Switching gears from yesterday’s birthday celebrations (thank you, everyone, for the warm wishes), let’s turn the focus on something far more important: Coming out. Having been out of the closet to family and friends for nearly a decade, I know a thing or two about how NOT to do it.
These are my best tips for things NOT to do:
- DON’T come out during a fight. While there may never be an ideal time to come out of the closet, during a fight is definitely a time not to do it. Nonetheless, it happens a lot! If you and a family member or friend are already in a negative space, don’t use your sexuality as a weapon. Wait until things are calmer and quieter.
- DON’T tell them that you have a boyfriend. Coming out is one thing. Disclosing a boyfriend or partner is another. Parents sometimes try to assign blame for your sexuality; it’s not right, just or wise to blame someone for your gayness, but it’s often one of the first (and most ignorant) reactions by parents or relatives. If you disclose your sexuality AND that you are in relationship, you’ve just created an easy target for that blame. Give it a few days or weeks or months.
- DON’T do it alone. Coming out to someone is an intensely personal and often vulnerable experience – but you don’t need to do it entirely alone. It’s important to build a support system for yourself. I first came out to my close friends and gradually widened my circle. By the time I came out to my family, I had a well established safety net of support – just in case things didn’t go well. Lean on your friends or find support online or over the phone.
- DON’T hit and run. After coming out, there is often a tendency to never talk about it again. Parents may not know how to talk about it – or else, they could be in a stage of denial. Don’t fall into this trap; talking about your sexuality is one of the best ways for you, your friends and your family to grow more comfortable with it. It’s going to be hard at first – but trust me, it’s worth the initial awkwardness.
- DON’T take responsibility for how people react. My coming out experiences have been 99% positive, but there have been a few unexpected and negative reactions. It’s important not to internalize those reactions. How people react to your disclosure says a lot about them and where they are at in their journey – and nothing about you.
- DON’T come out to family members as a group. When you come out, people may have a lot of questions – and they may react very emotionally. I think it’s best to keep the coming out process one-on-one with those people that play a big role in your life.
- DON’T assume that people won’t change. They often will. Opinions and perspectives often shift over time – and an initial negative reaction by family or friends doesn’t mean that things will always be that way. Your coming out may be an opportunity for the people in your life to grow and evolve. It takes time, but don’t assume that people will never come around. My dad, for example, has grown 10,000% in his perspective of gay people since I came out 10 years ago. It happens.
Always remember that each situation is different, and that not all of these tips will apply to your individual situation. If they make sense for you, use them!
And if the out-and-proud ‘mos in the house have any additional tips for things NOT to do, please leave a response in the comments.