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By Olive Grimes
So you’re considering coming out. Maybe you’re sure of exactly how you identity, or maybe you still consider yourself to be questioning. Regardless, we’re proud of you! Reflecting on your sexual orientation and/or gender identity isn’t easy work, and though it may not feel like it, you’ve already come a long way.
Everyone’s experience coming out is different – some people find their family and/or friends are more open to the news than others. It can be especially difficult and scary to broach the topic when you aren’t sure how they’ll take it. We’ve prepared some effective tips that, no matter how the conversation goes, may help you prepare to share your truth with your loved ones. If you decide that you’re ready to take that big step, we hope that you’ll find them useful!
Remember that you’re doing this for you.
This is the most important piece of advice we can offer: the decision to come out and when should be yours to make. Unfortunately, not all of us get to decide when and where we tell our loved ones, but if you’re in the position to, make sure you center your needs.
Centering what’s right for you comes in a couple forms. Perhaps it’s making sure that the people you’re coming out with are open to listening: One great way to test the waters is to bring up LGBTQ+ public figures in conversation. Their reaction may give you an idea of how they might react.
It’s also about being firm about your identity, even If the person you come out to initially responds negatively. You are not asking for permission to be queer or trans – you are affirming to them that you are.
Above all, it’s making sure you’re in a safe position to share your identity. Though it’s common for queer and trans people to feel pressured to come out before they feel ready or safe to do so, coming out is, in most cases, not more important than your safety.
It’s okay to be unsure.
It’s totally okay to delay coming out until you’re absolutely certain of how exactly you identify. Keep in mind, though, that you don’t need to have everything figured out to start having conversations with the people you trust. If you are still questioning or unsure exactly which labels you feel the most comfortable with, it’s okay to be up-front about that when coming out. Prioritize talking about your experiences and your emotions – the specific labels you want to use are secondary.
It’s also okay to change how you identify after you’ve come out. This stuff is complicated! We learn so much about our queer and trans identities as we perform and explore them. If you later decide or realize you’d be more comfortable with a different identity label, it doesn’t mean you were wrong the first time – it’s all part of the process of discovering yourself, one step at a time.
It’s okay to come out again – in fact, you probably will!
One of the most common misconceptions about coming out is that you have to do it perfectly the first time, or that you have to come out to everyone in your life for it to “count.” And indeed, the first time that you step out of the closet, it’s hard not to feel stress or pressure about doing it “the right way,” or just “getting it over with.”
But in reality, that isn’t the experience for most queer and trans people. In fact, we come out again all the time: whether it’s when we meet new people, or when we build up the courage to tell people we already know and trust, chances are that you’ll be “coming out” in one form or another for most of your life. Judith Butler, a pioneer in gender and women’s studies, sharply observed that coming out can be like stepping into a slightly bigger closet.
If you’re gearing up to come out for the first time, it may seem scary to have to do this again and again. But in a way, it also relieves some pressure: it means you can practice by telling friends or family that you trust and build up your confidence, try different approaches, and find some emotional support for wherever your journey takes you.
Frame the conversation positively.
Science fiction author Samuel R Delany once reflected on his experience coming out to his therapy group in the 1980s. Though being a part of the Gay Liberation movement in New York had brought him great happiness and fulfilment, he ran into a challenge that many queer and trans people relate to: he regretted that he found himself describing his sexuality as something he was ashamed of.
When coming out, it’s important to remember that you get to set the tone. As queer and trans people, it’s hard not to internalize many of the negative ways in which our societies view us – and we often come to believe that our cisgender and/or heterosexual peers expect our coming out stories to be defined by some hardship. But you also have the opportunity to begin the conversation in a positive place. It can help, for example, to focus on how your identity brings you joy. Remaining optimistic and speaking from the heart is one of the best things you can do to put your best foot forward.
Prepare for different outcomes.
For better or worse, sometimes the people we are coming out to surprise us – It’s part of what makes it so scary. While you’ve likely been thinking about this for a while, it’s likely that they’ll have to take some time to adjust and process. Sometimes, people respond negatively out of shock, and it’s important to be prepared for that possibility. Think of ways that you can offer empathy if they react with concern or worry: phrases like, “I know that this will take you some time, and I still love you” are great for this.
It’s also useful to prepare some resources to share with them if they have questions or need support. Oftentimes it’s tempting to want to answer all of your loved ones’ questions, but doing it alone can be very emotionally taxing, and resources can help. Check out ¿Y Ahora Que? and our resources section.
If they respond more negatively than you anticipated, it’s important to enforce a respectful boundary. One simple way to do this is to prepare ways to end the conversation that gives them space to reflect, while keeping the conversation from spiraling or becoming too intense.
Above all: remember that no matter how they respond, it may not be their final opinion. Just as you’ve spent so much time exploring your identity, they will need time to process it too, and they will likely go through a range of emotions.
Regardless of their response, you should remain true to yourself.