‘Coming out’ is short for ‘coming out of the closet’, which means telling people around you that you are gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
Usually, people assume that other people are straight. If you are not, and you want people to know, then you have to tell them. This is a constant process. Even if your family and friends already know about your sexual orientation, you still might want to come out to new people you meet in life.
Some people choose not to come out. That’s OK too. Others choose to tell a few people they think should know, and that’s also OK. It’s up to you to decide who to tell. Your sexuality is a private matter, and you don’t have to discuss it with anyone if you don’t want to.
Coming out can be a very brave thing to do. Many people are afraid of how others might react. There is no right or wrong way to come out. It depends on you and your relationship with the person you are telling.
Every time you come out is like the first time, because you’ll always get a different reaction. But practice makes it easier, and the more people you come out to the more comfortable you’ll feel about it – and about yourself.
Just be prepared, and think carefully about who you want to tell, especially if you live somewhere where homosexuality is criminalized or not generally accepted.
‘Coming in’ is also a really important moment for many gays and lesbians – that’s the time when you first make contact with other gays and lesbians. This is often a really great experience – you realise you’re not the only one!
Telling your family
You may want to tell your family if you’re gay, lesbian or bisexual. Family plays an important role in life, and it’s good to be honest with your parents and siblings if you feel comfortable to do it. If you want to talk to them about your future or tell them about your boyfriend or girlfriend, you’ll have to come out first.
But not everyone can accept that a family member is gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Every family is different. You know your family best, so think carefully before telling them. If you’re not sure how they will react, try having a conversation about homosexuality more generally. When you know how they feel about it, you can decide whether or not to come out to them.
Talking about sexuality at home, especially with our parents, can be challenging. Some people may need time to adjust to the idea, or to learn more about what being gay, lesbian or bisexual actually means. They may feel shocked and react negatively at first, but with time they will learn to appreciate and support you.
Try to understand if they ask questions or feel confused. It’s usually because they don’t understand what it means to be gay, lesbian or bisexual and feel that they did something wrong. Explain that it’s nothing to do with they way you were brought up – it’s just the way you are.
Some people believe that marriage to a straight person will ‘fix’ a person who’s gay or lesbian, and your parents may try to push you into marriage. Be clear that you can’t accept this: it won’t change your orientation, and being gay is not a problem that needs to be ‘fixed’. It’s not fair on you, or on the person your parents want you to marry.
In some cases, people find it impossible to accept. Your family could break off all ties with you, or threaten to cut you off unless you ‘change’. Keep in mind that people’s reactions say more about them and their feelings than you as a person. But if you live with your parents and they support you financially, it’s a good idea to have someone else you can turn to in case things don’t go well.
Telling your friends
Coming out to other people – friends, peers, co-workers – is very similar to coming out to your family.
Hiding an important part of your life from your friends isn’t easy, so you may want to be honest with them about your sexuality. When you need emotional or practical support, it helps if you can talk openly to good friends or people you meet in the gay community.
Think carefully before your come out to someone. Not everyone needs to know, and only you can decide who to tell. Perhaps you want your closest friends to know, but you don’t want to talk about it at work. That’s OK.
If you’re not sure how someone is going to react, talk to them more generally about homosexuality first. Then you’ll have a better idea of how they feel about it, and you can decide if you want to come out to them.
When you come out you may face bullying, harassment and discrimination, so it’s best to be prepared to face any challenges that might arise. Having supportive friends can be a great help.
Remember to ask your friends to be discreet. Coming out should be your decision, and you should do it in your own time – you don’t want the first person you tell to share the news with anyone else.
For many people around the world, ‘coming out’ and living openly as gay, lesbian or bisexual isn’t an option. The people around you might feel very negative towards homosexuality for cultural or religious reasons. And if you live in one of the countries where having homosexual sex is illegal, you could risk imprisonment.
In some parts of the world, gays, lesbians and bisexuals have to keep their sexual orientation secret. To the outside world, they appear to be straight, and they may get married and have children. But, of course, there are gay people everywhere in the world. It’s just harder to be open about it in some countries. Hiding doesn’t mean that you aren’t homosexual.
If you choose to keep your sexual orientation a secret, that’s your decision. It may be possible to make contact with your local LGB community without coming out to anyone else. The internet and social media make it much easier to find other gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in your area. And if you’re nervous about meeting people in person, you can always join an online group.