Coming out as part of the LGBTQ+ community can be a daunting experience, Jessica Hayden shares some advice for those thinking of coming out and those looking to support someone who is in the process of coming out
I want to preface this with the fact that I’ve been through the beginning, middle and the end of coming out with numerous people. It’s different every time, the only thing that tends to change is your own confidence level within yourself. Coming out isn’t just a one-time thing, it’s a lifelong process of ‘outing’ oneself to other people. With that said, the more people you talk to and the more people you’re open with the easier it becomes. As a person it gives you an experience that individuals outside the LGBTQ+ will never experience. Our world at the moment works on the basis that we’re all straight until proven gay, lesbian or bisexual and that we’re all cisgender until proven transgender. It can be very frustrating but it’s something that we can cope with.
According to lgbt.ie and my own experience there are three stages of coming out. Discovery, acceptance and integration. There can be a huge gap between discovery and acceptance and that’s mostly because people discover or have an idea of their own sexuality or true gender as a child. Once the child grows to an age where sexual and gender identity becomes more prevalent they are more able to question and seek knowledge. Acceptance is something that comes with time and that varies from person to person. It’s an acceptance of who you are as an individual and I feel that only comes with a certain level of maturity. Integration is about finding your place within your home, your group of friends, your college and the world as a whole. It’s when you feel comfortable enough to express your lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual or other identity and live life accordingly.
Coming out to friends can be incredibly difficult because of the fact that you’ve built up a strong friendship with a person without revealing an important part of yourself. Nevertheless, you have to remember that you’re not obliged to put a label on your sexuality or your gender for them or for anyone else.
Coming out to friends can be helpful however, to stop trivial questions like them asking you about what girls you like because they assume as a man you’re attracted to women when it’s quite the opposite. It can also help in educating the people around you whether you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or anything else you identify yourself as. People can never have enough information on any topic and sexuality and gender is one that much of the population get quite confused about. With some friends it might take more time for them to fully understand what it is you’re trying to say to them but if offered patience and a little guidance then there shouldn’t be any problems.
The younger generation is predominantly more open minded than closed, but I feel as if I’m saying that with some sort of bias because of the wonderful people I’ve met. Minorities in society are always welcoming and accepting of new individuals and the people of the LGBTQ+ community are some of the best people. Other people in society don’t understand the pressures that walk hand in hand with coming out and not being the “norm”. That’s said with quotations because being straight isn’t the “norm”, it’s just more common. I would suggest looking into LGBTQ+ friendly events or groups such as LGBTQ+ Soc to mingle and make friends with people who have been through or who are going through the same things that you are. Their advice and encouragement could prove invaluable and help you become more comfortable within yourself.
When you’re born your family are the first people to love you and they don’t even know you or who you’re going to grow up to be. I was lucky in the sense that I grew up in a family that were always open to the fact that I could be whatever and whoever no matter what. Coming out to parents and guardians is difficult because the emotional aspect can be overwhelming and there’s a constant fear of being shunned. I believe that talking about sexuality and gender identity is the only way to make sure that fear is eradicated on both sides. Views are passed down from generation to generation but that doesn’t mean that those views can’t change. Dialogues being started and candid question and answer sessions can prevent confusion and can get you and your parents or guardians on the same page.
In the end you’ll come to find out that coming out and being honest in who you are with the people who love you will be one of the best things you do. Secrets are just weights that hold you back from being the best self you can possibly be. I always felt like I wasn’t my whole self until I came out to my parents and within a week my world had changed. I was and still am happier and more open than I ever was or could have ever been before coming out. It feels like you’re freeing yourself from somewhere you didn’t really know you were trapped. It’s only after that you can fully appreciate how hard it is to hide parts of yourself from the people you care most about.
I feel I have to put in a side note, for those who have had people come out to them and didn’t really know how to react, or for people who want to know how to react in those sorts of situations. All anyone really wants to hear is that it’s okay to be who they are and that they’re loved just the same. It’s that simple. A hug wouldn’t go amiss either but just letting them know that you’re going to be a support to them is ideal. Coming out, as you’ve read, can be a very emotionally draining and challenging time for anyone no matter the circumstance. And if you’re not completely sure on what it means that your friend is transgender or gay, the BelongTo website is a helpful resource to have.
Coming out is a completely personal choice and experience. No two are the same no matter how identical the words may seem. For most people in the LGBTQ+ community coming out was the best thing they ever did and it was a thoroughly positive experience once they got past their initial anxiety. More than likely it will be a positive experience for you if coming out is something you want to do in the near future. And if by some chance it isn’t, there are so many supports out there for you to make use of. The one thing you have to keep in mind throughout the whole lifelong process is that famous Dr Seuss quote: “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” In essence those who support you in whoever you are, are the right people to surround yourself by and doing so will make for a happier life experience.
If you ever want some tea and a chat you can always come to one of our coffee mornings! If you want someone to talk to email our welfare officer at firstname.lastname@example.org or come to the office during welfare office hours of 10-12pm on Wednesdays.