What is “coming out”?
- For most people who are LGBTQ, coming out is the process of self-acceptance that continues throughout one’s life, and the sharing of the information about their sexual orientation and gender identity with others.
- Coming out is sometimes referred to as “disclosing” by the transgender community.
- Coming out can also apply to the family and friends of LGBTQ youth or adults when they reveal to others their connection to an LGBTQ person or the community.
Do LGBTQ people only come out once?
- Coming out is not a one-time act for LGBTQ people, but a process we repeat throughout our lives.
- As a society, we overwhelmingly assume that people are heterosexual and/or cisgender.
- LGBTQ people typically must choose whether to come out whenever they meet new people or encounter false assumptions about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
How can PFLAG Bellevue/Eastside help with the coming out process?
- We understand and support the two sides of coming out: the person who discloses they are LGBTQ and the person who receives the disclosure.
- Our monthly meetings provide support and education on the coming out process.
- Our membership ranges in age, background, and experience, and includes people who have come out as LGBTQ, parents whose children have come out, and people who have come out as proud parents of LGBTQ children.
- We give you a safe and confidential space to share your coming out process in a support circle or one-on–one with a facilitator.
- We can share our own insights and experiences with the coming out process
- We can direct you to resources and support.
- We feature guest speakers who are out, proud, and from a diverse range of backgrounds and walks of life.
How do we first learn about someone coming out?
It can happen in many different ways. Here are typical stories we might share at a PFLAG Bellevue/Eastside meeting:
- Our teenage son tells us that he is gay.
- Our daughter writes us a letter from college to tell us she is a lesbian.
- Our child insists they are the opposite gender than they were assigned at birth.
- Our child has a mental health crisis because they are struggling with disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity to us.
- Our granchild tells us they are genderfluid and no longer want to be referred to as male or female.
- Our spouse tells us they are gay or transgender, sometimes after years of marriage.
- Our best friend confides that they are gay or transgender and cannot tell their parents.
- Our parent tells us they are gay or transgender.
How can we react when someone we love or care for comes out?
- We can feel deep and complex emotions, based on cultural influences as well as our own upbringing and set of beliefs.
- We live in a society that discriminates against LGBTQ people and until recently did not see them as normal or worthy of equal rights.
- As a result, many of us initially filter the news through a darker lens.
What are some of the challenging feelings we can experience?
- Shock because we never expected this news. We don’t think the person coming out fits our stereotypes of LGBTQ people.
- Angry and betrayed because this is not the life we planned. We never envisioned a spouse who wants to change gender or a child attracted to the same sex.
- Disappointment and grief that the life we imagined or created is going to radically change.
- Disbelief that this information is true. Instead we might believe it’s a stage or form of youth rebellion; that our child is too young to know; that our spouse will get over it.
- Denial, as a form of self-protection. If we ignore the signs and avoid the topic, it will fix itself and go away.
- Resentful that it has to be out in the open. We wish the person had kept it their secret and left us out of it.
- Guilty or responsible, a sense that we failed. Maybe if we were stricter or more attentive parents—or not divorced. Maybe if we were better role models of conventional sexual orientation and gender identity.
- A crisis of faith, if we are religious . We cannot reconcile this news with our faith and religious community because we believe sexual orientation is a sin of choice and gender is assigned by God.
- Concern or embarrassment about how our friends and family will react. Will they stigmatize, ridicule, or stigmatize us?
- Fear that the person we love will be vulnerable to discrimination, disease, or violence.
Can we feel extreme panic?
- We can feel panic to the bone.
- We can feel shaken, even if we have progressive views regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.
- We can feel consumed with anxiety for the safety and future of our loved one.
- We can wonder if we can still attend our place of worship.
- We can feel that have we no idea what to do or how to help.
- We can feel isolated from friends and family.
- We can feel profoundly alone.
Is it okay to feel negative emotions or panic, even when it’s someone we love and care for? Even when it is our own child?
- Yes, it’s absolutely okay and also typical to feel these emotions, even—and especially—if it is our own child.
