Be Sure Of Yourself
It's unwise to contemplate coming out to anyone until you are sure of your own sexuality and relatively comfortable with it. When you tell someone you're gay, especially your family or people close to you, their first response is often
"Are you sure?". If you're confused about the answer to that question, then they are likely to end up confused as well. Similarly, if you're feeling guilty or positively uncomfortable with your sexuality, it will probably be too difficult and stressful to discuss with others. It won't help matters at all when they ask questions you're not ready or able to answer.
Know What You're Talking About
If you tell someone you're gay and they start asking what it's all about, it doesn't look too impressive if you don't know. There's lots of information about gay sexuality on the internet, so take some time to surf through this. Find out about all things related to your sexuality and, in particular, take some time to:
- Understand about gay sexuality, gender identity and the fact that the two are not related.
- Realize, and be able to explain, why it is irrational to believe that gay sexuality is a matter of choice.
- Discover that all gay people are completely different and nobody conforms to any stereotype.
- Know the difference between safe and unsafe sex and find out about other topics relevant to your sexual health.
- Find out the implications in regard to your religion, or what others might mistakenly believe of your religion.
In addition to this website, there are many pamphlets and online source of information available, on these and other gay related topics. If you can't find the information you need on the internet, call the York Region LGBT switchboard who will advise where you can obtain them.
Printed informational materials and books can be particularly useful for giving to your parents. Your parents may well want to better understand your sexuality but they may be too embarrassed to talk to you or feel that they can't reliably trust the accuracy of what you tell them. You should try to get the books and materials yourself and hand them over as your parents might not know where to get them and may even be too embarrassed to find out.
Decide On A Strategy
It makes little sense to tell everyone about your sexuality, all at the same time. Instead, you should aim to divide and conquer! First try to group the people you know, for example, close friends, parents, other friends, people at work, etc. You can then decide which of these groups you feel you want to tell. The vast majority of gay people only come out selectively, so it's certainly not compulsory that everyone has to know. When you've decided on the groups, start by working out the most sensible sequence for dealing with the groups and individuals within each group. Then try to create a rough schedule to decide when you think you should be coming out to them.
One key consideration in all of this is that some people cannot be trusted to keep news of your sexuality confidential. There may be a risk that they will tell others behind your back. If this is a possibility, it may influence the order in which you tell people. You should always consider the effect of someone spilling the beans, if this is at all likely.
Balance The Pros And Cons
Think about the benefits to be had from coming out to someone, and weigh these against the potential risks if they should react badly. This is also a good time to review your motives for why you want to come out to someone. Ensure that you have thought this out rationally and you're convinced that this is indeed the best time.
Find Some Allies
If possible, talk with other gay people, whether on the internet or in real life. Find out their views and learn of their coming out experiences. Additionally, you could contact the York Region LGBT switchboard or an organization like PFLAG to chat with them. You can also take advantage of various counselling options that are available to gays and lesbians in York Region. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you can chat on the phone to people from all of these organizations. Or you could arrange to attend a PFLAG meeting, make an appointment to meet with a counsellor or join one of York Region's gay social or support groups.
On the internet, there are a large number of sites that contain guidance on coming out. Take the time to visit some of these.
The more people you can talk to and the more advice that you can gather, the wiser you'll become. It will then be much easier for you to make the right decisions and choose the best approach with the fewest unforeseen problems.
Whilst hopefully this won't happen to you, it is possible for someone to react extremely badly when you come out to them. Rare though it may be, gay people have even been forced to leave home at short notice after telling their parents. So, when you're about to come out to someone it's vital that you consider the worst case scenario and have a backup plan. If the person you're about to tell is someone essential in your life, make sure that there is someone else or a group you can turn to for emotional support and practical help. Likewise, if you are financially dependent on the person the risk of a bad reaction might just be too great. If so, decide to postpone your coming out until you are capable of financial independence.
One To One
It's usually much easier to tell people individually, rather than telling several people at the same time. That way you can concentrate on the best way to go about telling that particular individual. And you can focus specifically on any questions or concerns they may have. Many people behave less intelligently when they're in groups and the last thing you need is to have the people you're coming out to disagreeing with each other. In some cases, your revelation may cause some embarrassment either to you or the people receiving the news. This will only be made worse if there are several people present.
