Coming Out

What does it mean to “come out”?

Coming out is a life long process of understanding, accepting, and acknowledging your identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+ (LGBTQ+) or a combination of these identities. Coming out includes both exploring your identity and sharing that identity with others. The first person you have to come out to is yourself. Coming out happens in different ways and occurs at different ages for different people. Because we live in a society that assumes that everyone is straight and cisgender, an LGBTQ person is never done coming out. Coming out is NOT “flaunting.” Instead, it is simply making people aware of an important part of you.

Why should I come out?

First off, to be true to yourself and your feelings – ignoring or denying your feelings or truths can take its toll on your mental and emotional health and/or can take a lot of energy away from focusing on other things in your life. Other reasons that people have for coming out include increasing visibility of LGBTQ people, educating people who assume that everyone is straight and cisgender, and letting your friends and family get to know another part of you. Coming out lets others know that LGBTQ people exist around them; we are to a large extent an “invisible minority.”

When should I come out?

Coming out is a very personal experience, and the answer to this question is going to be a little different for everyone. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you will know when the time is right for you to come out, and no matter how tempting it may be, do not give in to pressure from others to come out. If someone is pressuring you to come out, respectfully ask that they let you come out on your own terms. Below are several things to consider when deciding when is the right time to come out to friends and loved ones.

Consider the emotional dependence you may have on parents or other primary caregivers.

In many cases, parents are supportive of their LGBTQ 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 on their own and in a stable place financially.

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 or gender identity, others may also need time.

Society generally assumes that an individual is straight and cisgender 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 and gender identity). When others suddenly learn that things are not as they expected, they may need time to 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!

Frequently Asked Questions

We know you’ve got questions, and we’ve got answers. Below are a few more of the questions we get asked most frequently. Feel free to click through, and of course, if we haven’t answered your question below – send us a message and we’ll be happy to get back to you with an answer.

How do I know if I’m lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer?

There is not a simple answer to this question. Knowing if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is a process that often requires a lot of self exploration. It is not unusual for someone to be unsure of their sexual orientation or gender identity especially during the “growing up” years. Family and society generally make assumptions that everyone is heterosexual and cisgender. Without the acknowledgment and support of others, many suppress feelings they have towards themselves or other individuals of the same sex. It is common to begin exploring such feelings when leaving home and/or going to college. Often individuals begin to recognize physical and/or affectional feelings towards those of the same sex around the same time they begin to question their sexual orientation. For transgender individuals, feelings of not identifying with one’s own body or the gender they were assigned at birth often accompanies questions about ones gender identity. 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, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, or some combination of the above – and some prefer no label at all.

Why am I lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or genderqueer?

If only we could explain the things we feel inside. It’s like you wake up one day and everything is normal—life, schools, family, and your job are all the same. And then what seems like overnight you in some way discover that you’re attracted to other guys or you identify more as the other gender. It could be a physical, mental, or emotional attraction, feelings, or a combination of all three. You can’t explain it. It feels just as natural as all of your other feelings. Just like you can’t explain why you like a certain sport or can’t live without a certain song. Certain feelings are just on a level that only you understand, even if others want you to explain it.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are natural parts of who we are. Some of us are born straight; others gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or gender-queer. Many sexuality researchers and scholars have tried to explain homosexuality and transgenderism, but for just as many studies that claim our environment makes us LGBTQ, there are opposing studies that say that we’re just born this way.

How many people are there like me in the world?

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, a sexual orientation law and public policy think tank, estimates that 9 million (about 3.8%) of Americans identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (2011). The institute also found that bisexuals make up 1.8% of the population, while 1.7% are gay or lesbian. Transgender adults make up 0.3% of the population. Keep in mind though that this is just an estimate of United States survey participants and the study is a few years old. It’s also completely possible that the percentages of people who identify as LGBTQ may have grown as equality began expanding across the United States at a rapid pace in recent years.

It’s hard to know exactly how many LGBTQ people there are across the world, but our best guess is that the international population is probably in line with the figures provided for the United States.

Why is this number an estimate?
The number of LGBT people in the U.S. is subjective. Studies pointing to the statistics are estimates at best. The most widely accepted statistic is that 1 in every 10 individuals is LGBT; however some research estimates 1 in 20. Of course, this all depends on one’s definition of gay, bi, lesbian, transgender, or queer (which may vary by study) and the participants willingness to identify as such. So, why can’t the actual number of LGBTQ people be counted? There are simply too many variables to consider when trying to count the number of LGBTQ people.

Is being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or genderqueer a choice?

Put simply – no. Although many researchers continue to debate why some men are gay and other’s not, most psychologists believe that being gay is not a choice — especially considering that sexual orientation often develops in early adolescence without any previous sexual experience. The American Psychological Association even states that “although we can choose whether to act on our feelings, psychologists do not consider sexual orientation to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed.” The same goes for gender identity and expression.

Can LGBT people change their sexual orientation or gender identity?

No. In fact, attempts to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity are extremely dangerous and often lead to internalized homophobia, depression, increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse, and even suicide. Conversion therapy has been discredited by all of the major medical associations and has been outlawed in 6 states (CA, IL, OR, NJ, NM, VT) and the District of Columbia. If you know someone who identifies as LGBTQ or is struggling with accepting themselves, the best thing you can do is let them know that you love, accept, and support them. Click here to learn more about the dangers of conversion therapy and actions you can take to stop it.

What’s the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity?

The relationship between sexuality, gender identity, and sexual orientation is complex and sometimes hard to decipher. Sexual orientation refers to individuals’ attractions to others–who they love and date, and to whom they are physically and/or emotionally attracted. The terms lesbian, gay, and bisexual refer to one’s sexual orientation. Gender identity refers to individuals’ internal and individual experiences of gender. Transgender refers to one’s gender identity. In the most basic terms, gender identity is concerned with who one is, and sexual orientation is concerned with who one loves.