I remember the anticipation building for months before I came out. I had built up so many scenarios in my head about how people would respond, what they would think about me, and how my relationships might change. I played out the conversation with my parents in my head over and over and over again until I was convinced I already knew what their response was going to be, so there was no real point in telling them.
I was 21 years old and living in a small town in Upstate New York. I’d known I was somewhere on the spectrum of ~not straight~ for well over 2 years by this point, but I didn’t have the courage to tell anyone. Though I had tossed around hints and suggestions that I was queer to friends, no one really seemed to be picking up on them. I knew I was going to have to actually say the words “I’m gay,” because all the innuendos were missing everyone.
The first person I came out to was my friend Jona. I was going on my first date with my now ex-girlfriend and I really wanted to borrow one of Jona’s cute crop tops. But the thing is, Jona’s a therapist so she just knows things, even before you tell her. So when I asked if I could borrow this shirt, she knew it was for a special occasion. She asked me about it and it just kind of spilled out of me that I was going on this date with this girl who I was wildly attracted to and so nervous about it!
From there on it was like a hurricane picking up steam over the ocean. By that I mean, I was not at all graceful in how I came out to my family. I kind of stumbled out and made a huge mess in the process.
Two good things came out of this: 1. I was out and 2. I now have sage advice to give to baby queers about navigating the coming out process. Of course, my advice comes from my own unique perspective and I recognize that everyone’s lived experience is vastly different. These are some things that I wish baby queer Corinne had known at the time, they might work for you or they may not apply to your life at all.
1. The anticipation feels worse than actually telling people.
I built up the anticipation of what coming out would feel like for years. I wished that people would just know and that I wouldn’t have to tell them. It seemed too awkward and unnecessary to me. My straight sister never had to come out to my parents, why do I have to? I kept asking myself feeling so frustrated with the mere thought of the conversation.
All of this was tied to the anticipation. I wanted everyone to know, but I didn’t want to actually have the conversation with them. Once I realized that I would have to just rip the band-aid off and get it over with, I was so relieved. Even though some people in my life didn’t take the news very well, it felt better knowing that I was being my most honest and authentic self—whether they accepted me or not was up to them. The release I felt from coming out was so much better than the anxious anticipation that caused me to feel isolated and depressed.
2. Don’t come out for anyone other than yourself.
Don’t do it for your mom. Don’t do it for your new girlfriend. Don’t do it for anyone but yourself. You should want to come out if you’re going to do it. But if you don’t want to or you’re not ready or you just want people to find out naturally, that’s all okay!
A part of me came out for the girl I was dating at the time. She sometimes made comments about insinuating that I wasn’t “gay enough” or wasn’t ready for a relationship if I wasn’t willing to be out to my parents. And so I rushed it with my parents and came out in a quick phone call when I should have done it in person. I’m not blaming her for this or anything, I just wish that I had come out 100% on my own terms and completely for myself, instead of knowing that deep down it was in part something I did to prove I was ready to be in a relationship with her.
My best advice for you, babes, if to love yourself first. Prioritize your needs and come out when you’re ready and when you really want to!
3. Prioritize your safety.
This is the number one most important thing to keep in mind when coming out. I used to work at an LGBTQ Community Center and we would always advise teens to wait until they knew they were safe. If you think your parents and/or guardians might kick you out or hurt you in any way for coming out as LGBTQ, then wait.
Your physical and emotional safety is the number one priority, babes. Your life is so important.
Sometimes we’d have teens who would come out at school and to their friends, but not to their family until they were ready to move out on their own. Or sometimes they felt they never wanted their family to know. And both of those are okay.
If you do come out or your parents/guardians find out without you meaning to and they don’t take it well—there are resources to help you. Try to find an LGBTQ center near you for local resources or contact the Trevor Project for support. Know that you aren’t alone and it will get better.
4. Come out via any form of communication that makes you feel comfortable.
I had friends who came out to everyone all at once through a YouTube video. I knew people who came out via text or email to their parents. I came out to my mom over the phone. And to this day she will tell you that she wishes I had done it in person.
And yes, okay, she has a point. In person, communication is more personal and it’s easier to have a dialogue. However, I felt safest and most comfortable telling her over the phone because I knew I could exit (i.e. hang up) the conversation at any point. That was comforting to my anxiety and I wouldn’t do it any differently if I could. (I might have changed my delivery of the phone conversation, but not the mode of communication).
If you want to write a letter, post about it Tumblr, make a video, send a text, host a dinner party, or any other creative way you can think of—do it, babes. This is one of the most authentic and personal parts of who you are, allow yourself to tell people on your terms. In whatever way you want to!
5. It’s okay to take space.
When I first told my mom on the phone that hot summer night, I ended up hanging up the conversation, turning off my phone and taking my dog for a hike. I needed space. I knew my phone was about to blow up with calls from my dad, my sister, and my gay aunts. And while some of those calls were out of love, I didn’t want to face them yet.
So I turned to where I felt most at home: nature.
It’s okay to take all the space you need, especially if someone didn’t respond to your exciting news in the best way. You can ignore their calls and texts for a while. Let them sit with the information you gave them. And then when you’re ready (and only when you’re ready) you can call them back to see if they’re ready to apologize and truly be the support you need. If they still aren’t, go ahead and continue to take that space from them.
6. Be patient with yourself.
Before I came out I was in a cycle of self-acceptance, guilt, shame, internalized-homophobia and back around again in circles. It took me years to feel truly ready to tell anyone about my sexuality. I would get excited and giddy and ready to tell and then I wouldn’t do it. So I’d feel guilt and shame about not saying the words “I’m gay” out loud.
Be patient with yourself. You are figuring out who you are and sometimes that takes time. Don’t compare your timeline to anyone else’s. Your time will come and when it does, something inside you will click and you’ll know.
7. People will surprise you.
While my mom took a while to catch up and really get on board, my dad was there for me right away. I mean, he literally drove 7 hours to where I was working at the time to give me a hug and take me out to dinner and then drive 7 hours back home. That surprised me so much. I didn’t expect it but I welcomed it and to this day appreciate him so much for being so supportive.
Keep an open mind about the people in your life. Some of them who you might not expect to be loving and supportive may just surprise you like my dad did. You’ll never know how someone is going to respond unless you give them the chance. When you’re ready to share this big news, ask them to keep an open mind but also make sure yours is open to the possibilities that you might find your relationships strengthening through this messy process of coming out.
What coming out advice would you give your younger self? Leave us a comment on Facebook!