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Are you ready to come out but are not sure how to go about it? You’re not alone, many LGBTQ+ people have been exactly where you are now. There are many reasons why coming out can be scary, a major one is not knowing how to do it. We aren’t presented with a plan on how to come out by teachers or family, many people “wing it”.
This approach isn’t recommended as it can go south pretty quickly, it’s better to have a plan. Thinking things through and being sure you have all the information to make an informed decision is a good idea. Continue reading to learn more about what should go into your coming out plan, you may not have considered some of these points.
There are phases to coming out that all LGBTQ+ individuals go through. They include coming out to oneself, coming out to friends, and coming out to family. Not all LGBTQ+ people go through all the phases, some only come out to themselves while others to friends and not family or vice versa. All the phases are difficult, but people often struggle with coming out to family the most. The reason being that there is the most potential for rejection and negative consequences when coming out to one’s family.
Coming up with a “coming out plan” is important. The chances of having a better experience if you know what you are going to say versus “winging it” are much higher. Taking things such as safety and risk into consideration is also of utmost importance.
Here are things to consider adding to your coming out plan:
Get a feel for how those around you view LGBTQ+ people. You can do this by “testing the waters” and bringing up LGBTQ+ topics, people’s reaction will be a good measure of how supportive they may or may not be.
Get informed on LGBTQ+ issues and history. It’s important to be able to educate people around you about issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community. Remember that many people are misinformed or have preconceived, often stereotypical notions of what it means to be LGBTQ+.
Know what you are going to say. Think about what you are trying to get across, if you’re still unsure where exactly you fit in, that’s ok. It’s more important that you articulate what’s going on inside you rather than focus on the label. It’s helpful to be able to explain what you’re going through, writing it out or practicing your dialogue may help organize your thoughts.
Be prepared for tough questions/reactions. Similar to the above point, you should be ready for some tough questions such as, “why now?”, “Are you sure it isn’t just a phase?”, “was I a bad mother?”. People will inevitably try to come up with explanations for things they don’t understand. Take a deep breath, remind them that this is not about them, and try to answer their questions in an informed way. The reaction you get may not be what you hope for, people may react with anger, frustration, sadness, even grief. Their responses may be hurtful (“you’re going to hell” or “you’ll die of AIDS”). Try to keep your cool, education is key here as is time, more on that below.
Identify support systems. Be sure to have people in your life that you can turn to for support. You do not and should not have to do this alone. If you cannot think of anyone in your life that can be there for you there are online support groups, hotlines, school counselors, and/or mental health professionals. Check them out and try to build a support system before coming out.
Is this a good time? Be mindful of the timing, sometimes those around us are stressed or dealing with a lot and cannot be as supportive as we would like. Remember, this is not going to be easy, and you should not avoid it, but you want to make sure the timing is right for all involved. That is not to say that you should come out on other people’s terms, however, it is important to be sure that people can handle some potentially shocking news.
Be patient. Some people will need time to process and come to terms with the news, especially parents. Give them time to process the information and the opportunity to become a support system for you. Keep in mind that you may have known about your identity for a while, but the person who you just came out to is getting brand new information. Allow them the time they need to understand. Be patient, it may take some time.
Assess for safety or risk concerns. Unfortunately for some, coming out can be dangerous or risky. People’s physical and emotional wellbeing may be threatened, people may lose financial support, may be rejected, may get kicked out, or may be bullied incessantly. Come out on your own terms and when it is safe for you.
Connect with LGBTQ+ resources. If you need a little extra support after coming out, connect with LGBTQ+ organizations, join LGBTQ+ support groups, or try to make LGBTQ+ friends. Having good, reliable support is key to maintaining good mental health during such a stressful and traumatic time. Contacting an LGBTQ+ Affirmative therapist can also be very beneficial.
Avoid avoidance. Avoidance can occur when people do not know how to react to someone coming out. They avoid talking about it or sweep it under the rug, the term “don’t ask, don’t tell” comes to mind. Once you come out, keep the conversation going when it feels appropriate and safe. Talk about your life with friends and loved ones, even if they don’t ask. Chances are they are avoiding either because they don’t know how to ask or are uncomfortable with the topic. Repeated exposure will reduce those uncomfortable feelings eventually.
Keep the conversation going. Keep an open, respectful dialogue going. Welcome questions or concerns so you can educate your loved ones and put them at ease.
While everyone’s coming out journey is a little different, these tips may help ease some of the anxiety leading up to coming out. The key takeaways are, make a plan and be informed, make sure the timing is right, make sure you have support, and be sure it is safe to come out. If you still feel that you need some additional resources, check out this guide from The Trevor Project. Consider these tips or make a coming out plan that suits you!
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