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Coming out means telling somebody something about yourself that is not obvious at first glance. The coming out process may be different for different people and it may take some time until you feel comfortable and confident enough to have this type of conversation with others.

What does coming out mean?

To come out means to tell someone something about yourself that is not obvious at first glance. In terms of sexual orientation and gender identity, this means that you are sharing with someone that you are lesbian, gay, bi and/or trans (LGBTQIA+). The coming out process may be different for different people and it may take some time until you feel comfortable and confident enough to have this type of conversation with others.

Why should we come out?

Most often people just want to be honest about who they are, especially with those who they love. Constantly having to hide who you are may lead to a huge internal battle. It can take your focus and energy away from more important things in your life such as friendships, sports, studying, etc.

Just because someone may decide to come out to their family or friend does not mean that they have to come out to everyone. Oftentimes, you will find that people come out only to certain people in their life and not to others.

It may take you some time to reach the point where you feel ready to come out, which is completely normal. The main thing to remember is to not force yourself into it. Coming out must happen only when you feel ready and safe to do so.

How to come out?

There is no right or wrong way to come out – everything depends on you. Unfortunately, no checklist for this exists. If you’re thinking of coming out, it is important to find a way to do it that will make you feel the most comfortable and safe.

Who should I tell?

The prospect of gathering all of your loved ones in one room so that you may come out at once to everyone is scary for a lot of people. Because of this, people often prefer to come out in stages.

Think about who you want to tell first. In the best case scenario, this means someone you believe will support you. For example, this could mean a close friend, a family member, a friend who is a member of the LGBTQIA+ community or even a favourite teacher. After you tell them, they will be able to support you if/when you decide to tell others. As activists, we often receive all sorts of questions related to coming out. Do not hesitate to message us if you need free support or advice on how to come out. At the end of the day, this is why we exist.

Is there anyone you do NOT want to know?

Thanks to social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram, news travels faster than ever.

If there is someone in your life that you prefer not to know about you, you need to think about how you would deal with the situation if they were to find out. It is worth thinking about the fact that if you tell someone in your life, it is a possibility that others will find out, even if you do not want them to. This is the reason why it is important for you to choose carefully the first people who you are going to come out to. In this way, you will be able to create a comfortable and supportive environment for yourself. Pay attention to the ways in which you decide to expand the circle of those who know about your sexual orientation. Communicate your boundaries to those who you have entrusted with your information and tell them concrete examples of situations in which they have to be careful with the information that they say about you.

When is the right time to say something?

We have to admit that coming out may be a surprise or even shocking information to certain people in your life. You have probably had a lot of time to discover and accept yourself; however, you have to keep in mind that the person/people that you tell will be hearing this for the first time. Tell them at a moment when you are all in a safe place in which you may speak directly with each other for an extended period of time. For example, coming out to a friend during your walk towards sitting an exam is probably not the best time. It is also not ideal to come out to a member of your family or your guardian while you have only 2% battery on your phone.

How can I come out to people?

Everyone has their own preferred way to come out. The most obvious way is to sit down with whomever you want to come out to and to speak with them. The benefits of coming out in this way is that you will be able to answer all the questions that may come up during the conversation and to receive consolation in case you may need it. It may seem discouraging, but it gets easier to come out once you come out to one person.

Some people choose to send an email, SMS or letter (remember those!?), as these options give the other person some time to formulate a response after they receive the information. Other people use social media as a way to come out. In all of these ways, you are, however, getting rid of the chance to hold a personal conversation about your sexuality with those who are close to you.

There is no right time for someone to come out as gay or lesbian. This may happen at a later point in your life, when you feel ready. Just because some of you may feel confident enough to self-identify as LGBTQIA+ doesn’t mean that you have to label yourself if you aren’t ready. There are people who do not define themselves immediately, preferring to hold off in labelling themselves or deciding to never label themselves. Feeling comfortable enough to be apart of a certain community is a process that takes time.

Coming out as bisexual:

Coming out as either bisexual or another sexual identity that belongs under a similar category (i.e. pansexual or queer) may be different from coming out as a lesbian or gay.  It is more likely that you will be faced with people telling you that it is ‘only a phase’ or that you are actually a lesbian or gay, but have not accepted it yet. It is possible that you are more likely to feel that you sexual identity is not as “valid” as other identities. We know that bisexuality is a valid sexual identity in and of itself and we are working on supporting bisexual people, as well as those with other sexual orientations.

Even if you begin to identity later in life as lesbian or gay, this is a decision that you make when the moment is right for you; nobody else has the right to define your sexual orientation at any point in your life.

Coming out as Trans*

Coming out as transgender can mean telling people your preferred pronouns (he/him, she/her, they/them). This can also mean to ask the people around you to call you a new name, as well as asking them to respect your gender identity.

Coming out as trans is a very personal decision and it is different for everyone. Some people choose to come out before a medical or social transition, while others choose to come out after or during transitioning.

Even though all examples have included coming out to your friends and family, there are some differences between the experiences of coming out as lesbian, gay or bisexual and coming out as trans. A lot of people know what it means when someone says they are gay, but there is still a lot of confusion and disinformation surrounding what it means to be trans.

Coming out as trans unfortunately carries the risk of your identity being misunderstood, disrespected or mistrusted. Be ready to answer all kinds of questions – that could mean looking up extra scientific facts and statistics, if you feel that it would help. If you decide to come out as transgender, be sure that it is in front of people you trust. This could mean friends, family or a support group. It is important you feel as sure as possible that coming out will not risk your safety, health or life.

Receive coming out support:

Some people come out without any problems, while others might face obstacles and challenges. Sometimes your close ones need some time to get used to the news. It can be difficult if those who you love do not want to accept you as you are. Every time you come out will be a different experience.

For that reason, we at Bilitis have created a support group for LGBTQIA+ youth called BraveLab. The group offers a safe place for young people to meet and talk about important topics including discovering your LGBTQIA+ identity, coming out, relationships with family, problems at school and the work place, mental health, prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. BraveLab is a place where every young LGBTQIA+ person between the ages of 14 and 29 can come and meet new people and receive or give support to another person from the community.

For more information and/or interest in becoming a part of the LGBTQIA+ group BraveLab, please contact the Bilitis Foundation at: bilitis@bilitis.org.

Sources: www.stonewall.org.uk; https://www.lgbtyouth.org.uk/