Telling people you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender
For a lot of people, telling others about their sexuality or how they’re feeling about it is important, but also isn’t easy.
Everybody’s situation is unique and everyone’s family and friends are different.
For some people, your sexuality and feelings won’t be an issue. It might be difficult to understand for others, and they may take time to accept and be comfortable with what you’re telling them.
Remember, who you tell and when you tell them is completely up to you, and there’s no right way to come out.
Ten questions to ask yourself
Ask yourself the following questions if you’re thinking about telling someone you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. They’ll prepare you and help you feel comfortable with what you may be asked.
How sure are you about your sexual attractions and sexuality?
“Are you sure?” is likely to be one of the most common questions you’ll be asked. Whether the answer is yes, no or maybe (all of which are OK), you need to be able to respond with confidence.
How comfortable are you with your sexuality?
If you’re feeling sad, guilty or angry, you may want to seek help in understanding and coming to terms with those feelings before coming out to other people. The greater confidence you have about your own identity, the easier it will be to talk to people close to you.
Do you have support?
If your family or friends’ reaction upset you, find someone or a group you can confidentially turn to for support and strength.
BeLonG To is a great organisation that can provide support while you are coming out. Their youth groups are a good way of making friends and talking to others who have, or are going through a coming out process and will understand what you’re experiencing.
Are you knowledgeable about LGBT identities?
A person’s response may be based on stereotypes and myths about gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people. Doing some reading on the subject or speaking to someone who is knowledgeable on the issue may help you understand or answer questions you may have.
Having some information your family can read may also be helpful. Have a look at the Loving Our Out Kids website that was developed to support parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children in Ireland.
What’s the mood at home?
If you have a choice of when to tell people about your sexuality or gender identity, consider the timing. Try not to tell people during an argument or use the issue as a weapon.
If you tell people during an aggressive and defensive moment you may end up getting a bad reaction and distancing them.
Can you be patient?
People often require time to deal with this information if they haven’t considered it prior to your coming out. If you decide to tell someone close you, be prepared to give them time to adjust and accept what you have told them.
If they need time, hang in there while they’re processing this new detail about you. Remember, you are still the same person, only now you are out and open about another important part of who you are.
Are you financially dependent on people you want to tell?
If you suspect someone may withdraw any financial support or force you out of where you live, you may choose to wait until they don’t have this pressure or hold over you. Think about all the advantages and disadvantages of telling someone. Reactions like this are thankfully uncommon, and where something like this were to happen, there are supports out there to help.
Thinking about who you can turn to, if things not go the way you expect, is a good idea. Perhaps there is a family member, friend, neighbour, youth worker or teacher you could turn to for support.
What are their general views of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people?
Depending on your relationship with someone, you may already have a good idea about their views and feelings on sexuality and gender identity.
Use this knowledge and consider how much information and support you may need if you decide to tell them about your feelings.
Is it your decision to tell someone?
The decision to tell someone about your sexuality should be yours, however this is not always the case. Some people may inadvertently out you, while others may do so thinking you’re OK with everyone knowing.
When you come out, tell people you trust to not say it to others unless you are comfortable with it. Don’t feel pressured by people who think it’s important to come out to everyone at once. It should always be your choice who to come out to. If someone asks questions you’re not happy to answer, it’s perfectly OK not to.
Are they likely to respect your privacy?
You may feel comfortable only having one person or a small group of people knowing about your identity.
Before you tell someone, consider how likely they are to respect your right to privacy and confidentiality of what you are telling them.
Reactions to ‘coming out’
Just as you are unique, so is everyone around you and so they will all react differently. Some people will have no problems with your sexuality or gender identity and be happy for you.
Some may have already suspected and were just waiting for you to tell them. For others it will challenge their feelings and attitudes. They may feel worried, upset or responsible. It may be necessary to allow them time and space to work through their emotions and thoughts around your identity.
Shock, denial, and feelings of guilt are sometimes experienced by people when they are told someone close to them is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
Remember, you have probably given your sexuality or gender identity a lot of thought, but it may be new to them. Although the feelings they may work through are similar to those you’ve dealt with, the difference is you are ahead of them in the process.
Try to be patient
You may need to explain things a few times. Just because you’ve said something once does not mean they have heard it. Later, they may be ready to ask questions, listen to answers and express their feelings to you.
If your family or friends reject you because of your sexuality or gender identity, it is hurtful and can be difficult to cope with. Where this does happen, it is often temporary. Remember, you are sharing an important part of yourself, and hiding this can be very difficult and isolating for you.
If people choose to ignore this, they are missing out on knowing who you are. Being true to yourself is really important. Hold onto the fact that you are special and there is nothing wrong with identifying as LGBT. Talk to someone you can trust if things don’t go as well as you would have hoped.
BeLong To can help should you need support. In the unlikely scenario you find yourself having no place to stay after coming out, Focus Ireland will be able to give you advice on what to do next.
More LGBT information
Have a look at the other information in this section. For support, call, email or drop into BeLonG To, a support service for young people aged 14 to 23 years-old who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Text adapted from “You’re not alone”, a booklet written by the Gay and Lesbian counselling service (WA) and the WA AIDS council under the “Here for Life” sexuality project.