We all deserve the right to live authentically, but for so many people in the LGBTQ+ community, living authentically requires a few extra steps.
“Coming out” is the process of telling friends, family, coworkers, and anyone you encounter that you exist outside the heteronormative culture we live in. You are not a straight, cis-gendered person. While this shouldn’t be such a huge shock (Queer people have always existed in recorded history, after all), many people still find this fact hard to accept.
This can make the process of coming out an emotional journey that never truly ends. You might be happily married to your partner but when you move and have to change doctors you still have to deal with the look they give you when your answers don’t match a heteronormative script. Coming out for the first time to friends and family can be especially challenging.
This Pride season, if you or someone you love is struggling with coming out, give them a big hug and maybe some comfort food. Because coming out is hard! It takes courage and a belief in yourself that is both beautiful and terrifying.
But above all else, please remember that no matter where your coming out journey leads you, you are worthy of love and total acceptance.
Are there any benefits to coming out?
If it’s so stressful to come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, pansexual, asexual, non-binary, or any other label that you feel fits your experience (for more information on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, check out these resources), why do it?
There are actually plenty of health benefits, including:
- People who come out have lower stress hormones, leading to decreased symptoms of depression, anxiety, and burnout (source).
- Risk for suicide and depression drop when transgender people use their chosen name/pronouns (source).
- You could wake up less stressed- studies have found that morning levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) are decreased after you come out (source).
- Higher levels of self-esteem (source).
- Less allostatic load levels (which is just the net burned physiological stress has on the body and is an indicator of future health problems) (source).
There are some caveats to these benefits, however. Many of these benefits are reversed if coming out is not safe or if the people you come out to are not accepting. Before you come out to someone, try to meet these conditions:
- You have a deep and healthy relationship with that person
- Your safety (including access to food and shelter) is not at risk.
You can never truly tell how someone will react to you coming out to them, and it is always a calculated risk. If you decide it is not safe for you to come out, or you do and are met with hate or unacceptance, check our list of LGBTQ+ Mental Health Resources for help.
When is the best time to come out as queer?
When you’re coming out to someone, a million thoughts are probably racing through your mind. Is this a burden for them? How will they react? Will it surprise them? How will it impact our relationship?
These fears are all valid. But remember:
- Your worth is not based on the acceptance of others.
- You do not “owe it” to anyone to come out.
- Your queer identity is never a burden.
- Knowing you is a privilege and being trusted with your queer identity is an honor that you don’t have to give to everyone.
Losing a relationship because they refused to acknowledge or accept your authentic self is unspeakably hard. If it is your experience, please don’t hesitate to reach out to mental health services or community groups. Because living authentically is a beautiful, powerful thing, and should be celebrated as such!
Coming Out as LGBTQ+
There is no one right way to come out, and it is something that you will likely have to do multiple times. Everyone’s situation is different, so take these tips with a grain of salt.
- Start small – some people find it easier to tell friends than family, you can even start with online friends/community.
- Find a community– it can be helpful to come out after you have a community of supportive peers. Maybe this is an online group, a family member, or a friend. Even just one person who fully supports you can make a big difference.
- Set a positive tone– Setting a positive tone increases the chances of a positive response.
- Try to keep anger out of it– coming out can be an emotional time, and it’s okay if you feel anger or resentment towards people (especially those who have expressed hateful stances in the past). But when you are coming out, try to keep anger out of it. And remember, if it is not safe for you to come out, you don’t have to.
- Be firm– if you identify with a label, use it. If you aren’t sure yet, that’s okay! Still try to be firm in what you do know and how you identify.
- Take time for self-care before and after- even if their reaction was positive, you still went through a heavy emotional experience. Let your body and mind rest and celebrate the fact that you did it!
How to Manage Coming-Out Anxiety
Coming out is not a one-time thing. You are always in charge of who you come out to and when, and you’ll likely have to make that choice multiple times throughout your life. The day-to-day anxieties of coming out are a lot! Even more so when you have to handle people’s reactions. Here are some of our professional tips on managing anxiety when you’re coming out as LGBTQ+:
- Find a community – online, in-person, whatever you need to do to surround yourself with people who are fully accepting and excited for you!
- Don’t stop doing the things you love – Engaging in passions and hobbies lowers anxiety levels, so don’t forget to celebrate all the other parts that make you, you!
- Spend time with people who fully accept you – if you’ve just had a stressful conversation about your queer identity or had to spend time with people who don’t fully accept you, make sure to take some extra time with people who do.
- Keep your body healthy– the stress can make it easy to get less sleep, stop drinking water, or rely on unhealthy foods. Your body is beautiful, and it’s directly connected to your mental health, so let’s take care of both!
- Document your journey– coming out is an emotional process and it can be easy to repress those emotions. Journaling, art, or even just talking with a friend or therapist will help your mind process all it’s gone through.
Last but not least, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help. LGBTQ+ affirming therapy can be instrumental in your health and well-being. For more information on the LGBTQ+ therapy services RIVIA Mind offers, click here.