For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people, coming out is a process of understanding, accepting, and valuing one’s sexual orientation/identity. Coming out includes both exploring one’s identity and sharing that identity with others. It also involves coping with societal responses and attitudes toward LGBT people. The coming out process is very personal. This process happens in different ways and occurs at different ages for different people. Coming out is a continuing, sometimes lifelong, process.
Coming Out to Oneself : One safe means of beginning to come out to yourself is through reading about how others have dealt with similar issues. It is also very helpful to seek out positive, well adjusted and comfortable role models among LGBT people.
Coming Out to Other Lesbians and Gay Men: Often, after spending some time getting in touch with one’s own feelings, the next step is to come out to others. LGBT people are a potential natural support system because they have all experienced at least some of the steps in the process of coming out. Furthermore, coming out to other LGBT people can help you build a community of people who can then support and assist you in coming out to others in your life.
Coming Out to Heterosexuals: Perhaps your most difficult step in coming out will be to reveal yourself to heterosexuals. It is at this step that you may feel most likely to encounter negative consequences. Thus it is particularly important to go into this part of the coming out process with open eyes. For example, it will help to understand that some heterosexuals will be shocked or confused initially, and that they may need some time to get used to the idea that you are LGBT.
In coming out to others, consider the following:
Think about what you want to say and choose the time and place carefully.
Present yourself honestly and remind the other person that you are the same individual you were yesterday.
Be prepared for an initially negative reaction from some people. Do not forget that it took time for you to come to terms with your sexuality, and that it is important to give others the time they need.
Have friends lined up to talk with you later about what happened.
Summary: The decision to come out is always personal. Whether to come out and, if so, when, where, how, and to whom are all questions you must answer for yourself. Taking control of this process includes being aware in advance of potential ramifications so that you can act positively rather than defensively. Coming out may be one of the most difficult tasks you confront in your life, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. Coming out is one way of affirming your dignity and the dignity of other LGBT people. Remember that you are not alone; there is a viable LGBT community waiting to be explored, and more heterosexual “allies” are willing to offer their support than you might have first imagined.
Adapted from brochure from University of Illinois Counseling Center http://www.couns.uiuc.edu/Brochures/brochures.html