What is coming out?
‘Coming out’ means telling someone something about yourself that isn’t immediately obvious. With regards to sexual orientation and gender identity this means sharing with others that you are lesbian, gay, bi or trans. 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.
Why come out?
Mostly, people just want to be honest about who they are, especially with the people they love.
Hiding who you are can be a big struggle. It can take your focus and energy away from other important things in your life such as your job, studying or exams.
Just because someone may decide to come out to family or friends, it doesn’t mean they have to come out to everyone. It’s quite common for people to be out in certain areas of their lives but not in others.
It may take you a while to get to a point where you feel ready to come out, which is absolutely fine. The main thing to remember is not to put any pressure on yourself and to only come out when you feel ready.
How to come out
There are many different ways to come out and there is no right or wrong way to do it. If you are thinking about coming out then it’s important that you find a way that feels right for you.
Here are some things you might like to consider:
Who do you want to tell?
It’s unlikely that you will be able to gather everyone you know in one room and come out to them all at once, and this is probably something you’d find pretty daunting anyway! Therefore you’ll probably need to do it in stages. Think about who you want to tell first; ideally this should be someone who you think will be supportive, such as a friend, family member or maybe a trusted youth worker or teacher. They will then be able to support you when you tell other people.
Is there anyone you DON’T want to know?
Thanks to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram, news travels faster than ever these days. If there is someone in your life who you would rather not be out to, think carefully about how you will be able to manage this. It’s worth considering that once you tell one person, other people in your life could find out, even if you don’t want them to.
When is the right time to say something?
It’s worth acknowledging that coming out could be a bit of a surprise to some people in your life. You’ve probably had a long time to get used to it but the person or people you’re telling will be hearing it for the first time. Consider telling them at a time when you will be able to talk things through properly. For instance, coming out to a friend on your way in to an exam probably isn’t the best time! Broaching the subject on the phone to a parent or guardian when you’ve only got 2% battery also isn’t ideal.
How will you tell people?
Everyone will have their own preference when it comes to choosing how to come out. The most obvious way is to sit down in person and talk. The benefits of coming out this way are that you’ll be able to answer any questions they may have and also get some comfort or reassurance if you need it. It may feel daunting but once you’ve told one person it really does start to feel easier.
Some people may choose to send an email, text or letter (remember them?!) as this will give the person time to process what you’re telling them before they respond. Some people have used social media to come out. Although this method of coming out means you’ll probably only need to do it once, it also takes away the opportunity to have those personal conversations with those who are close to you. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to come out.
Support with coming out as lesbian, gay or bi
Some people come out with no problems at all but for others there may be obstacles and setbacks. Sometimes those close to you may need some time to get used to the news. It can be difficult if the people you care about have a hard time accepting who you are. Everyone's coming out journey is different. You may find some of the following support useful:
‘Coming Out! Answers to some of the questions you may have’ is Stonewall’s guide for young people. It has been designed to provide answers to some of the most common questions that young people might have if they are thinking about coming out, or think they might be lesbian, gay or bi. Written and designed in conjunction with young people, the pocket-sized guide offers advice and guidance as well as suggestions for further support. You can download a free copy of the guide here.
'Staying safe online' is Stonewall's guide for young people that looks at the risks you can face when using the internet and social media. You can download a free copy of the guide here.
Support with coming out as trans
'A guide for young trans people in the UK' was produced by young trans people, and gathers stories, sources, facts and tips that might be useful to anyone questioning their gender. This project was funded by the Department of Health's Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Advisory Group in 2007. You can download a free copy of the guide here.
Other useful sources of support
www.rucomingout.com - A website that has an archive of coming out stories from people of all ages and backgrounds, as well as tips about coming out and interviews with inspiring LGBT people.
www.fflag.org.uk – Fflag is a registered charity dedicated to supporting parents and their lesbian, gay and bi daughters and sons. The website also has lots of advice on how to come out to parents.
www.genderedintelligence.co.uk – You’ll find lots of really useful resources for trans young people.
Please note that Stonewall cannot be held responsible for the content of any of the external websites we link to.