“Personally, coming out was one of the most important things I’ve ever done, lifting from my shoulders the millstone of lies that I hadn’t even realized I was carrying.” —Sir Ian McKellen
I always knew I was different. I’ve known since I was six or seven years old. I never quite fit in with the other kids, particularly the boys. While I was growing up, all the boys in my school wanted to play contact sports. I wanted to do arts and crafts or play house. They wanted to spend time with other boys. I always felt more comfortable with the girls. Because my interests were not the same as most of the other boys, I was teased for being different, even called hurtful names.
Years later I started to experience romantic and sexual interests. However, just like when I was younger, my feelings were different than those of all the other boys I knew. They started to develop crushes and going out with girls. I started to develop crushes on the boys. Unlike the other guys though, I was not going out on dates. Instead, I began to feel ashamed of my romantic and sexual interests. I wasn’t supposed to be attracted to boys. I had no role models, in my personal life or on television, that I could relate to. So, to avoid further bullying from my peers, I told my friends, “I don’t want to date right now, “There isn’t anyone I’m interested in right now,” or, “I don’t want to be driven around on dates by my parents.” Deep down, I knew each of these comments were just excuses.
Eventually, I found a group of friends who didn’t pressure me; at least not at first. I thought they accepted me for my differences. But eventually they pushed me just like everyone else. To survive, I pretended to be attracted to women. It wasn’t long before they saw through my lies. My friends began to encourage me to come out. They even tried to invite some of their gay male siblings to spend time with us in hopes of coaxing me out of the closet. This just made things worse. I told them, “I’d rather be dead than be gay.” Because of the shame I was experiencing around being attracted to boys, I meant it at the time. My friends knew when I made comments like that one they needed to back off for a while. This pattern continued throughout high school and even into college.
Then I moved to Chicago. Some of my new college friends and fraternity brothers had come out of the closet to their friends and families as gay. They accepted me for who I was. They didn’t try to force me out of the closet. Instead, the ones who are gay modeled their own self-acceptance around their sexual orientation. Within several months of knowing them, I came out to myself, then to my friends. It was liberating to finally let go of the weight that I had been carrying. Thanks to my friends. They helped me realize that there was nothing to be ashamed of. They supported me through my coming out to friends and months later to my family.
During my time in the closet, I experienced a significant amount of emotional pain due to the shame I felt. I agonized over my sexual orientation and tried to fight it. It wasn’t until I found others who could help guide me through my coming out process that I started to make progress towards becoming a more authentic version of myself. If you feel that you are ready to come out to your loved ones, here are some helpful tips.
- Plan ahead and make a disclosure plan. How do you want to come out? Is there something you want to do to prepare yourself for coming out? What do you anticipate others saying? If you anticipate negative reactions, remember that just because one person responds negatively does not mean others will.
- Think about who you want to come out to. Who do you feel safe with? Who do you want to know about this part of your identity? Remember, coming out is a personal choice. You are allowed to choose who you come out to and who you do not feel safe coming out to.
- Learn more about your loved one’s attitudes. Ask them about how they feel towards LGBTQIA+ folx. This could be celebrities or other LGBTQIA+ individuals in their lives. Pay attention to whether they put down or praise those LGBTQIA+ folx.
- Think about when and where you want to come out? What time and place works best for you? What times and places would you feel safe coming out? This could be a public or private place. It could also be a time when you check in with your loved ones or a created time.
- Finally, remember that you deserve to live an honest and genuine life filled with love and support. You have a right to be who you are. We were not all born to fit into one specific mold.
If you are not ready to come out to your loved ones or if you are still questioning any aspects of your sexual or gender identity, know you are not alone. Whether it be through help from others within the LGBTQIA+ community or through therapy, you can find support. There are a many therapists out there who want to help you understand and accept every part of your identity, as well as help you live your life honestly and authentically so that you can be proud of who you are. If you are interested in reaching out for support, please feel free to contact us so we can connect you with a therapist who can help.