I’ve come out to many people in many ways. I’ve received a wide variety of reactions; thankfully I’ve made it through the bad ones, and still cherish the good ones. Here are five points I wish I would’ve had as a coming out plan (not that I ever had a plan in the first place).
1. Think it through.
All I want to do is just come out to everyone all the time! But most people don’t care or need to hear this. Those that do are sometimes not ready, even though you are, or vice-versa.
It’s also better to know what you are going to say so it comes out clear and understandable, and you get everything out in the right order. I’ve certainly gotten tongue tied a few times when caught unawares and inadvertently try to explain my identity to people. Even though I live and breathe these ideas online, it is sometimes difficult to say it in person, in front of a real person!
Now, all of this does not discount spontaneous coming out – if you feel comfortable in the moment and it seems appropriate, go ahead and tell the person.
2. Be resourceful.
Use the resources that are out there, both for yourself and for the person you are coming out to. Sometimes telling a close loved one of your sexuality and/or gender affects them very much – they’ll be very hurt, get very sad and depressed, they won’t know how to deal with it, and usually they want to keep it a secret which means they’ll have no one to talk to about it.
Try to provide them with resources, especially books or online forums, that they can look into in their own time and absorb at their own pace. They might also be too shy or embarrassed to get the book themselves, so it’s a tremendous help if you reach out and hand it to them on a silver platter. If they don’t read it, then at least you did your best. Tell them about others who know about you that they can talk to, if that’s an option.
3. Be ready.
This goes for yourself as well as others. Try to come out only to people who are ready to hear it. That is, they know you deep enough or long enough, are close to you, and you are pretty sure they won’t reject you. Avoid coming out to those who are not ready. I may be a coward, but it’s my philosophy that if you know there is a pit of snakes in there, don’t jump right into it, you’ll only get hurt and probably won’t get anything out of it. There are always exceptions, but that’s why those are called exceptions. If you must come out to somebody who you think is not ready (for instance, your parents) then re-read the next step.
4. Expect the worst.
This doesn’t mean the worst will happen, or to think in apocalyptic terms. Often the worst is simply the unexpected, so if you are prepared it won’t be so bad. Just think through the many reactions each person would have, and ask yourself if you are ready to deal with a bad reaction. If you aren’t, give it more time. If you’re ready, take the steps to prevent the worst from happening.
A few people I came out to really truly understood. Actually only two, the closest two I have, and I really didn’t have to come out to them because, in a way, they already knew.
But people will often not understand. Don’t expect people to understand, but do tell them what you expect of them after coming out. If someone isn’t very close to you, chances are they won’t care enough to learn, to come to that full understanding we all yearn. But hopefully they’ll care enough that they’ll respect you, and even trust you a little more since you shared a part of you with them. Don’t get frustrated, some will never understand. However, don’t despair, keep correcting them, be open to questions, and the day that they do say, hey, I want to learn more, let them know you’ll gladly help.
Now, if you must come out to someone who will probably not understand and get very very upset, then here are some good pointers:
- Have people there to support you, and if possible, present in the same room. It makes the upset person more afraid to be mean to you, and de-affirms their claims that you’re crazy/wrong/etc.
- If you want, write a letter beforehand. This will give you a chance to explain everything, lay out all of your cards before you get interrupted and it spirals down into a screaming argument, and gives them time to digest the shock and information.
- It is especially important to write out or tell them what you expect of them: please respect me; this is not a phase, and if it is let me live it and find my own way; I don’t expect you to understand right now, but I do expect you to try.
- If they are not getting it, don’t drown them in information; don’t try to over-explain things, use terms that are unfamiliar to them, or reveal your innermost thoughts and feelings.
- Do emphasize points such as: you want my happiness, this makes me happy; I am not doing this to hurt you or me or anyone; there are others like me, and like you (point to resources for family and friends); I still love you, and I know you still love me.
- If they’re not ready, they’re not ready. They are probably going to take it the wrong way, no matter what you say. Remember, they’re already defensive as it is, and you’re putting them on the spot. Don’t try too hard to convince them of anything right now, and try not to get into a shouting match, even if they provoke you.
Of course, there will always be people who will never ever understand, and you may or may not be in the position that you have to come out to them. In that case, be ready for total rejection. It’s sad, but it’s the reality. Be prepared and look for people around who can support you. If you’re reading this, then you already know someone.
5. Be patient.
Be patient with yourself – take your time to write out your thoughts, plan on what you will say, and sort out your feelings. It’s OK to take the extra time to figure things out, or to keep exploring.
Be patient with the other person – they might be willing to accept it and at the same time be shocked or hurt because they did not expect it or they don’t understand it. Some people aren’t as exposed to alternative gender/sexualities so they know nothing about it, and all of this will be very new to them. If they aren’t willing to accept just yet, and they still love you (which they hopefully will), be patient as they try to come to terms with it. Remember, you didn’t throw your arms up the first day and exclaim with glee “I’m queer! yay!” If you did, great! But it probably took a while to get to this point.
This is the most important point. Be open to forgiving someone if they have reacted badly and apologized, or if they rejected you but then came to accept you, or they’re at least making an effort. People change, sometimes when you least expect it. It can take a few weeks, or a few years. It can be a superficial change, or a deep change. But it’s possible – I’ve seen it myself!
Of course, my experience is quite limited to, well, my experience. And I’m still struggling with coming out everyday to different people. If anyone else has any other feedback we’d all greatly appreciate it.
Also stay tuned for more on the Coming Out series.