This Thursday is National Coming Out Day. The Human Rights Campaign describes the intent of the day as promoting “a safe world for LGBTQ individuals to live truthfully and openly.” Discovering and accepting your own sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression and telling others about that identity is a very personal, lifelong process. For many people, being open about who they are can bring a sense of relief and freedom. While there is no right way or time to do it, here are some things to consider when making the decision to come out.
Who should I tell?
Think about all of the different relationships in your life: friends, family, partners, acquaintances, co-workers, classmates, and professors. The process of disclosing your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression may look different for each of these relationships. As you meet new people throughout your life, you will have to think about how and if you want to come out to them.
It can be helpful to first come out to those who you think will be supportive. Think about people who will listen to you, respect you, and who won’t violate your confidentiality. Having a crew of supportive people in your corner can make it easier to tell the other people in your life.
Coming out to parents and family members can be a hard decision. Many parents react with love and support. However, some families must go through a long emotional process before coming to a place of acceptance. Think about which family members you may want to tell first. It can also be important to think about how financial support or housing may be affected when you make your decision to come out.
When should I tell?
It is important that you come out according to your own timeline. Don’t do it because you are feeling pressure from others. Avoid having the conversation when you (or others) have been drinking alcohol or using other substances.
When it comes to the actual conversation, pick a time that both you and the other person are relaxed and have plenty of time for a discussion. Avoid times when you or the other person are feeling stress or pressure. Right before Thanksgiving dinner is put on the table may not be the best time to have the conversation!
How should I tell?
Some people like to prepare what they want to say in advance. This could mean writing a letter and having the person read it prior to the discussion, or using the letter as a conversation starter during a face to face conversation. Some people find that role playing the conversation with a friend, counselor, or other professional helps them to think about what they want to say. It can be helpful to have these conversations privately, with one or two people at a time, instead of with large groups of people.
Remember, your safety and well-being is the most important thing during this process. While I have hope that we will one day live in a world in which all sexual orientations, gender expressions, and gender identities are celebrated and accepted, the current reality is that many people who are LGBTQ are confronted with bullying and violence. Consider your own safety and well-being before talking to people about your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. These resources can also provide support:
Where can I get support?
UNC Counseling and Wellness offers a wide range of services and programs to support students with personal, academic, career, health-related issues and crisis concerns.
There are several events in honor of Coming Out Week where you can get more information about coming out and talk with others.
Look for Safe Zone stickers and signs on office doors of faculty and staff. Safe Zone allies have completed training aimed at making the UNC community a safer and more supportive place for people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.
How I can be supportive of someone who is coming out?
We are all a part of making UNC’s campus (and the world) a place where people can be open and safe in their own sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity. The UNC LGBTQ Center has a great list of ways to be supportive to someone who is coming out. Check it out here.
References (and resources!)
GLSEN. Coming Out: A Guide for Youth and Their Allies. http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/news/record/1290.html
Planned Parenthood. Coming Out. http://www.plannedparenthood.org/info-for-teens/lgbtq/coming-out-33833.htm
George Mason University. http://lgbtq.gmu.edu/comingout/