Deciding to come out is not easy. It’s not a decision you make once and that’s it. Coming out is a lifelong process. And choosing to come out does not means different things for different people. You decide how, when, where and with whom you are “out,” based on what’s right for you. There are really no absolute rights or wrongs, no single right time or place to come out, no ways of doing it that work for everyone. Making these decisions and putting them into action can be very stressful, but also very rewarding for LGBT college students.
First of all, consider what makes you want to talk about your sexual orientation to a particular person or group of people. Why are you thinking about it now? Perhaps someone you know has asked you if you are LGBT. Maybe you would like to deepen your relationship with another student, a friend or family member. Maybe since you’re now in college, you’ve decided you want a supportive network of other LGBT individuals. Frustration and anger towards homophobic or biphobic people can also be a powerful motive to come out.
Whatever your reasons, you may feel excited, scared, confused or uncertain about the decision—or you may feel all those things at once. The coming out process can be risky, especially for young adults who often rely upon family members and longtime friends for emotional (and financial) support. You might be able to get a sense of how family and friends might react based on how they treat LGBT people and how they talk about LGBT issues and public figures. But you never know for sure how people will react. The important thing is that you are coming out because you want to, and because you feel ready to. If you’re feeling unsure or want some support, talk to a friend, a professional at your college’s counseling center, a faculty or a family member you trust for help and guidance.
Once you have decided to come out to someone, take time to think about what you want to say. Choose a place that feels safe and comfortable and a time when the person is calm and in a good frame of mind. Let the person know that you want to talk about something important. You might want to share your reasons for coming out or ask for support and understanding. If you are concerned that the individual might react negatively, you may want to have a supportive friend with you or choose a semi-public location.
Remember, you don’t have to be out at all times or in all places. Be clear with the other person. Ask him or her to respect your decisions about coming out or not coming out to other people. Give careful thought to how you want to describe your sexual orientation—in other words, whether you feel more comfortable with a particular label (lesbian, gay, bisexual, fluid, questioning, transgender, queer, among others) or without labels. If you’re worried about becoming nervous during the conversation, prepare yourself by writing down what you’d like to say beforehand.
Also prepare for what the person might say. You might hear negative or dismissive statements such as “This is just a phase,” “Being gay is immoral/against God” or “You don’t have to be LGBT, you can change.” Educating yourself about these myths and stereotypes (see resources below) can help you with your own possibly mistaken ideas about what it means to be LGBT, as well as help you respond with facts and information. You might even want to have copies of these resources handy, as well as a list of local support groups (see the PFLAG website or your local gay and lesbian community center website) to give to your friends and family.
Some people will need some time to deal with this new information, just as it takes time to adjust to being LGBT. Instead of expecting immediate understanding, try to establish an ongoing, caring dialogue. Finally, remember to identify sources of support for yourself (friends, other LGBT people, a counselor, hotlines or online support) in case the interaction is stressful for you or doesn’t turn out the way you had hoped.
For More Information
To speak to someone on the phone, call the LGBT Youth Line: 1-800-268-YOUTH.