Coming Out -
Identifying yourself as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) and disclosing this to other people is often referred to as 'coming out'.
Many people find that coming out is a positive experience. However, coming to terms with confusion about identity can have both positive and negative effects on many aspects of a person's life, including social relationships, school or work, and self-esteem. Coming out can be a difficult time; many LGBT people fear negative reactions, rejection and upsetting people they are close to. In many parts of the world strong cultural attitudes and discriminatory laws make coming out even harder.
Despite the obstacles faced by LGBT people, every day more people around the world make the decision to come out, and many organisations are working to provide support and campaign for the rights of people who are able to come out and live their lives openly as LGBT.
What is coming out like?
A lot of people come out during their teenage years, as this is when we begin to learn more about our sexuality and identity. However, coming out is something that can take place at any point in life. Coming to terms with sexual feelings can take a long time, and many people don't come out until later in life. For some, it may not be until they are older that they become aware of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender feelings.
Coming out is not a single action, it is a process of coming to terms with being LGBT and disclosing this to others. Many factors affect the coming out process, for example gender, ethnicity and age, meaning that everyone's coming out experience is unique to them. However, there are some common stages, which many LGBT people find they go through when they come out:
Young people and coming out
LGBT youth are coming out younger than ever before. Studies have shown that the average age gay and lesbian young people begin the process of coming out is now 16, compared to the 1980's when it was between 19 and 23. This means that many more young people are coming out when they are still at school, which can seriously impact upon school-life and work. One study found that half of students who experience homophobic bullying have skipped school because of it. Schools that openly acknowledge and include LGBT students, and explicitly oppose homophobic bullying, create a positive environment in which all students feel safe and able to learn.
Coming out as LGBT for many young people can also mean risking rejection and even the loss of support from family. As young people are less likely to have the resources to support themselves if they are cut off from family, this can lead to considerable hardship, for example homelessness, mental health problems and substance abuse. In the US, LGBT young people represent a disproportionate number of homeless youth - between 20 and 40 percent.
Young LGBT people need more than just practical support when coming out; acceptance and understanding are crucial. Many young LGBT people are undermined when they try to talk about their sexuality and gender identity, by parents, teachers, and even doctors dismissing their feelings as a phase. Many young people experiment as they are learning more about their sexuality. However, for young LGBT people, coming out is not a phase but an important part of their life. When this is not recognised by close friends and family, young LGBT people often find coming out much harder.
How do I come out to my family and friends?
Making sure you're ready
Making the decision to tell others that you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender can relieve a great deal of stress and unhappiness and build self-esteem, as well as help improve relationships. However, there are also risks associated with coming out, and it is important to think carefully about how you could cope with the potential consequences before telling others that you are LGBT.
Friends and family may not react in an understanding way, and relationships can be changed significantly. Having time to fully come to terms with being LGBT before coming out to others can mean you are more prepared to deal with any misunderstanding or prejudice you may face. For many LGBT people around the world, coming out can mean putting their personal safety at risk. The loss of a job or family support can cause great financial hardship and it is important to be prepared for how you can support yourself if this were to happen. In many countries, LGBT people also face discriminatory laws, which make same sex relations between consenting adults a criminal offense. The laws and general attitudes towards LGBT people in a country will influence a person's decision about whether they are able to come out, and who they choose to come out to.
Choosing the right time
There is no best way to come out to friends and family. Different approaches are right for different people, depending on their situation and relationship with the person they want to tell. Some people, for example, find it easier to write everything down in a letter, so that they can explain fully what they want to say. This can also give others the time and space to react and come to terms with initial feelings of shock. However, open and frank conversation is a vital part of coming out, and helps to move a relationship forward toward a point of mutual understanding and acceptance. These conversations need time and commitment, so it is best to choose a moment when neither of you will feel rushed or distracted. Being tired or emotional can also make talking more difficult, and lead to people saying things they may otherwise not have said.
Coming out does not mean that you have to tell everybody. Many LGBT people chose to come out first to people who they think are more likely to react positively. This not only helps them get an idea of how people may react, but often means that they will have someone to support them when they come out to others.
"I told the person whom i am closest with. she was a little taken by surprise but took it well and supports me. life is far too short to be hiding away and putting on acts so others will accept you. hopefully i can get more courage and find better ways to express this feeling to others i love" John,
How will people react?
LGBT people often say that they have been surprised by the positive reactions they have received when coming out. It is common for people to be honoured that you feel close enough to share this important part of yourself with them. This acceptance can be a valuable source of strength and helps many LGBT people to have the confidence to express their sexual or gender identity more openly.
However, many LGBT people also have to cope with negative reactions when they come out, which can be very painful, particularly when it is someone who you care about. It is important to be prepared for someone to be shocked; They may feel uncomfortable and not know how to react. This doesn't mean that they will not, with time, accept the news. Try to encourage them to ask questions, as this can help them to understand.
Some people may never be able to accept your sexuality or true gender identity. This is not something that you can change, and it can be very hard to feel rejected by someone you are close to. It is important not to let negative reactions stop you from coming out to others, as everyone will react differently. Reminding yourself why you have decided to come out can help you stand by that decision.
"There will be people who hate you because you have discovered who you truly are but know that you have the confidence to finally stop pretending. Some people will love you for who you are, these people have confidence. They know who they are and you know who you are."
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