For context, coming out of the closet, or ‘coming out‘, is a term used by the LGBTQ+ community and means that an individual is disclosing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Coming out has been framed as well as debated as a a privacy issue, coming out as been described and experienced as a wide range of psychological processes and journeys (e.g. decision making or risk-taking, or a speech) – this is a matter of personal identity – coming out is also seen as a rite of passage within the LGBTQ+ community as it seen as a person gaining a feeling of pride instead of shame and social stigma. The author Steven Seidman writes that “it is the power of the closet to shape the core of an individual’s life that has made homosexuality into a significant personal, social, and political drama in twentieth-century America”.
In addition, the American gender theorist Judith Butler argues, rather negatively, that the process of ‘coming out’ doesn’t free gay people from oppression – while they may feel free to be themselves, the fact that they then have to enter a non-heterosexual environment insulates judgement upon their identity (Source: ‘Imitation and Gender Insubordination’ (1991). Furthermore, ‘coming out of the closet’ is the source of gay slang which is related to voluntary disclosure or lack of. People who have already disclosed their gender identity and/or sexual orientation are out of the closet, while on the flip side, individuals who haven’t disclosed their identity are still in the closet.
Now, I’ve already ‘come out’ to friends and family – but in all honestly, you never really stop ‘coming out’, because you will most likely meet a variety of different people during your life. So if you’re a young person who is thinking of ‘coming out’ then, firstly – congratulations! This is a big thing, and you’re probably feeling a plethora of emotions (trust me), but don’t worry I’ve got some advice for if do decide to come out. But bear in mind that these are general tips!
- Managing nerves: Now, I know this can be a nerve-wracking experience, both for young people and older people – but that’s perfectly understandable! But if you are nervous about coming out to friends and family, try, for example, writing them a letter telling them – or, you could do what I did and use social media (Facebook and Instagram are recommended for this) and write a post. Social media can work especially if you have family members who aren’t in the same country as you.
- Allow people to be shocked: People will need time to process the news and let it sink in – be sensitive about their feelings as well. I would recommend picking a quiet, safe and calm spot where you can tell people. Remember that coming out can be a process, not a race.
- Negative reactions: unfortunately, not everyone is going to react positively. But, don’t lose hope right away – give them time to get used to the news. 9 times out of 10, the first reaction isn’t always the lasting reaction.
- But! It can also be a really positive experience: Coming out can be a really powerful and liberating experience – it can allow you to be your authentic self around friends, colleagues and family members. In addition, you can become a positive role model for other people around you who may be considering coming out.
- Consider the situation: The most important thing to consider about coming out is the situation – if you feel safe and comfortable in your environment, then go for it. But if your parents/carers are unsupportive or anti-LGBTQ+, then it honestly depends on a number of factors (such as age or your support system).
- Building a support system: However, if you are really nervous about coming out, I would highly recommend building a strong support system around you first. This could, for example, mean coming out to someone who you really trust and know will support you – and if you want to, have that person come with you when you come out to people! (Recommendation: I would highly recommend Freedom Youth, which is an LGBTQ+ youth group for young people aged 13 -25: I’ll provide a link when I post this!)
- Suspecting someone is LGBTQ: If you suspect someone is LGBTQ+, DO NOT force them to come out, as this is a highly personal experience, and you don’t know their situation. But you can foster an environment where it would be safe to come out if they chose to do so.
- Come Out to yourself first: The most important aspect of any coming out process is coming out to yourself – this is crucial if you are thinking of coming out to other people, because you will feel more confident in yourself, no matter how many labels you decide to use for yourself. (Sidenote: Its also perfectly OK to use no labels at all, or to find a new label that suits you more).
- You don’t have to ‘come out’ at all: At the end of the day, coming out is a choice only you can make, and while coming out can be a great experience, others may choose not to come out – either because they see their sexuality/gender as a private matter, or maybe they don’t see it as a big part of their identity. Only come out if you feel comfortable and confident to do so!