This article mentions: queerphobia, being outed
Coming out can seem like a complicated process, but that doesn’t mean it has to be! It’s probably easiest to start with the basics – what exactly is ‘coming out’? Coming out can mean something different to each and every person! Generally though, it means the process that LGBTQ+ people go through to understand and accept their sexual orientation and gender identity.
There’s usually two parts to this: first is coming out to yourself, which can come in a slow process of questioning and experimenting with labels. For some it can also involve breaking down internalised homophobia before they can truly accept themselves. For others, coming out to yourself can happen in a ‘lightbulb moment’!
The second part of coming out involves coming out to others as LGBTQ+ - this is usually the part that most people find the hardest, but hopefully this FAQ will help with some of those worries and difficulties!
How might coming out help me?
If you’re LGBTQ+, there are loads of benefits to coming out to people you trust! Here’s just a few...
Finding a community
Coming out makes it easier to find and meet other people in the LGBTQ+ community who’ve shared the same experiences as you, which can be a really amazing support system, especially when it comes to needing help or advice with LGBTQ+-specific issues.
Healthier communication and relationships
When you come out, you allow yourself to be more honest with yourself and others. You open yourself to the care and love of the people you come out to, and they can support you even better when they understand more about who you are and what’s important to you.
Confidence and self-esteem
If you feel like you have to hide an important part of yourself by staying ‘in the closet’, then coming out might open a door to helping you express yourself in a way that’s truer to who you are, with less worries and barriers getting in the way.
Coming out can make it easier to experiment with different labels, and see if things feel right when people use new pronouns to refer to you, or identify you as a certain label.
Overcoming your fears!
Once you’ve come out, even though you might still face hard times, you’ll also be able to enjoy all the great things that do come with being out!
When should I come out?
Overall, the average age for coming out is decreasing, especially among the younger generations. Millennials are coming out around 4-5 years sooner than previous generations, and that number will likely rise even more with Gen Z. There's no such thing as being ‘too old’ or ‘too young’ to come out!
That being said, coming out can still be really scary, and it’s important to only come out when you feel ready and comfortable. Other people, like friends or partners, may push you to come out sooner than you are ready - it's easy to feel this pressure, but be sure to always prioritise your needs and your safety.
Also remember that coming out is a process, and you don’t have to do everything all at once! For example, maybe you came out as asexual, but you’re not ready to come out as biromantic yet. Maybe you you’re absolutely certain you’re a lesbian, but you’re still questioning whether you’re non-binary. That’s okay, and it’s important not to rush yourself into anything before you feel ready!
Who should I come out to?
It may help make your first time coming out a more positive experience if you confide in someone you trust a lot - this could be:
- A close friend
- A family member
- A youth worker or teacher
- A counsellor
- Someone you know who has already come out as LGBTQ+
Whoever you decide to tell first, it should be someone who will respect your privacy and not tell other people before you’re ready.
It can be really tough to come out for the first time, but don’t worry! 9 out of 10 LGBTQ+ youth say they are out to their close friends and 64% say they out to their classmates so it does get easier over time - especially as you have more and more people to support you in coming out!
If you’re worried about coming out to doctors, teachers, or professionals, keep in mind that The Equality Act (2010) made discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity illegal. You deserve to be treated equally, and if you think you might be facing discrimination, Citizens Advice have a page explaining your rights and what you can do about it.
How do I come out?
Coming out is a very personal process that's different for everyone who experiences it. For some people, it may feel easy, whilst for others it might be more of a challenge. Even if you know you'll be accepted for who you are, there's often still that fear of the unknown. But figuring out how you want to open up can help make things a little easier to manage.
Here are some ideas for how to come out:
- Write a letter
- Sit down and talk
- Send it over text or email
- Casually drop it into conversation
- Write it in a song or a poem
- Announce it on social media
You might also want to adjust how you approach your coming out, depending on who you're coming out to – maybe you decide you’re only comfortable using specific labels with family and friends, whilst with others you just identify as ‘LGBTQ+’. It’s all about finding whatever works best for you.
If I come out as one thing, can I change my mind later?
Always! Many people experience their sexuality and gender as fluid, and you may feel that it changes at different points in your life. It’s perfectly normal to fully identify with one label, and not feel that way anymore at a later time.
The only thing that coming out commits you to is being true to yourself. Exploring our identities is often a gradual process that evolves and deepens over time – come out as whatever accurately reflects who you are and how you feel in this moment, as that is as true and honest as you can be.
Do I need to come out?
If you're finding yourself wondering this, you might also want to consider - ‘do I want to come out?’. Often there is a lot of pressure and expectation (from others, and also pressure that we put on ourselves!) to come out, but coming out is a process that should serve you.
