It’s easy to answer the question “how do you come out?” when you’re already out, and you’ve trekked that path.
However, there’s no one way to do it. There’s not a right way and a wrong way to go about it. Everyone’s journey is different, and as such, the steps taken can vary widely.
There are things you can do to make the process easier for yourself and less daunting.
Here are 7 steps to help ease your experience coming out as LGBTQI+:
1. Don’t ignore your truth
Pretending that you’re not gay only hurts you. It doesn’t change who you are. It’s okay to be gay, and it’s okay to know that you’re gay. It’s a truth about yourself and ignoring that truth can result in a wide range of unhealthy coping mechanisms.
It’s natural to fear the judgement and rejection of others. In fact, struggling with coming to terms with your sexual identity is one of the stages of coming out.
But ignoring your truth can have even more crippling effects than your fear. Even if you’re not ready to share this part of yourself with the outside world yet, know and acknowledge it for yourself.
2. Practice self-acceptance
You’re just as valid as a person for being LGBT+. Change takes time to adjust to though, and accepting yourself as gay, lesbian, bi, or queer may not be easy or automatic for you. Make a conscious effort to accept all of what makes you who you are. Acceptance may mean re-learning to love yourself for things you didn’t admit about yourself previously.
You deserve love, no matter what, and sometimes that’s a challenging lesson that needs to be learned.
If this is particularly challenging for you, start small and practice acceptance for things that led you to notice your sexuality: I like to wear my leather jacket, I find men prettier than women, I’m not interested in initiating sex, I like romance with both men and women.
And if you’re struggling with self-acceptance, working with an LGBT-informed therapist can make all the difference
3. Be yourself
Your genuine self is the best version of yourself that you can offer the world – so own it.
Being trans or lesbian doesn’t mean you have to like specific kinds of clothing or music. It doesn’t mean that you need to follow stereotypes and clichés.
Your sexual orientation is one facet of who you are. It doesn’t have to dominate your entire personality.
If you’re a gay man and really like action movies, then be a gay man and openly enjoy watching action movies. You don’t have to pretend new things about yourself that are equally as untrue as the heteronormative things you tried to hide behind to fit in before.
4. Surround yourself with supportive friends
Managing significant steps in life is easier with a network of supportive people in your life, and coming out is no exception to this.
Surrounding yourself with people whom you know to be supportive of LGBT+ people and issues can help to ensure you’re receiving the support you need about your identity and coming out before you start having vulnerable conversations with your friends and family.
Support groups for lesbian, trans, and asexual people are beneficial resources to start building a personal support network. You have the guaranteed knowledge before you even walk in the door that you’ll be surrounded by like-minded people who accept you for your sexual orientation, with no questions asked.
And if you’re a young LGBTQI+ person based in Sydney, check out the great resources at the organisation twenty10.
5. Start coming out to your most accepting friends and family
When you’re ready to start having conversations with your friends and family about your sexual orientation, you can be strategic about who you tell first, to help minimise your stress.
Start with the people in your life that you already know to be more accepting. These conversations are more likely to go well, and they can function as practice sessions to work up to tackling the more challenging people in your inner circle.
The most accepting people in your life are more likely to have had similar conversations in the past. Being able to have an open discussion about what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the ‘coming out’ speech may advise you on the best ways to approach this conversation with other friends and family.
6. Don’t worry about labels
People rarely fit into perfectly defined boxes. You may be drawn to the colour bamboo green, but you don’t want to paint your living room that shade. Or perhaps you enjoy wearing thick wool jumpers in winter, but cashmere is quite comfortable, too. Maybe you prefer chocolate ice cream, except when you have a sundae. Your sexuality is no more rigid than your preference for anything else.
If you want to embrace a label, great, but the label you choose doesn’t define the beginning and end of your sexuality. You are who you are. You’re attracted to who you’re attracted to. You don’t owe the world an explanation about that. Knowing who you are is enough.
The labels we don are more to allow other people to categorise us – you don’t need to tell the world you’re gay to know that you’re gay.
7. Educate yourself – and others
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about LGBT+ issues. You might find, along your journey, that you are or were subject to some of it yourself. It’s essential to challenge what you think you know about a topic by continuing to educate yourself about it.
It wasn’t all that long ago that having one ear pierced or wearing the colour purple meant that a man was gay – both of which are entirely irrelevant to one’s sexuality.
The more informed you are, the more myths and misconceptions you can debunk as well as educate others about LGBT+ issues.
There’s no right or wrong way to come out to your friends and family about your sexuality. Coming into your sexuality is a process, not a one-and-done situation. It’s a slow progression that evolves over time.
No matter what your sexual preferences for attraction are, you’re a valid person and deserve love and support on your journey of self-discovery.