What kind of signals are you getting?
■ You can get a sense of how accepting people will be by the things they say — or don’t say — when GLBT-related issues come up. Try to bring them up yourself by talking about a GLBTthemed movie, TV character or news event. If a person’s reactions are positive, chances are he or she will be more accepting of what you have to tell them.
Are you well informed about GLBT issues?
■ The reactions of others will most likely be based on a lifetime of misinformation, and in some cases even negative portrayals of GLBT people. If you’ve done some reading on the subject, you’ll be prepared to answer their concerns and questions with reliable and accurate information.
Do you know what it is you want to say?
■ Particularly at the beginning of the coming out process, many people are still answering tough questions for themselves and are not ready to identify as being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. That’s okay. Maybe you just want to tell someone that you’re attracted to someone of the same sex, or that you feel uncomfortable with the expectations of cultural gender norms. Maybe you just want to tell someone about a new same-sex attraction, or that you’re feeling that your true gender does not align with cultural “gender norms.”
Labels aren’t important; your feelings are. Also, you may want to try writing out what you want to say, to help organize and express your thoughts clearly.
Do you have support?
■ You don’t have to do this alone. A support system is an invaluable place to turn to for reassurance. Sources of support can be other GLBT people who are living openly, GLBT hotlines, a supportive member of the clergy or friend, if you are coming out for the second or third time, perhaps the first person you opened up to initially. A supportive mental health professional often helps people become more comfortable. In fact, these are the first people some of us come out to.
Is this a good time?
■ Timing can be very important. Be aware of the mood, priorities, stresses and problems of those to whom you would like to come out. Be aware that if they’re dealing with their own major life concerns, they may not be able to respond constructively to yours.
Can you be patient?
■ Some people will need time to deal with this new information, just as it took time for many of us to come to terms with being GLBT. When you come out to others, be prepared to give them the time they need to adjust to what you’ve said. Rather than expect immediate understanding, try to establish an ongoing, caring dialogue.
■ Remember, the whole reason you chose to be open with the person is that you care about them. If they react strongly, it’s likely because they care about you as well. Keep that in mind as you navigate trying times.
Telling Family Members
No matter what their age, many people are afraid their parents will reject them if they come out. The good news is that you’re probably wrong. However, if you are under age 18 or financially dependent on your parents, consider this very, very carefully.
Some reactions you may want to prepare for:
■ Some parents may react in ways that hurt. They may cry, get angry or feel embarrassed.
■ Some parents will feel honored and appreciate that you have entrusted them with an important piece of truth about yourself.
■ Some parents will need to grieve the dreams they had for you, before they see the new, more genuine life you are building for yourself.
■ They may ask where they “went wrong” or if they did something “to cause this.” Assure them that they did nothing wrong.
■ Some may call being GLBT a sin, or attempt to send their child to a counselor or therapist in the baseless hope that they can “change.”
■ Some parents will already know you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender — or they might have an inkling. They may have been waiting for you to tell them, and find your doing so a relief.
■ It may take time for a parent to absorb or come to terms with the information. Good or bad, their initial reaction may not reflect their feelings over the long term.
Remember that your parents grew up in a time when some of the stereotypes about GLBT people were more prevalent than they are today. Remember, too, that they’re probably trying to keep you safe from something they do not understand. Finally, keep in mind this is big news, and there’s no timetable for how long it takes parents to adjust.
Parents need time too
Having the Conversations
Fostering strong, deep relationships with your friends and family begins with honesty. Living openly is important because it allows for closer relationships with the people you care about — and ultimately a happier life for you. For most people coming out or opening up to someone new starts with a conversation.
It’s normal to want or hope for positive reactions from the people you tell, including:
■ Reassurance that your relationship won’t be
■ Confidence that your relationship will be closer
■ Acknowledgment of your feelings
All or some of these positive reactions can result from your coming out conversation, but they may not happen immediately. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes may also be helpful.
A person who has just had someone come out to them often feels:
■ Unsure how to react
■ Unsure what to do next
Give the person you’re telling the time they need. It may also be helpful to remember that the person you’re really doing this for is you. When you’re ready to tell someone, consider starting with the person most likely to be supportive. This might be a friend, relative or teacher. Maybe you will tell this person that you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Maybe you will simply say that you have questions about your sexual orientation or gender identity. Again, there is no right or wrong way to do this. You are the expert in knowing what’s best for yourself and what you are feeling. When you are ready, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
■ Find a relaxed, private place to have the conversation, and allow adequate time.
■ People will usually take their cues from you in how to approach this — so be open and honest and say that it’s okay to ask questions.
Appropriate and gentle humour can go a long way to easing anxiety for both you and the person you are speaking with.