October 11th has been dubbed National Coming out Day, and in an era where 20% of Millennials identify at LGBTQ+ (that’s almost double the number for all other age groups combined), it’s imperative that the rest of the community is equipped to support this rising generation. Studies have shown that individuals who know someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ is more likely to be an ally, so the act of coming and the reactions of those on the receive end of the outing are the two most powerful things a person can do to change minds and hearts and grow acceptance.
Coming out is equally important and delicate whether you’re the one coming out or the one someone is coming out to, and I have some advice for both of you.
If Someone Is Coming Out To You
- Ask your questions later, or research the answers on your own. Almost everyone has questions when someone they love comes out of the closet, especially if they know no one else who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community. For the person who is coming out to you, answering your questions about their journey is only going to make them more defensive and ashamed. Questioning them makes them question themselves, so wait until the ice breaks, or research the answers yourself.
- Pay attention to your body language. I know it’s hard to be conscious of this in the moment, but try to keep yourself open and accepting in your demeanor while the person you love is talking. Maintain eye contact when they offer it. Smile. Nod. Touch their arm while they’re talking, and definitely give them a hug if they’re one for affection. These seem like small things, but they matter.
- Don’t shame them for being in the closet. Somewhere inside, you might feel a bit hurt that your loved one has been struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity and didn’t “trust you” enough to come out to you immediately. That’s just not the case. Pretty often, your person is struggling more with coming to terms with themselves first. The secrecy of it is why it’s calling “coming out of the closet”.
- Reaffirm your relationship. When I came out, I was looking for each person to reassure me that my relationship with them wasn’t going to change. Losing loved ones is one of the biggest fears of LGBTQ+ youth who are struggling with coming out. Even if you think it should be a given, let your person know you aren’t going anywhere, not even an inch.
- Don’t force a label. If I had a dollar for everyone who has asked me to make up my mind, or bluntly said “What are you?” when I first came out, I’d have zero debt. Don’t force your loved one to claim and identity or a label they aren’t ready to own. Referring back to the top of the list, if you ask them questions they don’t know the answer to, you’re only going to push them right back into the closet.
- Don’t out your loved one to anyone else without permission. Chances are, they have a checklist of people they want to tell individually before their sexuality is released in casual conversation as common knowledge or gossip. Respect that.
If You’re Coming Out
- Tell your closest loved ones in person. This is insanely difficult, and I’ll readily admit that I failed on several fronts. Several people in my life who deserved to be told in person were informed via text message after I came out to a close friend whose reaction shook me to my core. It takes courage, but the ones you love the most deserve a face to fact conversation.
- Take your time. Come out on your own terms, to who you want, when you want. Decide to tell your college roommate now and your mother down the road? That’s no one’s decision but yours. Be brave on your own scale.
- Tell your most supportive people first. This isn’t a chore to-do list. You don’t have to get the toughest ones out of the way immediately. Everyone is different, but I found that telling those who you know will be the most supportive first builds confidence and makes it easier as you go. If you tell the person you’re dreading the most first, that negative reaction could deter you from coming out to anyone else.
- Don’t feel pressure to claim a label. People feel comfortable when they can put identities in boxes, but if you’re aren’t sure, don’t force it. When I first came out, I had no idea I was bisexual. I only knew that I was in love with someone who was the same gender as me. It wasn’t until much later that I came to terms with my bisexuality. You can only own it once you realize it’s yours.
- Leave the haters behind. It’s possible that some really important people in your life won’t be supportive, or at least will take some time to come to terms with your sexuality. Guess what? It’s not your problem and it’s not your job to convince or educate them. Your job is to love yourself, and continue to take the journey to figuring out who you are. No matter how much it hurts, walk confidently away from those who hesitate to accept you. They can catch up later.
Do you have a coming out story to share? I’d love to hear what worked or what didn’t work for you. If someone you love has come out to you, what are you proud you said or did, and what do you wish you’d done differently Let’s celebrate National Coming Out Day by starting a respectful and thoughtful conversation.
Also, if you don’t feel comfortable sounding off in the comments section, me inbox is always open. I promise you a safe space.
If you want to learn more about this day and where our youth stand, check out the HRC’s National Coming Out Day Youth Report here.
Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to spread the love today and every day.