afterward. Usually, they will calm down when their prefrontal cortex, a more rational part of the brain, is able to take back over.
Sometimes called “amygdala hijacking,” this phenomenon happens when a person has a strong emotional reaction which is inappropriate in relationship to what actually happened.
It’s alright if your loved ones temporary process your coming out with their amygdala (aka, the fear and emotion center). They also have other more rational parts of their brain that will take back over if you allow them a bit of time to process the news.
8. Coming Out by Writing a Letter
It might feel extra daunting to come out to your friends and family in person. You don’t have total control over the situation.
You might want to try writing a letter to tell them, instead.
You can always follow up with them in a phone call or in-person later. It’ll give them time to process the news and give you more control.
It will also let you say everything you want to say without the risk of being interrupted or shut down.
9. How You Come Out is Your Choice
It’s important to think about how you want to come out.
No one else should deliver the news for you unless that’s how you specifically want it to go.
Calling your friends on the phone, visiting them in person, or writing a letter are all valid options.
Keep in mind, some options offer more privacy than others. If you don’t want everyone to know at once, then don’t come out over social media.
10. Some People Have Negative Experiences with Coming Out
Not everyone has a support network they can rely on. Sometimes family members or friends aren’t able to process the news in a positive way.
This is why it’s important for you to make the decision about coming out all on your own. It’s also important to ensure you have a safety net, if at all possible. If nothing else, you can find support online if things don’t go as planned.
A few resources you might want to explore are listed below:
- PFLAG’s Support Hotline: https://pflag.org/hotlines
- The TrevorLifeLine by The Trevor Project: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/ (866-488-7386)
- LGBT National Hotline: https://www.glbthotline.org/ (888-843-4564)
11. Give People Time
Finally, you might be comfortable with your sexuality now, but it probably took you a while to get there. The people you will come out to won’t have that time to adjust. You will get their immediate reactions.
Sometimes, it’s positive. Sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes, it’s a complete shock.
Your family and friends will probably have questions.
Be prepared to answer them to the best of your ability, and if need be, give them their own time to get comfortable with the news.
Coming Out Will Change Your Life
Whenever and however you decide to come out, it will be life-changing. Obviously, coming out isn’t the same experience for everyone. Keep in mind, you decide to come out for you, no one else.
Once you do, you’ll be able to live your life as fully you. There is nothing better than that.
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