In this article, I use the term “coming out.” I am considering this term in an expansive way which includes the sharing of one’s gender identity, sexual identity, relationship structure, and/or anything else that someone wants to share about themselves.
The Inspiration of Gay TikTok
Via TikTok, I have the honor of witnessing countless coming out video clips and stories, and, folks, I genuinely cried watching these. Anyone else?! Some are light-hearted, celebratory, or humorous, while others are stories of struggle, and others cover the full spectrum of emotions in just a minute’s time. Every single one is valid.
Needless to say, a few months ago, I was feeling hyped up, inspired, and supported by “gay TikTok,” by people I don’t personally know. Thus, I decided to peel back another layer of my own coming out. (By the way, The Gender Unicorn is a tool that actually helped me come out to myself first, and, next, to my spouse. Check it out here!)
I had my spouse take a picture of my in my cute, new, baby pink GAY shirt (the logo looks like a 1990’s GAP logo– iknowright?!). And then, on a Saturday morning, when I was feeling grounded but also excited, I sent the pic along with this caption to my parents:
“Morning. Going out on a tiny limb just to say… I’m queer! [rainbow emoji x2] I often write things like ‘I am hetero-presenting,’ so, to be direct I am bisexual/pansexual. No need for any particular response. And for now, I just want to text about it. I want to put this part of me out there bc I feel it every day and wanted y’all to know. [sparkly pink heart emoji x3]”
Things to Consider When Coming Out
This experience helped me understand some things I have known and believed in a new, deeper way. The following list includes some things to consider if or when you are ready to explore your own coming out.
This is just one resource for your journey; take what works for you, and leave the rest. There are so many elders and peers who we can all learn alongside. In fact, much of the content in this blog was inspired and supported by LGBTQIA+ folks in my circle.
- You don’t owe your coming out to anyone. YOUR coming out is YOUR process. If or when you feel ready to come one to someone or a group of people, awesome! But just because you are out to some people (even if are out only to yourself), you don’t have to come out to anyone else. Trust the timing that feels right for you.
- Do it your own way! You can use whatever format (text, IRL, email, etc.), language, words, labels, etc that YOU want.
- Go at your own pace. Come out in whatever pace feels best to you. Other people will move at different paces, and that is okay. All paths are valid!
- Call in support before, during, and after. Surround yourself by people, songs, items, etc. that make you feel seen. Coming out can be a risk, so, if possible, tap into your support system as a way to bolster yourself. And, yes, this could literally mean bringing a friend into the conversation for extra support.
- Consider your safety.* If you suspect that it may not be safe for you to stay in the space after coming out, have a plan. Is there a friend or family member you can stay with? It should also be said that if you don’t feel safe coming out, your identity is still 100% valid, and you are who you are.
- Hold boundaries that help you feel supported. For example, if the person/people you are coming out to starts up with a lot of questions that don’t feel good, you can say, “I am not up for questions right now” or “That’s not something I want to talk about.” You can also invite them to use google in order to protect your own energy. If they bring in judgments or fears that don’t affirm you, it might help to press pause on the conversation.
- Name your needs and wishes. If you want the person you are sharing with to keep your identity confidential for now, tell them. If there’s a way you’d like their continued support, like helping you explore ways to come out to family or go shopping for new clothes with you, name it!
- Give folks time. While this experience is about YOU, it is also true that the person witnessing your coming out may need some time to process the new information you have shared with them. They will be on their own journey of understanding, and while it’s not your responsibility to help them arrive there, you can give them some time.
- Know that coming out is an ongoing, layered process. Coming out is not a one-time thing. I will reiterate: you don’t owe anyone your coming out and/or any explanation. That said, choosing to be “out” in new spaces or with new people is a continual process. For example, you might come out to extended family, teachers, new college friends, and, eventually, as adults, to your doctor, your realtor, and so on.
- Identity is not static. You are always growing and integrating new information about yourself and the world. Thus, over time, you might know yourself in new ways and may want to shift or change the words you use to describe yourself.
* If you’re a young person in need of help, contact The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. They provide help, resources, crisis intervention, and suicide prevention for LBGTQIA+ young people under 25.
How to Support Someone When They Come Out
If you are lucky enough to witness and receive someone’s coming out, you are in an important role! Your reaction can make a huge impact on the person who is sharing their story. These are some tips and ideas for you to consider.
- Listen more than you talk. This experience is about the person who is coming out. Thus, your role as a listener is crucial.
- Affirm, affirm, affirm. Say things like, “I feel so honored to know this part of you!” “I am so excited for your journey!” and “I’m always here for you!” Your tone also very much matters, so please be genuine with your words.
- Take it easy on the questions. If you are flooded with a bunch of questions center your own curiosity/anxiety/fear/worry rather than the other person’s needs, refrain from asking them.
- Be okay with not understanding everything. If you don’t know the term the other person used, that’s okay. You can say, “I haven’t heard that word. What does that mean to you?” If you can’t yet integrate or make sense of what they are sharing, keep that to yourself and process in a time and space that doesn’t cost the person who is coming out emotional labor. Be willing to leave the convo “unfinished;” if, together, you can build trust and safety, it is likely that the conversation will continue.
- DO ask if there is any support you can offer. You might ask, “Is there anything I can do to keep supporting you?” Stay open and listen. If you heard them mention something they are uncertain or confused about, you might make a more specific offer: “Would you like to look up other ideas for coming out to friends?” for example.
- Take a break. If you feel emotionally flooded or overwhelmed, take a break. Reassure the other person that you would like to continue the conversation soon and will check back in with them tomorrow/in a few hours/next week.
- Apologize if you’ve caused harm. If your first reaction was not your finest, DO apologize after you’ve had time to settle and reflect.
Explore this online resource for allies friends and family: Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)— despite the name, PFLAG is LGBTQ+ inclusive.
Seek Support Along the Journey
If you are considering coming out, I invite you to stay patient with yourself and the process. Your needs and desires are valid. You may like to start by documenting your support system with this guide + map.
If you are the friend or loved one of someone who is in the process of coming out, follow their lead, and remember, this is not about you. Reach out to your own support system so that you can be resourced and supportive.