How Do I Come Out?

“Great communication begins with connection. What makes us different from one another is so much less important than what makes us alike-we all long for acceptance and significance.” – Oprah Winfrey

“How do I come out?” is a very personal and individual question that I hope to shed some light on. “Coming out” can be about anything really. We can “come out” as having a new job, a new hobby, a new sport, a new boyfriend or girlfriend. We can also “come out” about a secret. This article is about how to “come out” as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or questioning.

I want to tell you about an amazing “coming out” story. Recently I watched a video of a 10-year-old biological boy who, in tears, told his mother that he is really a girl. Wow!! I had tears in my own eyes, felt compassion for the child’s pain of living as the “wrong” gender, and felt admiration for the child’s courage. Before those of us who are not transgender judge this situation, let me tell you that this child was completely miserable as a boy. He just could not go on that way. Once allowed to live as a girl, she was very happy, content, made many friends and lived a normal life as a girl. She was able to live an authentic life, true to herself. I know that not everyone will agree with her parents, but this article is for teens who want to come out. When this child, whom I’ll refer to as “J” came out to his mom, his mom handled it by telling J that everything will be okay. She knew that J had liked to wear his sister’s clothing often. She also knew that J was unhappy. But she didn’t know for sure that J wanted and needed to live her life as a girl. So she experienced surprise. I imagine she experienced a lot of worry about J as to whether J would be accepted. What was beautiful was that J’s parents, sister, and grandmothers completely accepted her as a girl right away. J’s grandfathers were hesitant, worrying that J could not make this decision at such a young age. They were being honest. But the video showed that even one grandfather gave J (as a girl) a big hug, indicating that he loved her no matter what.

As a girl of the age of 12, I knew that I was attracted to girls. It was very scary as I had no support and lived in a very homophobic time and culture. When I came out to my mother, I was actually 36, and I stated to my mother that I was gay. She had great difficulty with it, didn’t accept it and I ended up feeling rejected by her for the rest of her life. On the other hand, my children, then ages 9 and 6 said “Cool” and they have been very accepting and supportive since. J’s and my stories illustrate several ideas to think about before coming out. Primarily, I believe we need to think about our own feelings before coming out. This process that I have outlined below is designed to give you a better experience in coming out, and in the process, a better life.

Step One: Look at your positive feelings and ideas. What would you dream your ideal coming out process to be like? Perhaps you are envisioning that you are completely accepted when you come out. What would that look like? Is that a hug and a statement of love and support? Then I would like for you right now to give yourself a hug and state for yourself that you love yourself. This is a very important step. Please take time to really enjoy this and let it sink in. This is your dream and you get to have your dream.

Step Two: Get in touch with your “negative” feelings. Do you have fear, anxiety, frustration, sadness, anger, or pain about coming out? Do you have feelings about having been in the “closet” up until now? What are they? Do you have any feelings about yourself as being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or questioning that are negative? The best thing you can do is to talk about all your feelings with a trustworthy friend or counselor, write about them, draw or paint, or write poetry. Express these feelings!

Step Three: Accept your feelings. Feelings are part of us. We need to feel accepted by ourselves most of all. That includes our feelings. Picture yourself hugging each feeling that has to do with coming out. You may need help with this. A counselor can help.

Step Four: Deal with your doubts. Now that you have really worked on accepting yourself fully, you are ready for your doubts. We’ll call this part of you the “Doubter.” The Doubter part of yourself is a good thing. It can help you know obstacles, or road blocks to your dream of coming out. Now you need to get in touch with any doubts you have about whether your dream from Step One will be achievable. Write it out as a list and try to be specific. This could look like: 1. Aunt Lupe won’t listen to me. 2. Uncle George will laugh at me or make fun of me. 3. Mom will say that I’m not her son anymore. 4. Dad might get violent with me. 5. My parents may throw me out of the house. 6. People won’t like me anymore. 7. My friends won’t want to talk with me anymore. Okay, now that you have your complete list, you know what your Doubter is thinking. Now, after each one, decide if it is based upon reality, i.e. truly an obstacle, or if it is a limiting belief. For example, #1. Aunt Lupe won’t listen to me. How do you know this? Based upon past experience, does your Aunt never listen? Okay, so you decide this is a limiting belief because sometimes your Aunt does listen. #2. Uncle George will laugh at me or make fun of me. You have the experience of your uncle always making fun of you. This is an obstacle. #3. Mom will say that I’m not her son anymore. It’s also a possibility that she won’t. It’s a limiting belief because you can’t know what someone will say. #4. Dad might get violent with me. Again, what is your past experience? This may be an obstacle. #5. My parents may throw me out of the house. If you really think this could happen its an obstacle. #6. People won’t like me anymore. This is a limiting belief. You cannot know whether people will like you after you come out or not. #7. My friends won’t want to talk with me anymore. This also is a limiting belief because you cannot know what your friends are thinking or want.

Step 5: Deal with limiting beliefs. This is a great step because it is so empowering. Let’s take the limiting beliefs from our example and turn then into empowering beliefs. #1. Aunt Lupe won’t listen to me. Let’s say: “Aunt Lupe loves me and wants to hear every word that I have to say”. #3. Mom will say that I’m not her son anymore. Let’s say: “Mom will say that she loves me just as I am and is glad I told her.” #6. People won’t like me anymore. Let’s say: “People will love me because I have a lot to offer them as a person.” #7. My friends won’t want to talk with me anymore. Let’s say:” My friends will love to talk with me now because I am true to myself.” Now that you have your empowering beliefs, make a commitment to say each one 2 times a day for 7 days. Continue this practice by adding new empowering beliefs as your doubter brings up limiting beliefs in your life.

Step 6: Deal with obstacles. Let’s go to the obstacles of Step 4. #2. Uncle George will make fun of me. You can get ready for this by thinking of what you could say to Uncle George as you “come out” so that he won’t be as likely to make fun of you. You could say “Uncle George I have something serious I want to talk with you about and I don’t want you to laugh or make fun of me.” Sometimes people make fun or laugh because they are taken by surprise. So you can also say a second lead-in sentence like “I want to talk with you about something personal about myself.” Let’s go to #4. Dad might get violent with me. If this is a possibility then it’s very important to keep yourself safe. You can tell your dad over the telephone, or not tell him at all. #5. My parents might throw me out of the house. If this is a possibility, then you need to make a solid plan. Can you stay with a friend until they cool down and take you back home? Many teens run away for their safety but find the street is very dangerous. If you are under 18 and a student and your parents don’t take you back home, you can go to a school counselor who can help and even see a social worker who can arrange for a safe home for you to live in. Or, you may decide you can live with not coming out until you reach an age and have a job so that you can live on your own. Obviously there are many obstacles I have not mentioned yet, like culture. Coming out in some cultures brings special issues. Also, you might live in a country where it is life-threatening to come out. You might be in a heterosexual marriage. You might be a single parent.

Step 7: Get support, if you haven’t already. Increase your support. Find a support group in your area. Are you a student? The Point Foundation provides mentoring, financial support, leadership training and hope to students who are marginalized due to their sexual orientation or gender expression.