Coming Out To Yourself
The first person you need to come out to is yourself.
Nobody is 100% sure of the root causes of gay sexuality, but one thing is certain - you have no control over it. Even so, it can take quite some time to adjust to the idea and to accept your own inner feelings in preference to what others might expect or assume. Some people recognize their sexuality and start to come to terms with it in their early teens, but for many others this happens in their twenties or even later in life. Like so many other facets of gay life, there are no rules and everyone is different.
Initially, you will probably be confused by it all and may be unsure of exactly what your sexuality is. Misleadingly, you may have been brought up to believe that all gays and lesbians follow a common pattern or stereotype and share a similar lifestyle, as portrayed by evidently gay people you've seen or heard about. These might be people you've seen in real life, or perhaps in the news and on the TV. Many straight people hold the opinion that all gay people are much the same because the only gay people they will have recognized are the ones who outwardly appear gay by their behaviour. So they conclude that everyone who is gay must be like this. Then they will have conveyed the same message to you, influencing your own thinking as you grew up. But now, you'll be thinking just how different you are to this stereotype. As a result you may have spent some time doubting whether you are really gay.
The reality is that the vast majority of gay people aren't on the TV and they don't fit any convenient stereotype. For every gay person you have recognized as such, you will have met many times more who you have assumed were straight, simply because there were no obvious signs of their gay sexuality. It only takes commonsense to realize that all people with green eyes aren't the same, nor are all people with black hair, nor all tall people, etc etc. So where's the logic in believing gay people should be any more alike? The truth is that we are all uniquely different from each other in every respect bar one - the fact that we just happen to be attracted to others of the same gender, but by varying degrees.
While you see yourself so different to your preconceived ideas about other gay people, it might be tempting for you to deny to yourself that you're gay. For a time you may have thought that your feelings towards members of the same sex was perhaps just a temporary phase. You might think that you're not quite so gay as others. You may even have considered labelling yourself as straight, despite being attracted primarily to people of the same gender.
It's therefore best to start by trying to forget about these preconceived ideas, because they're wrong! Forget also about giving yourself a label, as your sexuality won't actually change according to whether you call yourself gay, bisexual or straight. And forget about other gay people, because the only thing you have in common with all of them is that you're as unique as they are. Just focus on your own instinctive feelings about which gender(s) you are attracted to and to what extent. Think about whether you dream and fantasize about others of the same gender or if you've ever had a crush on someone of the same sex. Consider whether you find it easier to form close bonds with male or with female friends and if you're noticeably less interested in the opposite sex than your friends seem to be. If you had to spend the next five years on a desert island with just one person and you had to pick that person from someone you know or have known, would your choice be someone male or female? Questions of this type are the only key to measuring your own sexuality. If you can acknowledge that you're significantly attracted to members of the same sex, you are gay or at least bisexual.
The next issue is how to live with it. The undeniable fact is that you are what you are and you are free to do what you want with your life. You're also entitled to be happy while you do it. Unless you believe in reincarnation you will only live once, so you deserve the right to make the most of your life and to enjoy yourself while you're here.
There's no way to measure accurately but it's estimated that approximately 5-10% of the population are gay. The vast majority of them do come to terms with their sexuality and go on to live happy and fulfilling lives - and so should you. It will be difficult at times, especially to begin with, just as many other things in life can be difficult. This means that you need to adopt a positive attitude and work a bit harder to overcome the obstacles, and they can be overcome. It can be particularly difficult when you're young and dependent on the support of your parents and acceptance by school friends. But you need to remember that this is a very temporary situation. Soon enough you'll be supporting yourself financially, mixing with many different circles of friends and be much better able to make independent choices.
Remember too that gay people do not have a problem with their gay sexuality - it's what comes naturally to them. The problem is with society, its often ignorant understanding of diversity and the prejudice and hostility that sometimes results. In this respect things are gradually improving, but the problem won't be completely resolved overnight and probably not even within your lifetime. You can however be confident that you know better than society, because you're gay and the majority of society isn't. Accept society as it is and not as you would like it to be. But equally understand that you don't need to deal with all of society. The secret is to find happiness amongst the many people who are prepared to accept you for what you are and to learn to live happily without and despite the small minority who can't.