‘Serves you’ can mean a lot of different things: if coming out is an important step in your journey to self-acceptance, then coming out when you're safe and ready may serve you. If your family is really important to you, and this is an aspect of your life that you want them to know about and be a part of, then coming out may serve you.
But it's also okay if none of that applies! Maybe being out to everyone isn’t your eventual goal, or perhaps not coming out at all might feel completely right to you, and you deserve for that to be respected.
If you do want to come out, but you don’t really vibe with all the traditional parts of it, coming out doesn’t have to follow a script! If you feel like labels box you in, or there just aren’t any out there that describe how you feel, you could come out and announce that labels just don't fit with you! You could use broader terms like ‘LGBTQ+’ or ‘queer’ if those feel more comfortable. Maybe you know you’re not straight and/or cisgender, but you haven’t settled on any one thing yet – you could come out as questioning.
There’s no right or wrong way to come out, and it’s solely up to you whether you want to, and how you want to!
What if I have, or have already had, a negative experience with coming out?
Coming out should be your decision, and you deserve to be accepted and supported through it. But sometimes, coming out might not go the way you hope or expect. If you’re worried about being outed by someone without your consent, or if this has happened to you, you still deserve to have the time and space you need to come out, and people should respect this. If you’ve faced negative reactions to coming out, you still deserve support from the many people who do accept you.
One study found that over a third of LGBTQ+ people (35.6%) felt that coming out was a negative process, but the same study also found that 44.3% overall reported their coming out experiences as positive, with younger generations being even more likely to report this. (Bespoke Surgical) Attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people are changing, so negative experiences with coming out will be less likely to happen in time.
I’m not LGBTQ+ but I want to know how to support my friends and family if they come out to me!
That’s amazing! If a friend or family member decides to come out to you, the most important thing is for you to remind them that you love and accept them for who they are. Coming out is pretty nerve-wracking for a lot of people, so hearing your immediate support can be really reassuring and allow them to open up even more.
After that, if there’s anything you don’t understand or feel confused about, then ask if they’re comfortable to clarify or answer questions you have!
Generally, it’s best to avoid saying things like:
“Are you sure?” or “You just haven’t met the right man/woman yet!”
Chances are they’ve spent a really long time thinking about their identity and how to come out to you. They’re likely pretty certain that what they’re coming out as right now truly reflects who they are at this moment!
“Bisexuality is just a phase - you need to make your mind up one day.”
Bisexual people make up the largest group in the LGBTQ+ community - bisexuality is a valid sexual orientation, and you probably know more bisexual people than you think you do!
“If you’re a lesbian, does that mean you’re going to cut your hair short now?”
No matter a person’s sexuality or gender identity, they can present in any way! People might change their appearance after coming out, as they now feel more empowered to be themselves, but it’s not always a given.
“You’re just coming out as that for attention/to be trendy.” or “That’s not a real sexuality/gender, you just want to feel special from everyone else.”
There’s lots of labels out there, and they all have a purpose! If someone finds and settles on a label that they feel describes them perfectly, or that they feel the most comfortable with, it’s important to respect that. If it’s something you’ve not heard much about before, there’s loads of LGBTQ+ resources available on the internet that help explain things, such as Stonewall’s easy-to-read glossary of LGBTQ+ terms!
“So does that make you my gay best friend now?”
There are some common stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people in popular media, but it can be harmful when these are applied in real life. Everyone is multi-dimensional, and have a lot more to them than just their sexuality or gender identity – this goes for LGBTQ+ people too!
Another really important thing is respecting their identity. If a friend comes out to you and lets you know their pronouns, keep trying your best to get them right. And if you slip up, that’s okay! A quick apology and correction will do - making a scene can put a lot of awkward pressure on them.
If you want to mention their identity to anyone else (such as other friends or relatives), check with them first to see if it’s alright for you to share that. They might not be out to everyone just yet, or there might be some people who they don’t want to be out to at all. It’s always best to make sure!
Where to go for more support
Coming out can be really scary, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that there’s no rush! This is your process, and there’s loads of time to figure things out. For more reading material, The Trevor Project have published a handbook to help young people with coming out. If you feel like a safe group space might help with your coming out journey, 42nd Street’s Q42 group provides a confidential, supportive environment for young LGBTQ+ people.
If you feel you need further support and you want to chat to someone online via messages, you can register for ongoing online support via our online support portal. We also hold weekly drop-in sessions so that you can speak with a worker without an appointment.
We provide a number of face-to-face services too, all of which offer something slightly different depending on what’s best for you. Overall, though, every service provides you with someone who will listen, acknowledge your feelings, and work with you to help find resolutions. You can read about our services here.
By: Millie Blossom-Ward