Sometimes it seems like most of the articles for LGBTQ youth are about coming out (telling parents, friends and family about your gender or sexual orientation). From how to come out to parents to coming out to teachers and instructors, you might feel like there is overwhelming pressure to “come out” right away. It is true that many LGBTQ folks feel happier and more fulfilled when they are able to be open and honest with others, and in turn receive acceptance and support. I feel that the coming out process can be really helpful and healing. However, there are times, especially for youth, when it may be better to wait to tell some people.
One of the most important things in coming out is deciding went and if to come out to certain people. This can be a really hard decision. For, one the one hand, it is hard, and can be really stressful to continue to be addressed as straight and keep your identity private with the most important people in your life. One the other hand, it may not be safe or useful to come out to some people right away (or ever).
Here are some examples:
Santiago is out to his parents and best friend who have both been really accepting. He feels fairly comfortable with his orientation but gets angry and sad sometimes that he is not out at school. However, his high school has greeted other students who have come out with less than a positive attitude and the administration doesn’t seem to want to help much. He has one year left and neither he nor his parents feel like it would be worth it to fight a battle with the school at this point. He decides that he will keep it with a few close friends and come out at college but still sometimes feels upset that he has to stay silent.
Rachel grew up in a fairly conservative religious family. She realized she was a lesbian when she was 12. She is out to her dad, whom she has always been close to but he asked her to not tell her mom, who he feels would take it hard, or her grandmother, who is 82, very ill and very against homosexuality. She decides to go along with it for awhile, but finds herself becoming very depressed and anxious for “lying” to her mom. She comes out to her mom but decides to leave grandma out of it.
Devin realized that although he was born female, that he really identifies as a boy. His parents told him many times that if ever “decided” to be gay, they would kick him out of the house and he believes they mean it. Although it causes him anxiety, he decides to say nothing to them until he graduates and can support himself. He finally confides in a teacher he is close to, which helps him feel better and able to get through the next year.
Ayana comes from a close-knit family. She is nervous about coming out to her parents. She’s been secretly going to a group for LGBTQ youth for the past month. She wants to tell her parents right away but is afraid of their reaction. She talks over the risks and benefits with one of the counselors for that group and decides to talk to a trusted aunt. Then she and her aunt will talk to her parents.
Here are some important questions to ask yourself:
How much do I need to come out? Is staying quiet with a certain person making you feel anxious, depressed or worried? If so, coming out to that person may be important. It may still be useful to be patient and make a safe plan for talking to them, like Ayana did in the example.
Whom is safe to come out to? Although most information for LGBTQ youth is about coming out to parents, many youth find it safer to come out to a trusted instructor, friend, sibling, or counselor first. Some youth decide to wait to tell parents until they are financially independent or never tell their parents. All of those choices are ok and your safety should come first. You might like to make a list of supportive people in your life and rank them according to who might be most accepting. Get creative — is there at teacher at school who has given a talk on diversity that included LGBTQ issues? A friend who mentioned liking a LGBTQ themed movie? An office at your college or school that has the “safe space” poster outside it (some examples of the posters here)?
Is it useful to come out? You might feel mad that your parents don’t want you to come out to your grandparents or someone else. After all, shouldn’t you just get to be who you are? I understand that — and it is important to ask if it will be helpful to you to come out to that person. How much will it change your life to come out to grandma or an uncle you never see? On the other hand, if someone is close enough to you that you really feel like it would make a difference in your life, you may wish to consider talking to them anyway. Take the dynamics of your familiy into account.
If I do feel like I need to come out, but can’t to a certain person or people, how can I safely reduce anxiety, depression or worry? If you decide you need to come out but feel it wouldn’t be safe to be out, for example, at school, or to parents, you might have a number of feelings and it can be really hard to keep your true self a secret. Definitely try to find some safe people and resources! You might consider attending a LGBTQ youth group to have other people to talk to. Does your high school have a Gay-Straight Alliance? Most colleges have LGBTQ student centers or groups. PFLAG is a great resource and is in many places where there is no LGBTQ youth group. You could come out to someone who you consider to be safe, whom you trust — this reduces the feeling of loneliness or depression for many. You could find an LGBTQ-friendly counselor or therapist. Discuss with people you trust about how to get by if it is not safe to come out to others. Keep in mind that while the Internet is a great resource, there are those who don’t have your best interests in mind out there. Never reveal personal information to strangers.
When should I come out? This can be an important part of your decision. If someone is going through a hard time, they might find it harder to be open to your news. For example, if your brother is going through a divorce, that might play into your decision.
What if I am ready to come out? Check out this great, honest guide from OutProud. The Human Rights Campaign has a number of guides, including for people of color, transfolks and others at http://www.hrc.org/issues/coming_out.asp
What if I need more help? If there is an adult you trust, such as a teacher or school counselor, you might want to ask them for help. You could also seek services at a local LGBTQ center (find one at Center Link) , or find a LGBTQ knowledgeable therapist (often your local LGBTQ center will keep a list of therapists). This can be a stressful process for people of any age and support can be very helpful. A skilled therapist who is aware of LGBTQ issues should be able to help guide you through the process.
It takes a lot of courage to come out and just as much to stay quiet, if you find that you need to. In the end the decision is yours and you might experience pressure on both sides to come out and to stay quiet. Being true to yourself and making your own best decision is a wonderful gift you can give to yourself.