Questioning your sexuality or gender identity can be confusing and overwhelming, however it can also be an amazing experience to establish your own identity and understand what fits for you. At some point, you may want to “come out”, meaning that you want to share your identity with other people. As with the other parts of your journey, the process of telling people about your sexual orientation or gender identity can feel intimidating, it can also be liberating to be open about your authentic self.
“Remember, the process for every person is different, and you have to do what you are comfortable with. Ultimately the most important opinion about how and when to do it is your own.”
Think about the pros and cons of your choice.
There is no right or wrong way to disclose, but you should give thought to your safety and well-being, and the potential benefits or risks associated with coming out.
Benefits may include living authentically and reducing the stress that can be associated with hiding who you are, getting closer to people who care about you and will support you, building a community of people who identify with you, being a role model for others to come out
Risks may include questions or shock from people who have known you, encountering people who don’t understand or do not accept your truth, shock, hostility or discrimination, potential violence, losing support from your parents or being kicked out of your home
*If any of these things happen to you when you come out it does not mean that your identity is wrong or that coming out was the wrong choice. It is only a reaction from people who do not understand or are unwilling to accept. You can’t control or change it, at least not right away. However, it does not change the value and importance of your truth or your value and beauty as a person.
Think about what you want to share
Think about what it is you’d like to share. You can be as specific or as general as you feel comfortable being. Keep in mind that people might ask questions about things they don’t understand (for example, if you say you are gender fluid, some people might not completely understand what that means)
Think about who you will share with
You get to choose who you tell. You might choose to start with one person or a group. You also choose which environments you will be “out” in, again this could be a few safe places or everywhere.
You can also ask people to honor the privacy of the information you give them. It’s not theirs to tell. Just remember that some people aren’t great at keeping things private, even if you ask- and they may tell others. That may impact your choice to tell them.
Telling your parents or caregivers
The thought of coming out to parents and family can be especially scary. Because these people are often so close to you, the thought of their rejection can be very painful. From their perspective, they may be confused, angry or even deny the truth of what you tell them.
Although these are their reactions and not something you can control, this type of rejection can have a significant effect on you emotionally, so considering their reaction and how you will handle it is important.
To prepare for this, put some thought into what coping skills you can use and what supports you have to rely on if things get rough.
Also consider that you can enlist some support. Ask a trusted and safe person that already knows, like a family member or family friend, an advocate, therapist or guidance counselor, to be with you when you talk to them.
Think about what you need from the people you tell
When you come out it is also important to consider what it is you may want or need from them.
In fact, people who care about you may ask you how they can support you. It is good to consider what you want and what will help you. Some questions to ponder might be:
- Do you want them to keep what you’ve told them private or are you okay with them talking about it?
- Are there changes to the way you would like them to address you (like name and pronouns)?
- If there are changes, should they make them in the presence of all groups are only some (if specific, which ones)?
- What other some other ways they can they support you?
- Can they be a supportive resource to call on when you tell other people or a person you can trust and rely on for emotional support if others are unsupportive?
What’s your plan for self-care?
Because coming out can be an emotional journey, another consideration is what you can do for self-care if you need it. Having some options established is helpful if you are stressed, overwhelmed or upset.
- What signs and symptoms (emotional or physical) will let you know that you are stressed out and need help?
- What are some things that comfort you that you can do?
- Who/what list supports can you call on for help?
There is a Support Plan tool on the TeenCentral Tools page that you can use! If you are feeling suicidal or need immediate help, please contact 911 or your local authorities or go to the TeenCentral Help page and for a list of support organizations for LGBTQ youth.
There are times when feeling that your body does not match your true gender can cause severe distress, anxiety or depression. People who are experiencing this sensation are sometimes diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a diagnosis for the experience of severe distress, anxiety or depression from the feeling that the body does not match the internal and true sense of gender. Gender dysphoria DOES NOT MEAN you have a mental illness because you feel that your gender identity is different than your assigned sex at birth. The goal of treatment is to address the stress, anxiety and depression that can come with this experience NOT to change how a person feels about their gender.
Signs of gender dysphoria may include: certainty that your true gender is not aligned with your body, disgust with your genitals, and avoidance of activities like showering, changing clothes, or intimate contact to avoid seeing or touching your genitals.
HOW TO BE AN ALLY
Gender identity and sexual orientation are complex topics, but the rigid concepts that our society has held about both are outdated, and the world is thinking about sexuality, gender identity and expression in a much more diverse way. You may identify as LGBTQ, or know someone who does. You may be questioning your own sexuality or gender identity, or you might also know others who are questioning theirs. TeenCentral believes that basic human rights, respect and kindness are important for everyone. If you want to learn more about how you can be an ally for the LGBTQ community, read some of the suggestions below!
Gender identity is not sexual identity.
Sexual orientation is who a person is attracted to; gender identity is your inner sense of being male, female someplace in-between or neither. Don’t make assumptions about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Gender identity and sexual orientation are separate and distinct from each other. Everyone has a unique identity.
What’s your “real name” or “real gender?” are OFFENSIVE questions.
Asking someone this question implies that the name they gave you is not authentic, valid or real, as is asking someone what their “real” gender is. Someone’s identity is not up for debate, it is what they say it is. Don’t be disrespectful-consider how it would feel if someone asked you these questions.
Respect people’s privacy.
Gender identity and sexual orientation are personal. If someone chooses to come out to you, it probably means that they trust you. Honor their trust and be sure that you check with them before telling anyone else what they have told you or saying something in a larger group. They may not be telling everyone and you may “out” them.
Ask about pronouns.
It’s important to respect the name and pronouns a person uses. If you’re not sure, just ask- what pronouns do you prefer? Or, you can start the conversation by giving the person you are speaking with the pronouns that you prefer. Imagine how it might feel if someone constantly used the wrong pronouns to describe you (misgendered you).
Set an inclusive tone and avoid ignorant compliments.
Introduce yourself by stating your own preferred pronouns, support gender-neutral public bathrooms and use gender-neutral language. Refrain from identifying people in gender –specific ways (an example could be saying “hi everyone” instead of hey guys/girls”). And although you may be trying to be supportive, statements such as “I would not have known you are trans, you’re so pretty” are insulting and hurtful because they are ignorant.
Show your support and challenge hateful speech.
Educate people around you if they are unaware of how to be an ally. Challenge the use inappropriate and disrespectful language that demeans the LGBT community (transphobic or homophobic language). Some people attempt to pass this off as “joking.” Remind them that it is not funny- it is disrespectful, hurtful and makes people feel unsafe. Don’t allow it in your presence.
Know your own limits.
Don’t be afraid to acknowledge that you don’t know something. Let people know you don’t know or ask where you can get more information. One of the best ways to find out is to listen to LGBTQ people in your community about their thoughts, feelings and experiences.