Coming Out?

Question: What Does It Mean to Come Out?
Answer: Coming out is the process of accepting your sexual orientation and telling family, co-workers and friends. Coming out is different for every gay or bisexual person. Some experience fear, pain, and frustration. Others find the process less difficult.

Why is it called a process?

Coming out happens in stages: first coming out to yourself (also called “coming in”), then disclosing your sexual orientation to others. Many continue disclosing their sexuality over time, not as a one time announcement.

To ease the transition, I suggest coming out to those that are most likely to support you (like a close friend, trusted teacher, or parent), then come out to others. A support system can help ease any fears and anxieties that sometimes come along with coming out. Do I have to come out to everyone?
Not at all! Coming out to yourself does not mean you have to tell others. However, many that tell other people find it freeing to be able to share parts of their lives that they otherwise would keep secret.

How do I tell someone about this part of my life?

Acceptance and support from people you see regularly is a key part of mental and spiritual health. For the person who experiences same-gender attraction, this requires that you tell other people about this part of your life rather than keeping it a secret.

Of course, you do not want to tell everyone. Especially when you start telling people, it is important that you carefully choose who you are going to tell and how you are going to tell them. Telling involves some risks, as you cannot predict 100% how someone will respond. It also involves many rewards as you discover others who accept you and affirm you for the person you are, even if they do not understand fully what you are struggling with. You will know who you can talk to on days when things are tough. And you can begin to have a sense that experiencing same-sex attraction is not some dark awful secret that you are doomed to carry for the rest of your life, but that it is just one part of who you are right now.

Whom do I tell?

Only you can decide who to tell. Think of your friends, family members, youth workers, priests or ministers, and other people you know. Which of them would you like to tell? Who do you think might offer helpful support?

Many people find it helpful if some of their close friends know. That way, the guys and girls you hang out with can encourage you and provide support. If you are able to tell your parents, that can be helpful as well, especially in terms of them being more understanding about what’s happening in your life. It is also harder to tell them about something like this.

Clues on how someone may respond:

Look for clues that give you information about how he or she is likely to respond:

* How have they responded to other personal stuff that you’ve told them?
* Do they keep secrets well? Or do they tell? For example, have they ever told you other people’s secrets which they were not supposed to share?
* Do they gossip? Do they talk about other people behind their backs?
* Do you trust them at a deep gut level?
* How do they talk about people who are different from them? How do they talk about people with whom they disagree?
* Do they call people names?
* Do they act nice to some people, when they don’t really mean it at all?
* are they your friend sometimes, and at other times “kick you in the teeth?” …

It is often easier to tell people you’ve known for longer, but telling them is more of a risk.

How to tell

How you tell someone that you struggle with same-sex attraction depends on many things, including who the other person is, how much you want to tell them, how you are feeling right now, and so on. Here are some suggestions to help you in deciding the best way to tell:

1.  Timing:
Choose a time when the other person is free to listen to you and talk with you. If the other person is leaving in five minutes, or in a hurry to get something done, or watching their favourite TV show, it is not a good time.

2. Leading into it: It is best to lead up to what you want to tell, rather than just blurting out that you struggle with same-sex attraction. This prepares the person by moving the conversation to a more serious level and focuses their attention.

For example, if the other person has noticed before that something is bothering you, and has asked about it, you might say something like “You know the way you’ve been asking me if something’s bothering me? Well, there is something, actually. Can I talk to you about it?”

Here’s how you might start if you think the other person probably has no idea: “There’s something I want to talk with you about… is this a good time?” If the other person says that it is, you might then say: “This is hard for me to talk about, but I wanted to tell you because we’ve been friends for such a long time.” Then continue on and say what it is you’re dealing with.

If there’s someone you want to tell, but you are really not sure how they will respond, you could try telling them in “layers”. First, you tell them something sort of personal. If they respond well, you tell them something more personal. If they respond well to that, … and so on. For example, Jim first told his friend that he struggled with feeling lonely a lot of the time. Because his friend was understanding of Jim’s loneliness, a week later Jim told his friend that he struggles with pornography (without mentioning what kind of porn it was). When his friend didn’t condemn him for that, but demonstrated trust and offered help, Jim decided that he could tell his friend about his struggles with same-sex attraction. If Jim’s friend had reacted poorly to hearing about his struggles with pornography, Jim would of course not have shared anything more.

3. Words:
The words you use to tell are important. There is a difference between telling someone “I’m gay” and “I struggle with homosexuality”. For one thing, labels are not helpful because they can mean quite different things to different people. Descriptions are easier for the other person to deal with.

We recommend the following kinds of sentences (obviously, you would choose one which is true for you and then modify it to suit your particular situation, whom you are telling, etc.):

* “I struggle with same-gender attraction.”
* “I’m dealing with homosexual attractions.”
* “I’ve been experiencing a lot of attraction to other guys/girls lately….”
* “I’ve been struggling with pornography…” (and then, as the conversation continues, you would mention that it’s same-gender pornography.)

4. Confidentiality:
In some situations, you might want to “swear the other person to secrecy” before telling. This is more important in a case where the other person is an adult who knows your parents, and where you think he or she may feel some obligation to tell your parents. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated. Essentially, after telling the person that there’s something you want to talk about with them, you ask them to agree not to tell anyone.

If the person is a youth pastor, a social worker, or someone like that, they may want to make some exceptions. Often, they are obliged by law to report sexual abuse and situations where children are at risk of being abused. They may also say that they need to take action if someone is talking about committing suicide. These are reasonable exceptions to “not telling anyone”. But other than these two exceptions, they should be willing to agree to keep what you say confidential. If not, consider carefully whether you want to tell them.

5. Take an article, or refer them to our website

6. Someone they can talk to:
In some cases, it can be helpful to give the person you are telling permission to talk with someone else about it if they want to. Let’s say you’ve told a youth worker or youth pastor, and he or she was very supportive and understanding. Now you want to tell your best friend. After you tell your friend, depending on how your friend responds, you could suggest that he or she speak to your youth worker (if you think this would be helpful)

Possible responses

There are a variety of ways that people might respond after you tell them that you experience same-sex attraction:

* “I was were wondering if that might be the case…”
* “I already knew…”
* “I knew you were struggling with something, but didn’t know what.”
* “I had no idea.”
* “That’s cool.” (and variations like “So what?”)
* “I can’t believe it.” (and its variations: “It can’t be true.” “Are you sure?” and so on.)
* Some people won’t know what to say. They might say so (“well, I really don’t know what to say”) or they might not. They might even change the subject. Do not assume that they are rejecting you. They might be very accepting and interested in remaining friends as before, despite not knowing how to respond to what you said. They might later ask about it or respond in some other way, after they’ve had some time to think.
* From a few people, you may also get negative responses. However, choosing carefully whom you tell should minimize these.

Longer-term results

In the long run, some people will accept you as their friend, family member (or whatever), without your same-sex attraction affecting the relationship. Of these, some will not really be comfortable talking about it. Others will be okay with talking about it, and willing to listen compassionately whenever you need to talk. They may also ask you about it occasionally.

Telling people you trust where you are at is necessary in order to break out of isolation and shame. It results in an increased sense of acceptance and belonging. It provides a sense of being one with others whether or not they are dealing with similar issues, and opens the way for them to stand with you in the midst of the struggles you have. It can give you hope for resolution of the struggles you have.

Take some time today to think about whom you would like to tell, and make plans to do so.