If you're telling your family or a close friend about your sexuality, this is definitely something you need to do personally and unaided. Don't be tempted to take anyone else along, to either help with the task or provide on-the-spot moral support - especially your same sex girlfriend or boyfriend. This is partly because of the embarrassment factor, which might prevent someone talking to you openly if others are present. Also, those who are very close to you, for example your parents, may be quite shocked by the news. They could react irrationally at first by trying to pin the blame on someone, and your boyfriend/girlfriend could become an ideal target!
You should also avoid announcing your sexuality to your immediate family or close friends in a phone call, letter or email. The problem with all of these methods of communication is that they relay your words but without any body language. So they don't accurately convey your feelings and your sincerity. Equally they make it difficult, perhaps impossible, for you to gauge the person's reaction. This denies you the chance to respond immediately to any concerns. Instead, you'll be left wondering, worrying and perhaps fearing the worst when it's not justified. And there is every chance that the person you have told will be left with numerous unanswered questions. These will either worry them or might tempt them to jump to all sorts of wrong conclusions. Parents and very close friends may also be stunned that you have not chosen to tell them in person. They may even be offended by the fact that you have gone about telling them in such an impersonal way, denying them the opportunity for discussion.
Testing The Water
When telling a casual friend, you may be completely unaware of their general outlook on gay sexuality. And that lack of awareness will make it much harder for you to predict their reaction. In this situation, there are various things you can do:
- Bring up the occasional gay related topic in conversation and see what reaction you get.
- Say you have another friend who's just told you that he or she is gay and you're not sure how you should react. Ask for this friend's advice.
- Announce your sexuality humourously, in such a way that you can gauge the reaction and then reverse out of the situation if necessary and turn it into a joke.
Speak For Yourself - Not The Gay Community
The terms 'gay community' and 'gay lifestyle' do nothing but persuade people towards the mistaken belief that all gay people must be the same, or at least very similar. In turn this merely strengthens the view that every gay person matches a mythical stereotype which many straight people don't find altogether appealing. And so the logic follows that if you're gay then you must be stereotypical and equally unappealing.
When coming out, the message you need to convey is a more realistic one. You need to emphasize that you are exactly the same person you've always been. That person was always gay. The only thing that is changing with your coming out is that you'd now prefer people to know about it rather than have it kept as a secret. Everything else about you remains exactly the same as it was before.
So avoid ever using the terms 'gay community' or 'gay lifestyle' when you're coming out and challenge those terms when others mention them. It's you that's doing this on your own and for yourself. If you feel an urge to start campaigning for the 'gay community', don't start on that right now. You'll do better to work on that after you've come out and not at the same time!
Incidentally, there is also a common misunderstanding that the more 'out' gay people there are, the more that society in general will become less homophobic. The reality is that people in general become less homophobic when they
gay people. But the opposite is true if they merely
more, without actually knowing any. When people know gay people they benefit from learning that what they might once have perceived as some kind of threat is really no threat at all. But if they know of many gay people without actually knowing any, they don't react well - as they only see their perceived threat increasing in size! So, by coming out you may reduce homophobia amongst the people you come out to. But if you're thinking that by coming out you'll be helping to improve society at large, forget it because you won't.
Don't Take Anything For Granted
Don't imagine that you can predict someone's reaction to your coming out. You might be tempted to think that their response will be the same as that of the last person you told. But almost inevitably it won't be, because everyone reacts differently. Be prepared for all eventualities.
Be Prepared to Answer Questions
What many straight people know about gay sexuality would easily fit on the head of a pin. To make things worse, they often think they have an understanding of it, but their understanding is incorrect. Often it's just based on a vast collection of myths they acquired from others who were misinformed before they were. Fortunately for you, most of these myths are going to seem at odds with what people already know about you. And this explains why people can be confused when you first come out to them.
When you come out to someone, it's your job to help them sort out their confusion. To do this, you're going to have to be prepared to answer their questions. Sometimes they will ask question and expect answers straight away. Other times people might need time to think for themselves or get over the initial shock and then start to ask questions later.
Try to answer all the questions as openly and honestly as you can. If someone asks something that's too intimate, say that the question is too personal and you're not prepared to go into those details, rather than tell a lie.
Always remember to point out that nothing about you is changing. You are what you are and what you have always been. And you deserve the right to be honest about yourself to others.