- Sometimes it’s hard for parents to admit we struggle understanding our own child. But remember, we’re culturally steeped in many negative attitudes toward LGBTQ people.
- We need to give ourselves time and permission to work through our feelings.
- Luckily, the more we get to know LGBTQ people, the more we can let go of our assumptions and stereotypes. Many of things we fear are simply not true.
- Most importantly, we can continue to love and support our LGBTQ child, even as we work through our own issues. We don’t have to get everything to be there for them.
What are positive feelings we can experience when someone comes out to us?
- Relief that this issue is now in the open. Sometimes we’ve wondered about it for a long time and hoped this conversation would occur.
- Appreciation that we now have a more honest and open relationship and that the person we love or care for no longer has to hide who they are.
- Honored that the person is revealing their truth to us. In some cases, coming out to is our way of telling someone we trust them.
- Pride for their strength and courage. We never know how people will react when we come out, so it is an act of bravery.
- Profound love and the fierce desire to protect. We always have loved our children and when they come out to us, we can hold onto that love.
Can our response to our child coming out make a difference?
- Our response as parents is the most crucial factor in our child’s life and can be potentially life-saving.
- Numerous studies by groups such the Family Acceptance Project (FAP) show that risk factors, such as self-harm, alcohol, depression, and suicide, are hugely reduced when an LGBTQ child has the love and support of their parents and family.
- In fact, parental and family support has more influence than peer and community acceptance—though they are also important—and for most children, gives them the strength and self-esteem they need to handle the stigma and adversity of discrimination.
- Caitlin Ryan, director of FAP says that parental and family acceptance is “like a vaccine that protects their LGBT children with love.”
- Remember, we can love, accept, and support our child, even if we don’t yet fully understand what it means to be LGBTQ—even if it conflicts with our faith community or deep beliefs.
- We have always loved our child. If they come out and know that they still have that that love, we change their lives for the better.
What about the process for those of us who are coming out?
- We often feel more free when we come out, but it creates a new set of challenges.
- We must confront discrimination in our lives, sometimes from our own family, peers, and colleagues.
- We risk losing loved ones, friends, career opportunities, and in some cases our own home.
- We must process our own internalized homophobia/transphobia—self-loathing, repulsion, shame—in a society that is predominately heterosexual with rigid ideas of the gender binary.
What can we experience as teenagers/minors living at home?
- Loss of parental emotional and/or financial support when we need it the most.
- Bullying and marginalizetion at our schools, sometimes without the backing or protection of the school policies and administration.
- Force to undergo harmful reparative therapies.
- Anxiety, stress, depression, self-loathing, despair, isolation and the feeling that we carry a heavy burden.
- Higher risk for depression, suicide, and harmful behaviors.
What can we do to support ourselves?
- Ask for emotional support from understanding friends, peers, and counselors.
- Seek help from organizations and resources for LGBTQ youth.
- Commit to calling a 24-Hour Crisis Hotline or 911 if we are risk for self harm or suicide.
But we know coming out also be liberating and freeing, too. So what are the positive and affirming changes when we come out?
- We can feel the lifting of a heavy burden. Now we can be open and honest instead of hiding who we are and who we love, either willfully or by omission.
- We can let go of the stress and pressure of constantly covering up or changing certain aspects of our lives to please other people or avoid rejection.
- We can feel our true lives are finally starting.
- We can overcome our internalized homophobia/transphobia and instead embrace self-esteem and pride.
- We can discover who truly accepts and loves us for who we are, and create deeper and more authentic bonds.
- We can expand the number of people— family members, friends, colleagues, and clients—who know an LGBTQ person, so it’s a normalized, every day occurrence.
- We can put a face on the LGBTQ issue—one of the most impactful actions we can take for pushing through LGBTQ legislation. (Numerous studies demonstrate that meeting LGBTQ people can effectively sway voters.)
- We can be a visible minority, who challenges assumptions and stereotypes and give others hope, pride, and role models.
- We can connect to the resilience and courage of our LGBTQ community.
- We can advocate for ourselves and others.
Where can I learn more about the coming out process?
Consult this PFLAG National recommended reading list for a range of resources.