Frequently Asked Questions - Coming Out
What is coming out or coming in?
Telling someone you are lesbian or gay is generally called ' coming out'. Someone who hasn't come out is often referred to as being 'in the closet'.
Coming out describes two different but related actions. First, it is the process of accepting and dealing with your own sexuality; and second, it is telling other people who are important to you about it.
Another term that is starting to be used more is the phrase ' coming in'. This refers to inviting people into your life. Rather than telling everyone, you invite people into your life, sharing something important with them.
The process of coming out or coming in often involves reviewing everything you have been taught about sex, relationships and your future.
For some, this is a fairly simple exercise. For others it is much more difficult. But it is something that on some level all gays and lesbians will go through. Part of the process is becoming aware of your feelings and accepting them as a normal part of your life.
Telling other people about your sexuality is an issue that never goes away. Each time you meet a new person you have to consider if you want them to know about that part of your life. In most cases it becomes easier to tell others the more often you do it.
If you really want to tell someone that you are lesbian or gay, but are not yet ready to tell your friends, you can call your local Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service and tell them and talk it over with them first. Click to visit the website of the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service of NSW.
Should I come out?
There are many reasons for coming out. One is to build love, trust, respect and a more open relationship with the person you are telling. For much of a gay, lesbian or bisexual person's life they have to keep secrets from important people in their lives. Coming out is a way to do away with these secrets.
Some people come out as a deliberate attempt to hurt another person. There is little constructive value in this and it will probably end up being a bad experience for everybody concerned.
You should think carefully about your reasons for coming out.
Some things to remember:
- It is your decision and no one else's!
- It is extremely important to be in control when you are coming out to people. Not everyone needs to know. Don't feel pressured into coming out just because you think you have to. Sometimes it can make your life more difficult. Coming out can have a big impact on your life, maybe positive or maybe negative, but either way you should be ready to deal with the consequences before actually doing it
- If you are not sure whether it is the right time, you can phone a counsellor and discuss it
Why do some people choose not to come out?
- Rejection by some friends or family
- In some cases violence or being kicked out of the home may be a result
- Parents and friends may refuse to believe what they have been told and will continue to refer to you as straight
- They could also treat it as a phase you are going through
- You may be asked to see a doctor or psychologist
- Lack of privacy in smaller towns - everybody knows everybody's business
- There may be religious or cultural issues
Why do some people choose to come out?
- You don't have to make up stories or lie about what you have been doing and/or thinking
- Acceptance by the people that mean most to you
- You can talk about your feelings openly and honestly with your friends and family
- You don't have to pretend that you are perving at the opposite sex (when you are actually looking at your own sex)
- You have more freedom to express your true feelings and ideas without having to censor yourself in front of others
- Your friends or family can get to know you a lot better
- You don't have to worry that someone might see you in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This is not a checklist for deciding when and who to come out to. Nor does it cover all the issues involved in telling somebody that you are gay or bisexual. You should only use this as a guide to some of the issues you might need to consider. Take time to consider the specific aspects of your own situation.
How should I tell people? Some things to think about.
It is best to try to plan telling them. This is especially important for the people who will be most affected, like your family. Remember that they have to come to terms with your sexuality too. How long did it take you to come to terms with it? Often family and friends will share part of your coming out experience too.
First, make sure you are comfortable with your own sexuality and you are prepared to take time to answer their questions. If you want more facts talk to friends or your local gay and lesbian counselling service.
Second, try to organise it at a time when you are able to have a good talk about any issues that arise. Try not to do it at a time of stress or other pressures.
Choose somewhere that you can both (all?) be comfortable. You may feel better doing it on neutral ground in a public place (coffee shop, park, etc). Or it may be better at your home or their home.
Actually saying the words can also be difficult. Rehearse what you would like to say. Trying it out with friends or counsellors can help. They can give you some ideas of what may work.
Make sure you have someone you can talk to or stay with just in case it doesn't go well.
Who will support me?
Coming out can be a very stressful time. It is good to have someone to talk to, especially if the ones you are coming out to react badly. If you have any lesbian or gay friends they may be worth confiding in.
Your local Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service is also a really good place to call. You can have a chat with one of the volunteer counsellors before you do it and again after if it doesn't work out as well as you hoped.
Is it safe to come out?
Before telling people about your sexuality you should think about how things in general are going. If the person you are planning on telling is dealing with grief, sickness, death, moving or losing a job, it may be best if you hold off from telling them about your sexuality.
Often people will come out during a fight. This can be positive and negative. For some people, saying "I'm gay" is very difficult. The main disadvantage in coming out in a fight is that it may sound as though you are using it as a weapon against the other person and therefore they will not be in any mood to be understanding.
You might be telling someone who you are financially dependent on. If you think there is a real risk of being thrown out of the house or having money for school, university, or TAFE cut off by the person you're planning to tell, it may be best to hold off from telling them. You need to decide whether your home and education or your sexuality is more important for the moment (not saying never tell them, but maybe wait until you have some money or are able to be a little more independent). This is quite a difficult question and you may want to discuss it with a counsellor.
If they are conservative or religious, you may have some real problems telling them about your sexuality. It will be important for you to consider whether it is necessary for them to know about that part of your life.
You may be comfortable with your sexuality now, but for them it could be something totally new. They may need some time to adjust to it. Sometimes it can even take several years.
They also may have guessed already!
From Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service of NSW. © 2006. All rights reserved.