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Coming Out

Medically reviewed by: Camile Walker, LCSW

Telling People Your Sexual Orientation — Or Not

You've learned something important about yourself and now you want to share this with your family, friends, or other people. Or you might not feel like sharing right now.

It's normal to wonder about coming out (telling people that you are a member of the LGBTQ+ communities).

You might feel relief that you finally get to be your true, authentic self. But you probably also think about how your world could change if you do share: How will people react? Will the people you tell spread the word to someone you'd prefer didn't know? Is it safe to come out?

There are lots of reasons why people choose to come out. Here are a few:

  • They're ready to start dating and want close friends and family members to know.
  • They don't want people making assumptions about them or gossiping.
  • They're tired of hearing other people use stereotypes or negative labels.
  • They feel like they're living a lie or not acting true to themselves and want to feel accepted for who they really are.

There are also plenty of reasons why people decide not to come out, such as:

  • They're not yet sure about who they are or how they feel. They're still trying to figure things out for themselves.
  • They're afraid they'll face bullying, harassment, discrimination, or even violence.
  • Their families, friends, or community don't know, and they worry about what might happen if people found out.
  • They live in a community that has not being very accepting of LGBTQ+ people.

Coming out can be more complicated for teens who depend on parents or other adults for care and well-being. Some people who come out live in places where being LGBTQ+ is accepted. They're more likely to get support from family and friends. Each person should consider their own situation. It's different for everyone.

Most people come out gradually. They start by telling a counselor or a few close friends or family. A lot of people tell a counselor or therapist because they want to be sure their information stays private. Some call an LGBTQ+ support group so they can have help working through their feelings about identity or coming out.

Things to Keep in Mind

Coming out is a big and personal decision. You won't know how people will react until the time comes.

Sometimes you can get clues about how people think from the way they talk about LGBTQ+ people: Are they open-minded and accepting, or negative and disapproving?

You can get an idea of how people think by bringing up LGBTQ+ issues. Listen to how people respond when you ask questions like these: "I've been reading about gay marriage. What are your thoughts on it?" Or, "My cousin's school is raising money to help a transgender student who is homeless. Is that something you'd donate to?"

Even when you think someone might react positively to your news, there's still no guarantee. Everyone responds based on their own situations: Parents who accept an LGBTQ+ friend may be upset when their own child comes out. It could be because they worry their child might face discrimination. Or it could be they struggle with beliefs that being LGBTQ+ is wrong.

Here are things to keep in mind when you're thinking of coming out:

Trust Your Gut

Don't feel forced to come out by friends or situations. Coming out is a process. Different people are ready for it at different times in their lives. You might want to be open about who you are, but you also need to think about your own safety. If there's a risk you could be physically harmed or thrown out of the house, it's probably safer not to share. Instead, call a helpline like the LGBT National Youth Talkline to get advice and support based on your situation.

Weigh all the Possibilities

Ask yourself these questions: "How might coming out make my life more difficult? How could it make things easier? Is it worth it?" The Trevor Project's Coming Out Handbook has lots of tips and things to think about. If you're thinking about coming out to anyone at your school, consider reading GLSEN's Coming Out at School guide first.

Have a Support System

If you can't talk openly about your identity, or if you're trying to figure out if you should come out, it can help to speak to a counselor or call an anonymous helpline, like the LGBT National Youth Talkline.

Having support systems in place can help you plan how to come out (or not). Support systems can also help you cope if any reactions to your coming out aren't what you expected, or if you need emergency shelter.

Let Go of Expectations

People you come out to might not react the way you expect. You will probably find that some relationships take time to settle back to what they were. Some might change permanently. Friends and family members — even the most supportive parents — may need time to get used to your news.

Identify Peer Pressure

Coming out is your decision and your decision alone. Even if other people you know have come out or if you've come out to some but not others, no one has a say in when, how, or who you come out to.

Think About Privacy

You might have friends who are mature enough to respect personal, private information and keep it to themselves. But whenever you share information, there's a risk it could leak to people you might not want to know.

Therapists and counselors are required to keep information you share private — but only if they think you won't hurt yourself or others. If a counselor thinks you might harm yourself or someone else, they are required to report it.

It's a Lifelong Process

Coming out is a lifelong process. If you choose to come out, that's important to remember — and not be discouraged by. You will make new friends, family, meet new partners, and join new companies throughout your life. If you choose to come out, then you will have to do it countless times.

It may get easier as you become more confident and social attitudes progress, but sometimes it may be as scary as the first time. Always put your safety and well-being first.

Coming out is a personal choice. Take time to think about what's right for you.

Medically reviewed by: Camile Walker, LCSW
Date reviewed: September 2021