'Coming out' is an almost universal experience for non-cisgender and non-heterosexual people. While it isn't necessarily part of everyone's personal journey with their gender identity or sexuality, chances are that if you don't have a personal coming out story, you know a friend or relative who does. You might also unfortunately know of an outing story, where someone's sexuality or gender identity was disclosed without their consent. These are all parts of the vast and varied coming out process.
October 11th is National Coming Out Day (or NCOD), and it's meant to spread awareness about the LGBTQ+ coming out experience. Usually framed as part of a journey, 'coming out of the closet' generally involves disclosing your sexual or gender identity to others. It can be a very sensitive, scary and personal experience, but many people in the LGBTQ+ community report feeling much happier within themselves after coming out.
As many countries in the world move towards decriminalising homosexuality, legalising gay marriage and signing in legal protections against the discrimination of LGBTQ+ people, coming out is slowly becoming a less fraught process. In fact, with more young people than ever identifying as not-straight and not-cisgender, coming out is actually becoming less common than it used to be. This doesn't indicate that more people are becoming LGBTQ+ or that coming out is no longer necessary, but rather that it's becoming safer for people to identify as LGBTQ+ without fear or persecution.
Coming out has no age limit: whether you're 14 or 45, it's never too late to confirm your gender identity or sexuality for yourself. We've rounded up advice on things to consider before you come out, and some tips on how to do it in style, once you're ready.
What exactly is 'coming out'?
LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall describes coming out in the following way:
‘Coming out’ means telling someone something about yourself that isn’t immediately obvious. In relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, this means sharing with others that you are lesbian, gay, bi and/or trans (LGBT). The process of coming out can be very different for everyone and it can take some time to get to a point where you feel comfortable and confident enough to have those conversations with people.
Coming out is a highly personal decision. You should never feel pressured to come out or like you need to disclose your sexuality or gender identity to someone for any reason than because you want to.
Deciding not to come out does NOT invalidate your sexuality or gender identity, nor does it preclude you from being a part of the LGBTQ+ community. You are the only person who gets to determine what kind of relationship you have with your gender identity and sexuality, and what kind of impact that relationship will have on how you live your life.
Remember, you are the only one who gets to determine what your sexual and gender identity is, ever!
Am I ready to come out?
Coming out can have a big impact on your life. It doesn't necessarily mean things will change for the worse or for the better - many LGBTQ+ people report that coming out is an empowering, settling experience within themselves.
The first person you'll need to come out to is yourself. You'll need to do some soul-searching and come to terms with the label you feel is right for your sexuality and/or gender identity. If you're feeling lost or don't know where to start, trying putting your fears into a search on the internet, like "I think I might be gay". There are lots of charities, like Stonewall, and other health resources groups with plenty of reassuring things to say.
Loads of people question their sexualities and gender identities every day, so it's important to remember that you are not alone.
It's also important to be honest with yourself, and equally well, if you struggle to come to terms with your feelings, you are under no obligation to take on a label or come out right away. While some people come out young and stick with that same label their entire lives, sexuality and gender have proven to be fluid things, so you may find that the label that feels right for you changes over time. This is totally normal and okay.
Ultimately, it's your decision how to label your gender or sexuality and you need to feel comfortable with it before you take the next step in your coming out journey.
Is it safe for me to come out?
Once you're confident in your gender identity or sexuality, the next step is to come out to someone else.
In this context, being confident in your gender identity or sexuality doesn't necessarily mean you've figured everything out or that feel like you have all the answers. It just means that you've decided you're comfortable with an identity that isn't heterosexual or cisgender.
Coming out as a young person often presents different struggles to coming out as an adult. When you're younger, you may face bullying at school or a lack of support from your parents, making home a very unhappy or unsafe place to be.
When you come out as an adult, you may be concerned about discrimination in your work place or when trying to rent property. These things are protected in many countries, but that may not be enough to stop from you feeling concerned.
Whatever age you're at, you want to make sure you have safety and support around you when you come out. Try to choose a friend or loved one you think will be supportive, and communicate with them in the way that feels most comfortable to you (it could be by text, by message, or in person).
Many people feel many different emotions when coming out to someone for the first time: some people feel excited, others feel nervous, and many feel a mix of both. Likewise, many people feel different reactions when someone comes out to them: some people may not be surprised by what you tell them, and other people may need some time to themselves to work through their emotions.
All these feelings and reactions are okay.
Okay, I'm ready, how do I come out?
You've determined that your community is safe. You've got a couple of allies by your side who are ready to support you on this adventure. You're ready to come out to the world. Now what?
Well, there's no one answer - no two people have the same coming out story. Your best bet is to do it in the way that feels right to you, suits you and reflects your personality.
A lot of people choose to come out on a broader scale (after confiding in those closest to them) on social media. Try...
- Posting a picture or gif celebrating your identity
- Posting a picture of yourself wearing a T-shirt that states your identity
- Posting a picture of a hand-written note talking about your identity
Some other fun methods you can try include...
- Baking a sweet treat and decorating it to declare your identity
- Delivering a hand-made card declaring your identity
- Issue an announcement card letting all your friends know your identity
- Asking a friend you trust to record a video with you about your identity
There are plenty of others, and they are all good options.
But ultimately, when you're planning to come out, the key is to do it in a way that makes you feel safe and comfortable. If you aren't ready to come out, then no pressure! Not coming out doesn't make you a fake.
There's never going to be a perfect time to come out, but as long as you get your support pillars in place, you'll be ready for when the time feels right to you.
After coming out, you may be bombarded with questions about how long you've known and whether or not you're in a relationship, among other things. People will be curious, but hopefully well-intentioned and enthusiastic to support you. Just remember that you don't have to answer any or every question that comes your way.
Come out on your agenda only, and live your best life!
Lovehoney is a proud member of Stonewall's Diversity Champions programme.
Stonewall campaigns for the equality of lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning and ace (LGBTQ+) people everywhere.