LGBTQ - Frequently Asked Questions about Coming Out
Student Services Building - 5th Floor
COMING OUT - these words often invoke excitement, fear, or a little of both. Coming out can be a life-changing process that is often accompanied by a need for information. The following addresses many of the Frequently Asked Questions that individuals ask in the coming out process. A list of resources are also included for additional information.
How do I know if I'm lesbian, gay, or bisexual?
There is not a simple answer to this question. Knowing if you are lesbian, gay or bisexual is a process that often requires exploration. It is not unusual for someone to be unsure of their sexual orientation especially during the "growing up" years. Family and society generally make assumptions that everyone is heterosexual. Without the acknowledgment and support of others, many suppress feelings they have towards same sex individuals. It is common to begin exploring such feelings when leaving home and/or going to college. If individuals begin to recognize physical and/or affectional feelings towards those of the same sex, they often start to question their sexual orientation. The recognition of these feelings is sometimes the first step in the coming out process. As people grow more comfortable and accepting of these feelings, they often begin to identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual and some prefer no label at all.
You refer to Coming Out as a process. What is involved in this process?
Some people think of coming out as one event, but for many LGB individuals it is a process that can take several months to several years. It can be exhilarating and confusing. It is not uncommon to feel anxious or even fearful as you go through this process. This is normal. The following are issues you may face through this process:
Confronting myths, stereotypes, and misunderstandings about sexual orientation:
After developing awareness of the feelings described above, you may begin to come to terms with negative messages learned about LGB people from an early age. Sometimes people begin to recognize some of the stereotypes in themselves, and wonder if they are supposed to embrace the stereotypes. Most who identify with gay, lesbian, or bisexual feelings often don't relate to the stereotypes and negative portrayals they've seen or heard. Some wonder if they will need to change their personality, values, or behaviors by coming out. The good news is that LGB people are unique individuals. There is no need to change who you are. The coming out process is about accepting and being authentic--- not changing for others or trying to fit in with any group. This includes maintaining any aspect of yourself that is important to your overall identity. As an anonymous saying goes: "There is only one of you for all time. Fearlessly be yourself."
Considering your religious beliefs---how you can be out and still practice your faith:
A variety of religions have traditionally taught that homosexual behavior is a sin. Increasingly, religious institutions are beginning to re-think this issue and re-interpret religious scriptures. Also, there are organizations affiliated with many religions that provide spiritual support and fellowship for the LGB community.
Deciding when and how to tell others.
Issues that you might consider before you begin to talk with others about your sexual orientation include emotional as well as pragmatic issues, some of which might depend upon your family, culture, religion, or other personal factors. As society's attitudes have changed, coming out has become easier for some, yet still difficult for others. In the early stages of coming out, it's helpful to be selective in which individuals to tell. As LGB individuals become more comfortable and develop support from others, many begin to be more open about their sexual orientation. However, the decision to come out is an individual choice, and it is important to feel comfortable with that choice. There can be pressure from other LGB persons to come out, as many believe that societal acceptance will increase as more people are open about their sexual identity. One's own sense of personal safety and comfort is paramount in considering how "out" to be.
What should I consider before coming out to others?
Consider how comfortable and sure you are of your sexual orientation. If in the early stages of coming out and still questioning your orientation, consider talking with someone who is LGB or perhaps a counselor or a telephone counseling service. In most cases, you can expect understanding and assistance as you work with these issues. They can also help you navigate the most comfortable course in coming out to others. Be sure that the person will respect your decisions and not attempt to dictate the "right" course for you.
Consider your support system. After you have identified those that support you, you can choose to talk with someone you already know and trust, such as a parent, sibling or best friend. In choosing who to confide in, consider what you know about their attitudes towards sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
Have they expressed openness to LGB individuals in previous statements or conversations or have they been derisive or critical?
Are they generally non-judgmental and tolerant of viewpoints they don't personally hold?
If it is important to you, can you trust an individual to give unconditional support and maintain your confidentiality?
Consider additional sources of emotional support. Many LGB individuals develop a support network they can fall back on if needed. This might include other LGB individuals, friends or mentors who are allies, and perhaps a counselor or support group.
When should I come out?
Consider the emotional dependence you may have on parents or other primary caregivers. In many cases, parents are supportive of their LGB children. Unfortunately, in some cases parents still reject their children. This could also have a financial impact if you are not independent from your family financially. Because of this, some people choose not to come out to their parents until they are out of college and on their own.
Consider your motive(s) for coming out. If your motive relates to your desire to facilitate a more open and caring relationship vs. acting out of spite or anger, this will tend to facilitate others' acceptance.
Remember, just as you may have needed time to become comfortable with your sexual orientation, others may also need time. Society generally assumes that an individual is "straight" until they are told otherwise. Parents and other family members often expect that you will grow up in a similar fashion to the way they did (at least in regard to sexual orientation). When others suddenly learn that things are not as expected, they might grieve the "picture" they had for you. Your understanding and patience could facilitate their eventual acceptance and support of you. It can seem unfair if you don't receive their acceptance right away, but don't assume that acceptance won't happen. People do change and grow!
It sounds like coming out might be difficult. Why not just stay "in the closet?"
While it is important to consider that everyone might not be supportive or understanding of your decision to come out, most LGB individuals find many benefits and joy in the decision to embrace and to be open about who they are. Most importantly, being able to accept yourself brings a sense of freedom as opposed to the burden of secrecy imposed by being "in the closet."
The acceptance and support that often follow coming out gives LGB individuals a sense of belonging and affirmation that they were once denied.
Being out can also help others learn that being LGB is not shameful but just another aspect of one's unique and special being. Rob Eichberg in his book "Coming Out: An Act of Love" says
"love flows more easily between you and others because some of the barriers you've constructed in your relationships are removed." He also notes that "you give important people in your life a real opportunity to support you, and you become far more available to them as well."
In short, the ability to embrace yourself as an LGB individual adds to your self-esteem, self-respect, and ability to have a joyful life. And of course, it is always your choice whether you come out at all.
Check out the groups available for LGBTQ students:
Counseling and Mental Health Center, 5th Floor, SSB, (512) 471-3515 (for groups and individual appointments)
CMHC Crisis Line, (512) 471-2255 (available 24/7 to all UT students)
Waterloo Counseling Center, (512) 444-9922, a non-profit organization with a special focus on providing individual and group counseling to LGBT and questioning individuals
OUT Youth, (512) 419-1233, a non-profit organization providing services to LGBT and questioning youth up to 19 years of age
PFLAG - Austin, (512) 302-FLAG, A non-profit organization providing support, education, and advocacy for LGBT individuals and their families and friends. You can also find a link to the national PFLAG organization on this website.
On the web
www.hrc.org (click on the "coming out" link on the left of the page)
www.outproud.org/brochures.html - This website provides links to a wide variety of resources, including downloadable brochures that can give you more information about coming out and related issues.