Coming Out FROM The Internet
As you're reading this web page, you evidently have access to the internet. And it's a great place to find information and make contact with other gay people. In fact, it's really the only place where you can easily find people who are open about their sexuality; to discuss things with them publicly or privately while remaining relatively anonymous at the same time. Exchanging your thoughts and concerns with others, even if only by email, messageboards or online chat, can be very beneficial in helping you come to terms with your sexuality. The net can also help you find gay friends, relationship candidates or more casual encounters.
But a word of caution: Every type of person imaginable has access to the internet and they won't all be your ideal friend or partner - in fact a small minority won't be ideal for anyone. So you need to be careful and sensible. Don't give away your personal identity to people you have never met. Get to know people a little before agreeing to meet them in person and always meet people initially in a public place. But while you need to be careful, there's no need to be paranoid by refusing to meet anyone. The internet is populated by exactly the same people that populate the outside world, where there are just a few that you need to be wary of. The vast majority of the population are very decent people, even when they're using the internet.
It's also not very healthy or sustaining to go through life making lots of online friends, but never having the inclination or confidence to meet and socialize with anyone in person. There's more to life than keeping company with a keyboard, mouse or handheld device. Try to avoid getting stuck in a situation where you're gay online but always appear straight to everyone in your real life. Some people take this to an extreme by only having sex with strangers that they meet online. They completely separate this sex life from intimacy and romance, which they reserve for people they know in their real life. Sometimes they will only have casual sex with same sex partners that they meet online. Meanwhile they are determined to keep up straight appearances for everyone they know by striving to exhibit romantic relationships with people of the opposite sex. As well as jeopardizing their safety by doing this, they also increase the risk of sexual health problems and create some serious difficulties for themselves later in life. Come the time they want to pursue a healthy and fulfilling monogamous relationship, they often find it difficult to recombine sex with intimacy and romance, having never had any prior experience balancing those things together as part of any single relationship.
So although it might be a necessity for a while, every day in the closet (even an online closet) is a day when you could be enjoying a better life. Have fun on the net, have fun carefully and let it help you to share experiences and to meet people. But don't let it become a substitute for a social life or allow it to become an excuse for never coming out to anyone in real life.
Coming Out To Close Friends
When you feel confident that you have come to terms with your own sexuality, you may start to wish you could be honest about yourself with the people in your life who matter most to you. Most people will react favourably, or sometimes indifferently, to the fact that you're gay. That is particularly true for people who know you well. But, a minority of people will react badly. And there's absolutely no guarantee that your closest friend, or the first person you choose to tell, won't be one of these people. It's therefore really important that you give a lot of thought to who you are going to tell first, when and how you should tell them and even where you should do it. The information in this guide will hopefully aid your thinking. But ultimately only you know the people concerned and how importantly you feel that they should know about your sexuality. Only you can gauge how you would be able to cope with a negative response from them.
When deciding whether to tell a close friend, here are some things you should consider:
- Does this person have access to your other friends? And can they trusted not to 'out' you to others who you weren't planning should know just yet?
- Are there any potential side-effects? For example, if you're a guy, it's unwise to tell a good friend's girlfriend before you tell your friend, especially if you have known him for a long time. If you do, his girlfriend could then have doubts about her boyfriend's sexuality! You owe it to your good friend to tell him first.
- How you would manage without this particular friend, if he or she reacts badly? Would you have other friends you could rely on for support? Even people who can ultimately cope with the news may be shocked initially and that can cause them to react very coolly towards you for quite a while.
Coming Out To Your Parents
This can be one of the most difficult coming out experiences, especially if you are young and still living at home with your parents. Because they are so close to you, the reaction of parents can be very difficult to handle, at least initially. In the worst cases, a few people have come out to their parents only to be told to pack their bags and leave home!
