How to come out to your friends, family members, and more - and how to make sure it's healthy and safe for you
- You should come out in any way that makes you feel most comfortable, healthy, and safe.
- Common ways to come out include telling a trusted friend or family member in-person, writing a letter or text message, or even posting about it on social media.
- When you come out, it's also important to find support groups and lean on people you trust.
It's normal to feel nervous or uncertain about coming out. So, it's vital that you do what makes you feel most comfortable and empowered.
If you're thinking about coming out, it can be useful to hear how others have done it. We've provided a few expert-backed tips to help you do it in a safe and healthy way.
What to know before coming out
"I think there's this misconception that everyone needs to come out and that the people who don't come out are just not brave enough. This isn't true," says Neeral Sheth, a psychiatrist specializing in LGBTQIA+ health at Rush University.
Sheth mentions that different backgrounds, resources, and privileges could impact someone's ability to come out safely. "If you're able to come out with only a few ramifications, that's great, but not everyone is in that same situation," Sheth says.
If you're not sure how your coming out will be received, it's important to first try testing the waters a bit, says Eva Smidova, PhD, a Florida-based psychotherapist certified with the World Professional Transgender Health Association.
"See how they respond to LGBTQIA+ celebrities or characters on TV," Sheth says. "You could bring up LGBTQIA+ issues that are in the news and see if they are supportive or dismissive of them."
Sending clues about your sexuality or gender can help you gauge someone's feelings and give you an idea of what their reaction will be before you decide to come out to them, Smidova says.
Who do you want to tell first?
Who you decide to come out to should be based on one basic principle: trust.
"When you're first starting to come out, you should think about who you trust to keep this information private," Sheth says. "It can be scary if someone you come out to starts gossiping about your LGBTQIA+ identity to others or uses this information to hurt you."
Basically, you should come out to someone who you know will make you feel safe. This person can be a friend, family member, or coworker. If you're not immediately sure it's safe to come out to someone, you may need to do a bit more testing, or you might have to find a different person altogether.
It might be helpful to ask yourself the following questions if you're unsure of whether you should come out to someone:
- How does this person react when I talk about LGBTQIA+ people?
- Do I trust this person with information about my gender identity or sexuality?
- Will this person respect my wishes regarding privacy? Do they tend to gossip a lot?
- Do I rely on this person for my basic needs, like food and housing? And do I have a plan if they respond negatively?
How do you want to come out?
If you're just starting to come out, it might be best to have a private conversation with someone you trust in-person.
"In my experience, people are more likely to have a positive coming out experience when they have this discussion in a private setting with only one or a few people at a time," Sheth says.
Still, only you can determine how you want to come out, and what feels most comfortable for you. Here are some common situations to consider:
- Tell someone in person. If you prefer to come out slowly, you might want to sit people down and tell them to their face. For example, during a conversation with a friend, you can say, "By the way, I've been meaning to tell you something," and then come out. That way, you can gauge people's reactions in a private setting.
- Write someone a letter. If telling someone face-to-face is too nerve-wracking, you can tell them through a letter, or even a text message or email. You can start with, "I had something important to tell you, but I couldn't make myself tell you in person. So here it is in writing." However, keep in mind that it can sometimes be more difficult to understand each other through writing, as opposed to speaking in person.
- Post it on social media. Some people opt to put their gender identity or sexuality in their Instagram or Twitter bios, or write a post about their identity on Facebook. Elliot Page, star of the movie Juno and the show Umbrella Academy, came out as transgender on his Twitter and Instagram. You could choose to write a Tweet describing your identity or post a picture with a partner. You could also write a post describing your identity on significant days like National Coming Out Day (October 11), Transgender Day of Remembrance (November 20), or Celebrate Bisexual Day (September 23).
However, Sheth advises against publicly coming out if you're just beginning. "You might see celebrities coming out publicly through a social media post or a press conference, but I don't recommend doing anything like this - at least not until you have a core group of people that you know will support you 100%."
Social media can also be risky, as people you don't know well may make negative comments. And if even if you do know them, Sheth says that you should be prepared for people to have different reactions to your news, especially if they did not expect it.
"Parents, in particular, will often have imagined what your life will look like based on the sex you were assigned at birth and from a heteronormative perspective," Sheth says. "It might take your parents longer to accept your identity because they need to grieve the life they had fantasized for you."
If you're nervous about coming out, Smidova recommends practicing your story about how you came to know your identity. It can show the person you're coming out to that you thought about it and that you were able to put "one plus one together," Smidova says. You can mention that you're still exploring your identity; however, Smidova says that if you show confusion when telling them, it can undermine your and the other person's confidence in your coming out.
Beyond practicing your story, Sheth mentions considering potential safety concerns before coming out. If you're coming out to a parent or guardian, you should think about what friends or local LGBTQIA+ organizations can help you if you encounter a crisis.
What should you do to move forward?
Coming out can often feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. "I never heard about anyone who, in the moment of coming out, would feel regret or anything but relief," Smidova says.
However, coming out is not a cure-all for your
- Find a support group. The friends and family you've come out to and supported you will be your rock during your coming out journey. If no one near you supports you, you can find support groups online or through a local LGBTQIA+ center. "If you have one ally," Smidova says," then the coming out is 'out.' Then it's like the domino effect," she says, in which you keep coming out to more and more people.
- Be open to answering questions along the way. You've probably spent hours thinking about your identity before coming out. Others might be curious or have gaps in their knowledge they'd like for you to fill. Answering questions helps them get on the same page as you in your identity.
- Consider telling healthcare providers in your life. "Coming out to a doctor could be important for your health since LGBTQIA+ individuals are at higher risk for some conditions, and your doctor should take this into consideration when treating you," Sheth says. If your provider doesn't respond positively to your coming out, Sheth notes that you don't have to continue receiving care from them. Those under 18 should discuss confidentiality before coming out to their medical professional.
When deciding to come out, it's often a good idea to start slowly and build a strong support group before coming out more publicly. If you're concerned about your safety or housing, try to find organizations that can help you should you encounter a bad situation.
If you're nervous about coming out, you can try shifting your perspective on it. Rather than it being a stressful time, think of it as a positive step toward your self-growth. "Do it like a graduation award, like you're celebrating 'My big self-discovery,'" Smidova says. "Having 'my story' without gaps and holes and confusion is a big deal."
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