COMING OUT

For gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, coming out is one of the most important and unifying life experiences that we all share. Coming out is a lifelong process of understanding and accepting your sexual orientation or identity.

Even though being gay doesn’t fully define you as a human being, coming to terms with the fact that you are “different” can bring up many confusing and isolating feelings. Coming out to yourself can be the most challenging aspect of the process, especially if you feel any anger, resentment or guilt about your sexuality. A huge part of overcoming those negative feelings is realizing that your own fear and homophobia is coming from learned societal prejudices and the hurtful, anti-gay rhetoric that you’ve been exposed to for most of your life.  LGBT people are, often from a very young age, forced to come to terms with what it means to be different in a world that assumes everyone is straight and often judges people’s differences in a negative way.

Everyone’s coming out story is unique, and that’s because the process happens in different ways, at different ages, for different people. Coming out to yourself and feeling good about who you are will result in the release of your true self-expression, a much more positive sense of self and more healthy and honest relationships with your loved ones.

Who you tell first is up to you. One of the best reasons to come out to your family is to become more honest with them and thus build closer bonds. Coming out to your family can be stressful, but it is also a challenging time for your family members. You may feel that you aren’t able to answer all their questions or deal with all of their issues. It is unfair that after our struggle to come out to ourselves, we then have to worry about coming out to our friends and family and deal with their emotions (and sometimes totally ignorant and unsupportive feedback). But friends and family often need time to learn what it means to be a good ally, and the behavioral nuances that help us to feel supported, heard, and fully accepted, unfortunately don’t always come naturally to people. For this reason, groups like the Human Rights Commission and PFLAG have developed many excellent educational resources for parents and friends of LGBTQ people. It is the responsibility of a good ally to educate themself, but it can be very helpful to point friends and family in the direction or good support and information.

There are lots of resources available for people who want to come out as well. You may want to do some reading or you may already know exactly what you want to say and how to approach it. As this article is only a brief introduction to the issue, we invite you to check out our recommended reading list at the end of the article, where you will find in depth information regarding many important elements of the process such as religion, family, internalized homophobia, how to find support groups.

In conclusion, we humbly offer this one bit of concrete advice and leave the rest of the research to you.

When you decide to come out as LGBTQ, remember that you don’t owe anyone an apology. You are who you are, you have no choice, and that is beautiful. Our friends and families often cannot hide their ignorance, fear or disappointment, and as a result many LGBTQ people are embarrassed, unclear and uncomfortable while coming out. However unavoidable these feelings may be, the impression they leave often has an undesired effect. Instead of softening the news, it can lead your friends and family feel as though you are unsure and shameful. As a result, you may not get the respect you deserve and it can delay their acceptance of your coming out. Stay proud, and strong, and clear. When you truly love and believe in yourself, others will follow.

In Communities of Color

People of color often face additional challenges when coming out. Below is an excerpt from The Human Rights Campaign Foundation ‘Resource Guide to Coming Out For African Americans,”  hrc.org.

Coming out can be one of the most challenging events in your life, but also one of the most rewarding. Being attracted to someone of the same sex or understanding that your gender identity is different from your biological sex can be frightening. Some African Americans feel pressure to prioritize their different identities. “Perhaps the most maddening question anyone can ask me is, ‘Which do you put first: being black or being a woman, being black or being gay?’” wrote Barbara Smith, in her essay, “Blacks and Gays Healing the Great Divide,” “The underlying assumption is that I should prioritize one of my identities because one of them is actually more important than the rest or that I must arbitrarily choose one of them over the others for the sake of acceptance in one particular community.” Certainly being LGBT in addition to being a person of color makes life more challenging. You will be required to develop the courage to honor your own experience of love and self-identification above anyone else’s judgments about it. But you can do it. And, when you are ready, you can take the next step — you can come out.

For many African Americans, coming out involves additional cultural factors that make the process more challenging but no less rewarding. It includes having to deal with homophobic churches, strong family foundations that emphasize heterosexuality, homophobia in the black community and racism in the broader LGBT community. However, thanks to brave LGBT African-American activists and their allies working toward change in the church and the community, there is more support and acceptance than ever before.

“The black family unit is a very strong one,” says Sean Carmago, former senior adviser on diversity and communities of color at PFLAG. “In a world where racism is still far too prevalent, the family is a haven, a stronghold of support.” For many, there is no place in this fortress of strength for a “weakness,” as homosexuality is often viewed. Parents sometimes think that having a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender child is detrimental and damaging to the black family and will negatively affect the whole African American community. As the late African-American lesbian author Audre Lorde described it: “Within black communities where racism is a living reality, differences among us often seem dangerous and suspect. The need for unity is often misnamed as a need for homogeneity.” (Sister Outsider: Essays and Poems.) Despite the challenges that coming out in the black family presents, many LGBT African Americans choose to share their orientation or identity with their relatives. Being honest with your family is an important step in getting all parts of your life to fit together.

Coming Out As Transgender

While there are many similarities in the coming out processes for transgender people and LGB people, coming out as transgender has its own unique set of challenges and complexities. Contemporary societies generally do not instill us with the freedom or openness to consider that we might have a gender identity that is not congruent with our biological sex, or to embrace that we may desire to express our gender in ways that are not typically associated with our assigned gender. This often leads to confusion and fear, while a lack of information and transgender visibility compounds the feeling of isolation.. Transgender people have many things to consider when choosing to come out, and may find that their state of outness is layered and specific, according to factors like  the process of their transition, personal safety, and their personal feelings about where they fit on the spectrum of gender.

For more information, check out the excellent resources at transequality.org, as well as ‘The Transgender Visibility Guide’ and ‘Transgender Americans: A Handbook For Understanding” at hrc.org

PFLAG

Human Rights Campaign resources

a great coming out guide from GLSEN

National Center for Transgender Equality