Only you know the relationship you have with your parents, so only you can gauge their likely reaction in order to decide whether and when they should be told. To help you judge this, you should think about their general reaction to gay related events that hit the news, gay TV programmes, openly gay celebrities, etc. Also think about how open minded they are in general terms. If they are moralistic or religious, consider also whether your sexuality is likely to conflict significantly with their views and beliefs.
Frequently, people find that when it comes to discussing personal matters, both their parents are not equal. Instead they find it much easier to confide in one parent who has a more sympathetic and understanding outlook than the other. (For guys, it's often their mother). If this applies in your case, and particularly if you find the other parent is notably more conservative or difficult to get along with, you should consider telling just one of your parents (i.e. the easier one) and let them tell the other. Or, at least let the easier parent advise you on when and how it might be best to approach telling your other parent.
Typically, a parent's first reaction is one of shock, and you need to make allowances for this. Don't forget that it's probably taken you quite some time to come to terms with the fact that you're gay, so it's unreasonable to expect that your parents will be able to instantly adapt to the idea. You really need to be very patient with your parents and allow them at least a few days, and maybe a few weeks, to get over the shock and come to terms with reality. In contrast, there's occasionally no shock at all and it just could be that your parents will say that they always suspected you were gay. If so, it will be you who ends up shocked!
After shock often comes denial - either not wanting to talk about it, appearing to disbelieve you or hysterically arguing that you're wrong about yourself. There's nothing at all you can do about this in the short-term, and allowing an argument to develop will only make things much worse. Instead, you need to just shrug your shoulders and give them time to absorb what you've told them. But after about a week raise the issue again and just calmly continue to insist that you know your own sexuality.
The next possibility is that parents (and especially single parents) may feel guilt and consider it their own fault that you are gay. In this case you need to reassure them very firmly that you do not consider the cause has anything to do with them. Alternatively, they may try to pin the blame elsewhere. (For this reason, it is positively not advisable for you to tell them about gay friends or lovers at the same moment you come out to them - at least not until you've gauged their initial reaction). Your parents might even try to put the blame on illness, and insist that you need to see a counsellor. If they do, one tactic is to agree to do so if they'll also see the same counsellor - as any good counsellor will be far more eager to fix your parents than to challenge your right to your sexuality.
Not all parents suffer shock, denial or guilt and when they do the time to deal with each of those issues varies considerably. The good news is that when these three problems are out of the way, things almost always start to improve. It's now that parents will start to discuss things rationally, strive to improve their own understanding, start to make sensible decisions and ultimately come to fully accept your sexuality.
If this sounds like too great an ordeal to face on your own, it might make sense to tell a brother or sister, before telling your parents. They may know more about gay sexuality or be more open minded and tolerant than your parents, and they may be able to help you decide on the best way of telling your parents. This strategy is particularly worth considering if you have a responsible older brother or sister, who you get along with very well, and who perhaps now lives away from home. However, be careful only to tell a brother or sister who can be trusted, and not one who is likely to maliciously reveal what you've told them the next time they are involved in a family argument.
Lastly, before telling parents, especially if you foresee difficulties, it is well worth getting in touch with PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). You can find information and contact details for this organisation in the 'Support Services' section of this website. Organisations like PFLAG will not only be able to provide you with further guidance, but they will also be able to provide information, guidance and support to your parents, if needed.
Coming Out To Other Friends
When you have told your closest friends about yourself, you may wish to do the same with your other friends. Bear in mind that these people will be very likely to talk about you between themselves. So in any group of people that are friends with each other, telling one will almost inevitably mean that they all find out fairly quickly.
You need to be careful if the friends you tell also know your parents, but you haven't yet come out to your parents. If telling your parents seems like a daunting prospect, it could be even worse if they were to find out unexpectedly from someone else, rather than from yourself at the time you want it to happen.
Along similar lines, if you tell friends that are also colleagues at work, or friends that know your colleagues, the news may soon reach your place of work.
