Coming out of the closet — that is, revealing your non-heterosexuality to others — can elicit a variety of reactions from great to horrible. Every time you do it, you’re likely to learn at least one thing you wish you knew beforehand. Save yourself some trouble and learn from my mistakes.
National Coming Out Day is an annual event originating in the US that celebrates coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) or as an ally. To mark the occasion, we’re revisiting a very personal piece by Adam Dachis. Enjoy.
When I came out, I started by telling a couple of friends I knew I could trust. Then I told my parents. Then I got up at a school assembly and let everyone know. Whenever I mention this, most people tell me I was “so brave”. In reality, I was just lazy. Coming out is exhausting. It shouldn’t even be necessary, but how else will people know if you don’t tell them?
I didn’t want to have to tell everyone in my enormous family or all the kids at my school individually, so I just made an announcement and ripped off the Band-Aid. While I still stand by my decision — mostly because I think it’s funny — I subsequently learned many ways I could have handled the ordeal a lot better. We’re just going to talk about the six big ones.
Being Gay Is Only One Of Your Many Attributes
When I came out for the first time, I felt like it would define me. I assumed, mostly out of fear, that everything else I was wouldn’t matter anymore because I’d just be a homosexual. When I told my parents, my dad relayed something his gay brother told him: my sexuality accounts for one of the thousands of things you know about me, and it’s not all that I am.
I carried that with me as I continued to tell other people. When you come out, people change the way they view you. Perhaps you didn’t seem gay before, but people will start to look at everything you do through a new lens. They’ll start analysing your actions, looking for long-existing signs of homosexuality, and start to act a little differently whether they accept you or not. Parents, especially, might think raising a gay kid changes a lot when, in reality, it doesn’t. It helps to remind everyone that you haven’t changed, but rather decided to share something about yourself. That one thing ought to get averaged in with everything else. You still are and deserve to be all the other parts of yourself, so don’t let anyone forget that.
You Can’t Predict Every Reaction
I came out to my parents at 15, and I thought I was pretty freakin’ gay — at least, enough for them to notice. They didn’t and they were shocked. I remember my mum’s eyes looked like they’d pop out of her head and roll onto the floor. My grandmother, on the other hand, insisted she’d known since I was three years old. One of my better friends in high school didn’t say a word. Others reacted in a variety of ways, ranging from extreme support to nonchalance to never speaking to me again. For the most part, every expectation I had was wrong.
You can’t know how people will react every time, or even most of the time, no matter how aware you may think you are. You will get many reactions wrong, so don’t try to get them right. Instead, put your effort into preparing for the various types of responses. Ask yourself what you’ll say if someone hates you, if they love you unconditionally, or if they just don’t care. Consider the reactions anyone could have rather than thinking about specific people, and know how you plan to deal with it. You might toss that plan out in the moment, but you can come out more confidently if you have a strategy to handle the tougher situations.
You’ll Have To Learn About Dating All Over Again
For the most part, gay kids don’t get a sexual education. Until recently, nobody really talked about homosexuality as a possibility and many people don’t. Schools rarely teach much of anything on the subject, and the internet rarely offers the best information. As a result, gay people tend to come out and start dating a bit later than everyone else. This causes a sort of regression in emotional maturity. All the lessons about dating, love, relationships, and sex have to be rebuilt when you come out.
Those who come out at younger ages — around when their peers start dating — generally won’t have this problem. Those who do later in life, however, have to regress back to adolescence and learn how to navigate their sexuality without many of the proper tools. If you fall into this category, you can’t do much about it other than learn and stay patient with yourself. Remember you have a bit of a handicap when it comes to finding love and you’ll mess up a lot. You’ll feel at least a little immature and stupid, and that’s because you will be. That’s OK. Give yourself time to learn and you’ll catch up with everyone else sooner than you think.
It Doesn’t Get Better Immediately
When you come out, life won’t get better — it will probably get worse. When you come out, you want it to bring you freedom but it often takes time before you get it. Teenagers living with their parents will suddenly have to obey a variety of rules about dating and sex they previously snuck around. Adults may find themselves weighed down by too many possibilities, unsure of where to start. Regardless of when you come out, you won’t necessarily know what to do next. That can lead to problems, mistakes, and ultimately a learning experience.
Take it slow. If you rush right out of the closet and try to embrace your newfound freedom, you’ll find it causes more problems than it solves. You may love too quickly and get hurt, or make poor sexual choices that can impact your health. While you can’t protect yourself from all hardship, that doesn’t mean you should leap off a big gay cliff. Take the time to learn about what you want now that you’ve chosen not to hide who you are, and try new things slowly. It does get better, but only with patience.
Coming Out Never Ends
I came out to everyone at a podium over a speaker system, hoping I’d get it over with and never have to do it again. Reality didn’t agree. People in your life change and you have to keep telling them who you are. You don’t have to like it, but you have to do it. The need to come out never stops, even if you write an article about it on a popular site.
If you stop, you put yourself back in the closet. Sure, some people know, but if you move to a new city, get a new job, or just meet a bunch of different people, your sexuality disappears if you don’t share it. That makes it easy to get back into the habit of hiding who you are and negates all the hard work you did to come out in the first place.
You don’t have to advertise your sexuality over a loudspeaker like I did. It can come up in conversation casually. Talk about your partner. Comment on an attractive member of the same sex. If someone asks you if you have an opposite sex boyfriend or girlfriend, explain why you don’t. You may always have a somewhat difficult time sharing, or just find it boring like I do, but you still have to do it. Coming out leads to acceptance. It shows people you’re a little unique, but still the awesome person they’ve always known. If more people can accept your differences, they can in others as well and that makes the world a little better for everyone.
You’ll Realise You Should Have Done It Sooner
If you watch television, you’ll find that a fair amount of people make hating “the gays” their life’s work. Others just make it a hobby. Either way, before you come out you take these outside messages into account. You consider the possibility that people you love will react like the angry people on television. Sometimes you might be right, but often you’ll find you’ve just inflated yourself with worry.
Even though you can and most likely will lose a few people you consider important in your life, growing up brings an important lesson: nobody stays forever. We love to romanticise the idea of important people sticking around until death. In some cases they do, but friends can also be fleeting. You won’t always get along with everyone in your family. None of this makes up for the hurt rejection can cause, but in the long run it may not matter. If you look, you’ll find people who support you and love you. As life goes on, you’ll find more. You’ll embrace freedom. You’ll have the opportunity to love and learn who you really are. And when you get there, you’ll wonder why you waited so damn long to just be honest. It looks scarier from the inside, but when you come out you take the first step towards making it all better.