Coming out is the process of accepting your sexual orientation and telling family, co-workers and friends. Coming out is different for every gay or bisexual person. Some experience fear, pain, and frustration. Others find the process less difficult.
Coming out happens in stages: first coming out to yourself (also called 'coming in'), then disclosing your sexual orientation to others. Many continue disclosing their sexuality over time, not as a one time announcement. Coming out to family and friends can be a worrying time, it can be really difficult to know what people’s reaction will be.
Overall, coming out is a normal process that is crucial to accepting who you are and feeling good about yourself. You can be more 'out' in some settings than in others, and you can expect it sometimes to go well and sometimes to go badly. It is a significant part of the process of identifying and becoming closer to your friends and loved ones.
For real life experiences of young people coming out, go to http://gayteens.about.com/od/family/ss/comeoutparents.htm
How do I come out?
It can help come out first to the people who are most likely to support you (like a close friend, trusted teacher, or parent, and LGBT group, etc) and then come out to others who may not be as supportive.
Coming out to parents and family can be especially difficult. You are sharing something very personal with people you love. This makes it a time when you could become closer and more attached, but it also carries the risk of rejection and pain.
A support system can help ease any fears and anxieties that sometimes come along with coming out, and talking to someone who has already been through the process can be really useful.
What might help...
Pick a good time
Don't come out in an argument or when you feel angry.
Don’t involve your partner too quickly
Give people time to get used to your sexual orientation before you introduce them to your boyfriend or girlfriend.
Understand that you've had more time to deal with this than other people have, and be patients with them whilst they go through the same stages of rejection, fear, and acceptance that you might also have.
Encourage your friends, and family to come out
Just as you’ve needed support from others, so will your friends and family. Having a list of phone numbers, such as one for PFLAG (Parents and friends of Lesbians and Gays) could help too. Everyone might benefit from having an objective and supportive third party to communicate with.
Be prepared for negative reactions
Be prepared for negative responses, religious fears, and suggestions for therapy. Consider how the 'Worst Case Scenario' might go.
Coming Out is hard enough as it is. If you need your parents' financial and emotional support and are really scared they would 'cut you off' if you came out, then wait until you can tell them with less fear and anxiety. This may sound like 'hiding' but it's not.
Be ready to teach
Explain that your sexual orientation is a biologically based thing, and you can't control it any more than they can control their own sexual orientation. Being gay, lesbian or bisexual isn't their 'fault' and does not result from something they did 'wrong.'
When your parents read about how to talk to you about difficult issues, including potty training, sex, and marriage, they were told to use the same language they wanted you to use. Be patient as your parents learn to use the language you teach them. Explain the terms 'gay', 'lesbian' and 'bisexual' as opposed to 'homosexual' and 'queer'. Allow them to refer to your partner as a friend for a while until they grow comfortable with boyfriend or girlfriend.
Be ready to talk about HIV and AIDS. While your parents may not be ready for any real details, and they may not ask for fear of finding out information they don't think they can handle, they do need to be assured that you are safe and have tested negative. Of course, if you are positive, lying to your family at the outset may not be recommended. Be ready to discuss the issue as much or as little as your family wants.
Some people have a book or something for reading materials ready to give parents. It's a nice way for them to be reminded gently about something they must learn about, and allow them to read and think about it at their convenience.
Explain why you are coming out
Explain that you are telling them this because you love them and don't want to be dishonest with them. Tell them to that you are not alone, and that you have gay, lesbian and bisexual friends for support too. Sometimes parents react with worry about their children; they know it is an unfair world out there. Assure them that while you know there is discrimination, you stick up for yourself and can handle what comes to you as a result of your decision to be what you are.
Sometimes helping parents understand the burden of being closeted, the stress it creates, and the ultimate separation from family that many gays and lesbians accept or suffer with helps.
Do I have to come out to everyone?
Not at all! Coming out lf does not mean you have to tell everyone. However, many that tell other people find it freeing to be able to share parts of their lives that they otherwise would keep secret. It is best to tell someone you can trust and feel accepted and supported by.
Some people tell their best friend, their mum or a telephone helpline first – it's up to the individual. It’s also up to individual to choose when they tell people. Some don’t tell others until they leave school or until they get to know someone. There’s no right or wrong way to come out as lesbian, gay or bisexual – it’s whatever’s right for the individual.
What if people react badly?
There are a lot of prejudiced people in the world. Some people will hurt you, insult you, and generally go out of their way to make you unhappy if they know your sexual orientation. This is very sad, but unfortunately, it is still true. Personal discomfort is usually the reason people reactive badly.
People who feel bad about themselves often need an 'us' and a 'them' to organise their world. The 'us's are invariably good, moral, smart, wise, good looking, and generally the backbone of the society. The 'them's are bad, immoral, ugly, stupid, and the downfall of society. Simply put, being sure that you are sick and immoral makes insecure people feel healthy and righteous.
This can lead to violence. Some people feel very threatened by their emotional and possibly sexually-tinged attachment to others of their own sex. Seeing you appear so comfortable expressing those feelings often makes them suddenly aware of feelings they would not like to admit to having. 'Silencing' you silences the thoughts they don't want to consider.
The best way to deal with this is to first of all ensure that you are never in situations where you are unsafe, and to talk to a supportive group of people (friends, families, LGBT groups, peers, etc). Allsorts Youth Project (www.allsortsyouth.org.uk) is a great support group for young people, and the LGBT Switchboard is a great support for everyone (www.switchboard.org.uk).
If you do witness or are victim of a hate crime, you can get support and information from the Community Safety team - go to www.safeinthecity.info
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