On a more positive note, you are probably a little less concerned about the reaction of people who are not so close to you. If they find it difficult to accept your sexuality, in most cases they will simply walk away quietly rather than react badly over any prolonged period. And when that happens you will have the benefit of knowing that, with such a lack of commitment, these were probably not the best people to have as friends in the first place.
Coming Out At Work
If you are considering coming out at work, you really need to question your motives for wanting to, together with the risks involved. Obviously this varies immensely from one employer to another, so if your own employer is particularly accepting and you have several gay colleagues who are already 'out' at work, many of the points highlighted in this section may not apply.
Ultimately, your employer has no entitlement to knowledge about your personal life, so there is no obligation on you to reveal your sexuality at work - it is quite simply none of their business. You are paid to do a particular job, and you and your colleagues are expected to do your work to the best of your ability and without unnecessary distractions. Aside from outright discrimination, some employers may therefore be concerned if you make a grand announcement about your sexuality at work. If you are worried about the potential for gossip and tension around the workplace following your coming out, then you can be sure that your employer will be worried about it too, even if for different reasons.
Canada and some other countries have legislation which outlaws discrimination at work on the basis of sexual orientation. Elsewhere, employers may have 'equal opportunity' policies which also declare an intolerance of prejudice against gay people. But, although these things are a great help, they do not provide total protection against all evils. No amount of legislation or policy can control the subconscious thinking of a manager with homophobic tendencies. When he or she is subjectively deciding who is eligible for promotion or a pay rise, the outcome of that decision may well be adversely influenced, whether or not that should ideally be the case.
So weighed against those risks, you need to rationalize why there might be benefit to be had from coming out at work. It may be for example that you have a high level of social interaction with people at work and consider them as good friends. But in that case, maybe you should be coming out to them selectively as good friends, but outside of work. However, you then need to assess the risk of the news leaking out to other people at work and to your employer.
In summary, if you feel there is a positive benefit to be derived by coming out at work, then weigh this carefully against the risks involved. If there is no benefit to be had, it is probably not worth the risk unless you are convinced that it will not be an issue at your place of work.
Coming Out To People You Don't Know Very Well
As strange as it may sound, this is an excellent first step if you have never before told anyone about your sexuality. If the person reacts badly you can simply walk away without feeling any sense of loss. Assuming they are disconnected from your usual circle of friends, there's no risk that they will pass on the news to anyone that matters. And even if they're homophobic, they're unlikely to react strongly if you are not important to them. So provided that you do it in a safe place, you should think of this as an easy option. And there are some great benefits to be gained.
Firstly it will give you the chance to say
without dramatic emphasis, as if it's no big deal. Just saying those words to someone for the first time can be an amazingly satisfying first step towards accepting your own sexuality as an integrated part of who you are. But at first it's often difficult to work out exactly how you should drop this into a conversation and make it sound almost incidental. So that's why it makes sense to get some practise! Initially it might feel awkward or embarrassing for you to say the words
"I'm gay", but after a few times this will cease to be a problem. So if you can get past those first few times with people who don't matter, it will make it much easier when you get around to telling friends or members of your family.
Secondly, it will let you see how people respond when they hear this from someone in whom they don't have any vested interest. You'll learn that it's not a great issue for most people and many will tell you about other gay people that they already know. You'll also find out that it's something that can form part of a normal everyday conversation and that it doesn't have to be a taboo subject or such a great ordeal to mention your sexuality.
But don't go out looking for unsuspecting targets or make a dramatic announcement when it's clearly out of context with anything that's happening. Instead, just decide that you're going to take advantage of opportunities whenever they arise - and there will be lots of them. For example the next time a store owner (or someone equally detached from you) implies an opposite sex partner by mentioning the word girlfriend, boyfriend, wife or husband in casual conversation, make your move! Say you're gay but that you don't have a partner or, if you do, mention something inconsequential about your same-sex partner. After doing this a few times you'll wonder why you never before dared to mention your sexuality in public.