What is coming out?
‘Coming out’ means telling someone something about yourself that isn’t immediately obvious. In relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, this means sharing with others that you are lesbian, gay, bi and/or trans (LGBT). The process of coming out can be very different for everyone and it can take some time to get to a point where you feel comfortable and confident enough to have those conversations with people.
Why come out?
Mostly, people just want to be honest about who they are, especially with the people they love.
Hiding who you are can be a big struggle. It can take your focus and energy away from other important things in your life such as your job, studying or exams.
Just because someone may decide to come out to family or friends, it doesn’t mean they have to come out to everyone. It’s quite common for people to be out in certain areas of their lives but not in others.
It may take you a while to get to a point where you feel ready to come out which is absolutely fine. The main thing to remember is to not put pressure on yourself and to only come out when you feel ready.
How to come out
There are many different ways to come out, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. If you are thinking about coming out then it’s important that you find a way that feels right for you.
Who do you want to tell?
It’s unlikely that you will be able to gather everyone you know in one room and come out to them all at once, and this is probably something you’d find pretty daunting anyway! Therefore you’ll probably need to do it in stages.
Think about who you want to tell first. Ideally this should be someone who you think will be supportive, such as a friend, family member or maybe a trusted youth worker or teacher. They will then be able to support you when you tell other people.
Is there anyone you DON’T want to know?
Thanks to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram, new travels faster than ever these days.
If there's someone in your life who you'd rather not be out to, think carefully about how you will be able to manage this. It’s worth considering that once you tell one person, other people in your life could find out, even if you don’t want them to.
When is the right time to say something?
It’s worth acknowledging that coming out could be a bit of a surprise to some people in your life.
You’ve probably had a long time to get used to it but the person or people you’re telling will be hearing it for the first time.
Consider telling them at a time when you will be able to talk things through properly. For instance, coming out to a friend on your way into an exam probably isn’t the best time! Broaching the subject on the phone to a parent or guardian when you’ve only got two per cent battery also isn’t ideal.
How will you tell people?
Everyone will have their own preference when it comes to choosing how to come out.
The most obvious way is to sit down in person and talk. The benefits of coming out this way are that you’ll be able to answer any questions they may have, and also get some comfort or reassurance if you need it. It may feel daunting but once you’ve told one person it really does start to feel easier.
Some people may choose to send an email, text or letter (remember them?!) as this will give the person time to process what you’re telling them before they respond.
Some people have used social media to come out. Although this method of coming out means you’ll probably only need to do it once, it also takes away the opportunity to have those personal conversations with those who are close to you.
But remember: there is no right or wrong way to come out.
Support with coming out
Some people come out with no problems at all but for others there may be obstacles and setbacks. Sometimes those close to you may need some time to get used to the news. It can be difficult if the people you care about have a hard time accepting who you are. Everyone's coming out journey is different. We have some resources below you may find useful.
Specific support with coming out as bi
Coming out as bi, or as an identity which sits as part of the bi umbrella such as pan or queer, can be different to coming out as lesbian or gay, with its own obstacles. You may be more likely to find people tell you it's 'just a phase' or that you're 'really' lesbian or gay but haven't accepted it. You may be more likely to feel your identity isn't as 'valid' as other identities. At Stonewall, we know that bi is a valid identity in and of itself, and we work to support bi people as much as those with other sexual orientations.
Even if you do later identify as lesbian or gay, this is a decision for you to make when the time is right for you; no one else gets to determine what your sexual orientation is at any point in your life.
If you're thinking about coming out as lesbian, gay or bi, you may find some of the following support useful.
‘Coming Out! is Stonewall’s guide for young people. It provides answers to some of the most common questions young people might have if they are thinking about coming out, or think they might be lesbian, gay or bi. Written and designed in conjunction with young people themselves, the guide offers advice, guidance and suggestions for further support.
Please note, this guide was written a number of years ago, and so may not reflect current best practice around, for example, terminology. We're working to update the information to ensure it's fully inclusive.
'Staying Safe Online' is a guide for young people that looks at the risks you can face when using the internet and social media.
Specific support with coming out as trans
Gendered Intelligence works with the trans community, and those who have an impact on trans lives. They specialise in supporting young trans people aged 8 to 25. They have produced a free guide with trans young people and their parents. It discusses various issues and concerns that parents and family members of trans people have and includes useful information, stories and quotes.
Other useful sources of support
You can find LGBT-friendly solicitors and other useful contacts through Stonewall's online database What's In My Area.
For further information contact Stonewall's Information Service.