Coming out is a process through which lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender people initially discover and accept who they are as LGBTQ, and then over time, decide to publicly name and affirm their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The process varies by person and situation, can happen at any age, and is a continuing, sometimes lifelong process (since many people assume heterosexuality). For many people, there is tension due to the societal norms of heterosexuality and the negativity placed on anything outside those norms. Coming out can have negative consequences, but LGBTQ people often describe a sense of relief and a lessening of tension because of not denying this important part of their identity.
For those who are choosing to come out (**Remember, this is your choice and you should not be pressured by friends or family), here are some things you should keep in mind:
- Do you have support? If the people you come out to react negatively you want to have a support system that can validate your self-worth.
- Timing is important. If you have choice in this matter, you want to choose times when friends/family are not in high stress times (holidays, death of a family member/friend, job loss, etc.).
- What is their view on LGBTQ issues? The answer to this can give you a hint on how they would react. If you don’t know, test the waters by bringing up a TV show or movie with an LGBTQ character or discuss how someone in your class or at your work is LGBTQ.
- Financial Issues. If you think there is a chance of being kicked out of the house or having funds taken away, you might want to consider coming out after financial issues are finalized.
- Who are you going to come out to first? This varies by person and situation, but coming out to people you know will give you support can be a good first step (i.e. other LGBTQ people or people who know LGBTQ people).
- Are you comfortable with your own sexuality? Even though one does not have to be fully comfortable with their own sexuality before coming out to many people, knowing who you are and being confident about it will show through when you tell people. If you are still in the stage of not being fully comfortable with your sexuality, talk with someone you know who is LGBTQ, talk with the LGBTQ Resources office staff, or talk with the LGBTQ liaison in the Counseling Center.
- How do you want to come out? Again, this varies. Some LGBTQ people will slip specific words into conversation and some will specifically tell people their identity.
Still need help?
If you ever have questions about coming out, please come and talk to the staff in the LGBTQ Resources Office in Student Union Building 1, Room 2200 or call us at 703-993-2702. Additionally, we have a Safe Zone Program that has trained LGBTQ and heterosexual allies who have posted their Safe Zone marker on their office door or desk. These Safe Zone allies have gone through a training workshop and are aware of LGBTQ specific resources on campus. Lastly, we have a LGBTQ liaison in the Counseling Center, Rikki Mock, who will work specifically with LGBTQ individuals if requested.
Coming out of Shame: Transforming Gay and Lesbian Lives (1996). Kaufman, G. & Raphael, L., New York: Doubleday.
Mom, dad, I’m gay: How families negotiate coming out (2001). Savin-Williams, Ritch C., Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Coming out to parents: A two-way guide for lesbians and gay men and their parents (1993). Borhek, Mary V., New York: Pilgrim Press.
Coming out: An act of love (1991). Eichberg, Rob, New York: Penguin.