"Coming out" means letting others know that you're lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ). Coming out is a very personal decision. While it can strengthen and deepen relationships and improve self-esteem, it can be a very scary thing. In some situations, it can even be risky. Only you can decide if and when to come out, to whom, and how to do it.
Should I come out?
In our society there is a lot of homophobia — fear and hatred of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ). It's caused by ignorance, or other kinds of misinformation and lack of understanding about what LGBT people are really like.
The coming out process — letting people know who you are — can be a great experience for teens who have support from their families and communities.
But not all teens have this kind of acceptance. Sometimes coming out means that you'll lose the emotional and financial support of your family. If this is the case, you may need to wait until you can find a way to support yourself. You should also think about whether coming out could put you in any physical danger.
For many people the coming out process begins with being open with other people who are also LGBTQ. This may happen online, in community centers, or in social situations. It can feel like a safe place to start, especially if you sense there might be risks involved with coming out in your family or in your community.
Should I come out to my parent(s)?
Coming out to a parent or other family member can be intimidating and scary. Know that every family is different and there's no sure way of knowing how your parents will react.
Many teens come out to their parents and are met with love and a willingness to learn more. But generally, most parents go through these stages: shock, denial, guilt, expression of feelings, personal decision-making, and true acceptance. This process, however, can take years, and not all parents will ever be accepting.
The best way to decide whether to talk with your parent is to ask yourself these questions:
- Are you sure about your sexual orientation and identity?
- Do you really want to declare it at this point in your life?
- Are you comfortable with your sexuality?
- Do you have the support of friends and family?
- Are you knowledgeable about the challenges that are faced by people who are LGBTQ?
- What's the emotional climate at home?
- Why do you want to come out now?
- Do you have available resources to care for yourself if your parents decide not to because of your sexual identity?
- Are you financially dependent on your parents?
- What is your general relationship with your parents?
- What are their views on people who are LGBTQ?
- Is coming out your own decision, or are you doing it because someone else is pressuring you?
Exploring these questions will help you be clear about your sexuality in your own mind before coming out to your parent. It's very important that you are sure she or he will at least be understanding, if not supportive of your sexuality.
If there's a possibility that you may be told to leave home or something equally drastic, it is definitely better to wait until you are in a better place to take care of yourself.
Should I come out to my friends?
Deciding whether to come out to friends can be an extremely difficult decision. Some teens find that being upfront with their feelings is the best way to sort things out. You may want to explain how you feel and ask your friend how she or he feels about the situation.
It's important to remember that any time you confront or discuss your feelings with somebody you're taking a risk. You may get hurt in the process. Also, the person you tell your secret to may tell it to others who you might not want to know, so make sure to consider whether it's worth the risk. It might be helpful to talk things over first with a friend or another person who already knows and is supportive.
Should I come out at school? At my temple, church, or mosque? At work?
People who are LGBTQ often long to be open and honest about who they are with the whole world. It's best to deal with each social situation separately and cautiously. Watch and listen carefully to get a sense of whether the people aroundyou accept and support LGBTQ people.
Let fellow students, teachers, workers, bosses, ministers, priests, nuns, rabbis, and imams earn your trust by what they say and do before you come out to them. If the leadership in your school, workplace, or place of worship speaks welcomingly of LGBTQ people, you may feel safe enough to come out to them. If they speak dismissively or hatefully about LGBTQ people or other minorities, it will probably be safer not to come out to them.
Should I come out to my doctor?
Coming out to your health care provider is important. It's about more than just telling your nurse or doctor about your sexual orientation or identity. It's about being honest about your sexual behaviors. The more a health care provider knows about you, the better she or he will be able to help you stay healthy.
If you're under 18, you may be afraid that your nurse or doctor will talk about it with your parents. Maybe you aren't out at school or work. It's okay to ask how confidential your conversation will be.
You'll be able to prevent many misunderstandings if you come out to your nurse or doctor. You'll be able to
- focus on health concerns specific to you
- avoid unnecessary questions or discussions — about birth control, for example
- find out about LGBT-friendly referrals for other health specialists you may need
Remember — being open with your nurse or doctor about all aspects of your sexuality is ideal for the best health care possible. Keep in mind that periodic checkups are essential for staying healthy — whether or not you are out.