Coming out can mean something different to everyone. Coming out to yourself has to do with developing awareness that you are LGBTIQ+. Some people know how they identify from a very early age, for others it can take time and other people might never find a label that quite fits them. This is all okay!
Coming out to others involves disclosing your LGBTIQ+identity. Coming out to others may be an ongoing process throughout life; though when it’s talked about, for example, as “when did you come out?” it refers to when you first disclosed your LGBTIQ+ identity to significant family and friends. Some people choose to come out only to specific people in their life.
For some people this can be a very difficult process, for other people it’s not difficult at all, and for many people it’s a mixture of both, with great experiences and not-so-great experiences together. It is important to consider a few things to prepare you before you decide to come out to the people in your life.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
before considering coming out
HOW SURE ARE YOU ABOUT YOUR SEXUALITY AND GENDER IDENTITY?
“Are you sure?” is one of the most common questions you will be asked. It’s OK if you aren’t sure, but you might need to answer the question with confidence. Tell them if you are sure. Tell them if you aren’t 100% sure, but assert that you can’t ignore the feelings you are having and your right to identify however feels right to you. Another question often asked is “how do you know?” –how do straight people know that they are heterosexual? How do cisgender people know that they are cisgender? It’s just how you feel and who you are. It’s important to be honest about that if you are ready to be and won’t be put in an unsafe situation by doing so.
HOW COMFORTABLE ARE YOU WITH YOUR SEXUALITY OR GENDER IDENTITY?
If you are having feelings of guilt or depression, seek some help in understanding those feelings before coming out to loved ones. Check out our mental health resource page HERE or come in to FC and chat to one of our awesome peer educators!
DO YOU HAVE THE SUPPORT YOU NEED ONCE YOU HAVE COME OUT?
If your family’s or friends’ reaction may not make you feel good, you need to find someone or a group that you can turn to for emotional support and strength. Check out our mental health resource page HERE.
ARE YOU KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT ISSUES RELATING TO LGBTIQ PEOPLE?
DO YOU HAVE AVAILABLE RESOURCES?
A resource that provides advice for families of young LGBTIQ+ people is 'Families Like Mine' located here: http://familieslikemine.beyondblue.org.au/. It can also be useful to have the details for where they can get support if they want it:
QLife Australia’s LGBTI telephone counselling and info service for LGBTI people and their families and supporters (call 1800184527 or online chat at https://qlife.org.au/#contact
your local PFLAG (Parents & Friends of Lesbians And Gays) (http://www.pflagwa.org.au/)
You could also check out the following places for more info on coming out:
Gay & Lesbian Health Victoria has heaps of info on coming out at: http://www.glhv.org.au/library?topic=41&target_audience=All&keys
ReachOut has info on coming out here: http://au.reachout.com/coming-out
The SimplyTrans’ booklet also has a section on coming out (p.8) for gender diverse people: http://www.livingproud.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Simply_Trans.pdf
CAN YOU BE PATIENT?
People often need time to deal with and process this sort of thing if they don’t expect it. Just as it can take time for us to accept our own sexuality and/or gender identity, it can take our loved ones time to accept and understand our diverse sexuality and/or gender. If/when you decide to tell someone close to you be prepared to give them time to adjust and comprehend this new information about you. Try to hang in there while they get over any initial shock of finding out they didn’t know everything about you.
If you have the choice for when to come out, consider the timing. Try not to tell people during an argument or use your news as a weapon for shock value. This could distance people or cause them to react defensively.
ARE YOU FINANCIALLY DEPENDENT ON THE PEOPLE YOU WANT TO TELL?
If you suspect they are capable of withdrawing any financial support or forcing you out of where you live, you may choose to wait until they do not have this pressure to hold over you. You need to think about the advantages and disadvantages.
IS IT YOUR DECISION TO TELL SOMEONE?
Yes it is! It’s important to know that you are never obliged to come out if you don’t want to or aren’t ready. This is a personal decision that should be yours, though unfortunately this is not always the case. Try not to feel pressured by people who think everyone must come out or by snooping people who ask unwelcome questions.
SUGGESTED DO’S AND DON’TS OF COMING OUT
The following are some suggested do's & don'ts from some counsellors & researchers.
The time you have decided on for disclosure should have its own place and setting free of all other distractions.
Try to choose a time when things are going well in the family or with your friends.
Figure out how you feel about being LGBTIQ+ – perhaps talk it over with another LGBTIQ+ person first. This will make it easier to be clear and honest.
Get a realistic fix on your relationship with your family/friends; clarify what you need from them.
Actively prepare for your disclosure. Try role-playing the exchange or interactions with friends.
Consider questions that might arise. Also be prepared to answer other questions. Read and be aware.
Remember that family/friends might not know anything about being LGBTIQ+.
Prepare your family/friends by saying something like "I want to talk to you about something that's really important to all of us…” Be positive and assertive (not aggressive!).
Make the disclosure of where you are at in as positive a way as possible… stay clear of shock tactics.
Let your family/friends know you are willing to give them time to adjust… there is plenty of time.
Follow up the initial disclosure by providing reading materials (the Families like mine resource, info from PFLAG or books) on the subject. Don't expect them to read the information straight away.
Hope for the best and prepare for the worst scenario. If you can face the worst the rest will be easy.
If things go badly at first, remember that it won’t be like that forever. Things generally get better with time.
Don't try to come out when something else important is going on - weddings, funerals, birthdays, Christmas etc.
Don't expect others to see it the way you do…even if you explain your LGBTIQ+ identity carefully and positively, your family/friends may not jump for joy!
Don't try to force more information on your family/friends than they are ready for at any given time. This will only confuse and frustrate them.
Don't hang around if their response is abusive or put-downs. Leave as soon as possible and catch up with a friend who you might have organised beforehand to be ready for debriefing just in case. You can also phone the QLife counselling line (1800 184 527 3pm – 12am every day) or chat online at https://qlife.org.au/ and talk it over.