Coming Out Advice for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual People
A couple of years ago, I was contacted by a reporter who was working on an article about gay and lesbian individuals coming out to friends and family. The theme of the article was that people no longer had to come out because the article claimed that people no longer cared if people their friends and family members were gay, lesbian, or bisexual. We had a good conversation about this as there are some parts of the U.S. were people might not flinch at all if you show up with your same gender date. However, even. in those situations, people often have family members in different areas of the country where there is not such a high level of acceptance.
Heteronormativity makes it important to still come out.
It is entirely possible that for some people, coming out isn’t much of a scene at all. But that is rarely an all or nothing situation for individuals. Depending on your family, communities, friendship circles and groups, etc., you’ll either have to make an official statement to let people know or you’ll already know the acceptance that you’re going to experience.
Most people will assume you’re straight if you don’t officially tell them otherwise. There is a long history of treating heterosexual relationships as if they’re the normal ones. Therefore, coming out becomes a necessary burden for LGB folks because people would otherwise assume that the person is straight.
The variance that can be difficult is how accepting people around you will likely be. Some people are very open and they’re very open about their acceptance. Others are accepting and they just are more quiet about it. Then there are those who have a lack of awareness of the possibility of LGB people even existing in their lives and those who aren’t accepting at all.
Bisexuality is still often misunderstood and ignored in our society. People assume that your orientation matches with the gender of your current partner. This can add a burden because bisexual people need authenticity just as much as anyone else. Some assume that there’s no need to come out because the assumption can be made by others. However, we all have a need to be true to ourselves and sometimes it’s the expression of who we are that represents that authenticity. Although this can be displayed through sex, people display congruence with their authenticity in a variety of ways.
Coming out considerations
Coming out can be an extremely stressful time in the lives of individuals who are a part of the LGBT community. There are common misconceptions about how this process works. Many believe that coming out is a single event that takes place at one time. However coming out usually is a process that takes place over an extended period of time because there are many individuals and groups of people that are part of the coming out experience for each person.
For those who are deciding whether or not to come out, deciding how to go about it makes it even more difficult. The internet has some resources for individuals who are thinking about coming out, but there are still few resources on this subject. The following considerations will hopefully help you in deciding how to make it through this challenging experience, demystify the process, and deal with rejection.
- Coming out and accepting yourself. Even though there are many groups that treat being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender as thought it is an illness, it is not. There is no conversion therapy that can change your sexual orientation. Know that you can live a content life: have a life-long partner, friends who are accepting, a church that will accept you, etc. All of the things that seem hopeless now will not remain that way forever. You do not choose your sexual orientation, and when you accept that, you will be better able to help others who are close to you understand.
- Start with someone close to you who you can trust. You don’t have to come out to everyone at once. You can first come out to a close friend, a co-worker, or a family member who you are confident will be more open to this. This can give you an ally and someone to go to if you are rejected by someone. It can also give you confidence that you can come out to people and be accepted at the same time.
- Don’t assume that you know how others will react. People make statements about topics that they are unfamiliar with, without thinking about what they are actually saying. People that you are around might make statements that leave you feeling insecure about coming out to them. Just know that many of these same people will be supportive when you come out to them.
- Being rejected hurts, but you can find acceptance. Being rejected is the biggest fear that many have before coming out. Just know that the long-term benefits of coming out outweigh the short-term benefits of staying closeted. Hiding a part of yourself from the world can hurt more than the rejection itself. If you are rejected, understand that people don’t know how they should react. Many times this rejection does not last forever. People often need some time and space to be given to them so that they can process the information and put it into perspective.
- Make a plan. Coming out to others should not be a hasty decision. It is important to take factors into consideration such as your own safety. You should also consider how you can handle rejection, if it does happen. Although you are unsure of how others will react, anticipating some rejection can help you prepare for it should it take place. Think about who you can go to: a safe person, a gay-friendly church, a resource center, a counselor, etc. Think about who you would tell first. Where and when will you tell them? Creating this plan will help you prepare for situations as they arise.
- Don’t do this alone. Don’t go through this process alone. There are more support groups than ever before. If you are in a more rural area, find a hotline that you can call. There are also forums online that you can use for support and advice as well. Find a friend who you can trust and talk with them about your fear, pain, struggles, etc.
- Crying is not necessarily a lack of acceptance. If you tell someone and they cry, know that this is not necessarily a lack of acceptance towards you. They might be fearful of the challenges you could face being a minority. There may be some relief in that you have finally told them what they maybe have already known. Do not immediately assume that you should feel bad in this situation because of crying alone.
- When to come out in the workplace. Discrimination exists for LGBT populations. Not all supervisors will discriminate against you, but some might. Whether or not to come out at work, like coming out to your friends and family, is a personal decision to make. Get to know your co-workers and supervisor. Read through your workplace manual to see if your company has protection policies for individuals due to their sexual orientation. First tell those who you think will be accepting and trustworthy of the news. Then decide whether or not you will tell others who you work with.
- When to come out at school. More schools than ever before have supportive counselors and even some support groups. Coming out while in school can still be challenging. Do not tolerate bullying. Tell your parents, teachers, and principals if you are being bullied. Learn about your school and if they have policies to protect students based on their sexual orientation. Look for local groups that are supportive of adolescents who are coming out.
- Find support in a variety of places. Historically, bars were a safer place for individuals in the LGBT community, especially when they were looking for an accepting place to go. The problem with bars is the alcohol. Alcohol can lead to problems when you feel stressed, anxious, and insecure. At the same time, these places have been reassuring for tons of people over the years. The good news is that there are more places than ever before to content. Find local meetups, charity or non-profit organizations, local clubs, sports leagues, and churches. Do some online research to find meeting places.
Coming out can be a scary experience. If you feel like no one will accept this, know that many will. Likely many more will be more accepting than you think. It is important to make a plan, so that you can anticipate difficult circumstances that may arise. Remember not to do this alone and find supportive groups, hotlines and organizations.
If you’re learning to accept your orientation, struggling to accept, or feeling confused about it, we can help. Please feel free to contact us to learn more about our affirming counseling services.
Great article Mike. Thank you for keeping the focus on the courage it takes for the LGBQ person to come out to family, friends and workplace.
Thanks so much Candy for taking the time to read it!