Who you tell next is really up to you. You may decide to tell your best friend or a member of your family.
Remember, once you have told someone about your sexuality it can become known to others within a short period. This is human nature and there is very little you can do to prevent this. If you are resolved to deal with any negativity that this disclosure may bring, you will be sufficiently prepared for it.
Why do I want to come out?
This is the most important question to ask yourself. If you answer something like: “Because I’m proud of who I am” or “It is impossible to become a fully happy human being if my sexuality remains suppressed” or “I want to meet other gay people” then these are good reasons. Think very carefully if your reasoning is to hurt or shock people. Often the person who gets hurt will be you.
Who should I tell?
Many gay people describe how important it is to first tell someone outside the family. Make sure it’s someone you trust and who you believe to be open minded and supportive. Be careful if you decide to confide in a teacher at school – they may be obliged to tell someone else what you have told them. Find out the school policy on confidentiality before you go ahead.
If you have decided to tell your family it may be easier to talk to one parent before the other. You could then ask them for help to approach the other. Sometimes brothers and sisters are a good starting point as they are likely to understand more about homosexuality or bisexuality. Make sure you understand why you are going to tell them. One of the best reasons to come out to your family is to become closer to them.
There are a number of typical responses that parents, particularly, are known to say: “How can you be sure?”, “I went through a phase like this at your age”, “You’ll grow out of it”, “You haven’t tried hard enough with the opposite sex” and “How can you know at your age?”
We have listed them here because they may help you to think of your answers to them. You might find it helpful to discuss these questions first with a trusted friend or a lesbian and gay help line or switchboard. See the further information page for details.
Support for your family
This can be a traumatic time for some members of your family. You may feel unable to answer all their questions or to deal with all of the issues that come up for them. They, in turn, may not feel comfortable talking about homosexuality or bisexuality with you. There are several organisations that offer support to parents who are coming to terms with their sons’ and daughters’ sexuality. Acceptance produces booklets written for parents – you can request copies from the address given on the further information page.
This can be a difficult time if your happiness is dependent to some degree on your family’s reaction. If this is the case for you, we would advise that you talk it over with someone who has been through it already – perhaps your local gay switchboard or help line.
How should I tell them?
There is no rule that says you have to sit down and talk to others about this, there are other ways.
You might like to write to them first and give them time to react in their own way. This is probably a better approach if, for example, you live a long way from your family or friends. Remember that you have probably taken a long time to get used to the idea yourself and others might need the same amount of time. Writing a letter allows you to take your time and to compose your thoughts carefully and clearly. It can also give the person you are writing to space to react and consider the news before discussing it with you. This could be a useful approach if you are expecting a very hostile or negative reaction.
If you decide to talk face to face, remember not to rush it or to do it when one of you is in a hurry or distracted. It probably won’t help to memorise a script either – you can guarantee that some people do not respond in a predictable manner. If you are worried about their reaction, tell them of your fears and that you don’t want to hurt them but need to be honest with them. Remember to listen to what they have to say – it should be along the lines of a chat, not a speech!
When should I tell them?
When it comes to coming out, timing is an important consideration. Choose the moment carefully – do it when you (and they) have lots of time – not last thing at night when you are likely to be more tired and emotional.
Think about the way you are feeling, allowing for nerves, which are perfectly natural under the circumstances, don’t do it if you are feeling angry or emotionally sensitive – this will affect what you say and how you say it. For obvious reasons don’t do it when you are drunk (even if you think you need a drink to steady your nerves).
And remember – only when you are good and ready. A friend once said that he knew he was ready to tell his family only when he realised that, if he had to, he could live without their support. Fortunately for him (and his family) this didn’t happen.
Consequences and reactions
So you’ve told someone. You are either balancing on the edge of an erupting volcano or dancing with joy on the moon (or both!). Some people describe a huge weight being lifted from their shoulders, of feeling euphoric and giggly and childlike again.
Don’t feel guilty about it – go on and enjoy yourself, you deserve it. The thrill of revealing something long kept hidden can give a tremendous sense of relief.
Use this new found energy wisely and remember that close friends and family may be worried that you have changed out of all recognition. Reassure them that you have changed – and for the better and that you are simply exploring a new, more complete you.
Most people will experience many positive reactions. For example, “We’re so pleased you could tell us” or “Well we had already guessed and were just waiting for you to say something”. Some gay people have also met with the response, “So am I”.
“My parents refused to talk about it. They dismissed it and said they didn’t want the subject brought up again. I decided that I was going to continue to live my life as a gay man. I stopped going home as often as I used to and attending family occasions. It is only now, three years later, that they have begun to broach the subject with me.”
If it hasn’t gone too well – don’t lose heart. Time is a great healer and things will get better. If you are experiencing rejection from some close friends, ask yourself if they were really so close that they couldn’t support you through this. If your family is reacting badly, this is in all probability, normal. They may be experiencing a whole range of emotions including shock, grief, guilt, blame, disappointment and lots of pain.
“My family say that they accept that I am gay but they don’t want to see me being affectionate with another man. They say that they won’t be able to cope with it.”
Remember how long it took for you to come to terms with being gay. Many parents will feel a loss in some way – perhaps of future grandchildren or weddings and other family gatherings. This can blur their happiness and their love for you.
“I was at a wedding recently and everyone was there with their partners. I was upset that I couldn’t bring mine. Everyone asked the usual embarrassing questions about girlfriends and I just had to smile and make excuses. I didn’t want to row with my family about it but it’s just not fair.”
At the end of the day, your parents are still your parents and, in time, few reject their children because they are gay.
“My dad said, “You’re still my son and I’m proud of you.” He’d been very homophobic up to then.”
If they go quiet on you, give them time to react and the opportunity to think about what you have told them. If they ask lots of questions, it’s a good sign. It may help to think of it as though it is in your interests to respond to them – they are likely to be the same ones that you have asked yourself many times along the way.
If things are so bad that you feel like giving up with the whole process of coming out, it’s important to talk to someone about your fears and concerns. Again your local switchboard, help line or Gay Men’s Health Project can offer you support and guidance.
It’s probably better to persevere and keep going, after all, you have come this far and in many ways it would be difficult or impossible to go back now. The next person you talk to will probably give you a huge hug and say that they were relieved that you had found the courage to tell them and that they had suspected that something may have been on your mind for a long time.
Coming out at work
There are some circumstances where coming out could seriously affect your job security and promotion prospects. In some circumstances, being openly gay could be in contravention of the rules of the employer, for example the Armed Forces, probation services, some non-metropolitan police forces and prisons.
In some prisons where the prison culture is particularly homophobic, gay prisoners, including those on remand, risk harassment, abuse and violence. An address for Gay Rights in Prison appears on the further information page.
Telling your doctor
It is worth mentioning, too, that if you disclose your sexuality to your general practitioner (doctor), they may record these details in your medical records. These medical records can be accessed by a range of organisations for many different purposes.