The process of coming out is different for everyone. It can be about your sexuality or your gender identity, or both. Being comfortable with who you are is something you can be happy and proud about, and the feeling of empowerment in disclosing your sexuality or gender identity openly to others can be very liberating, if challenging.
Ultimately the decision to come out, is yours and yours alone. You should never feel pressured to disclose anything to anyone about your sexuality or gender identity if you’re not comfortable. Different people will react differently to your news. Some reactions may be positive, some may not be; and it’s not always easy to guess which way people will respond. Whether you’re coming out to your family, at school, at work or online, it’s useful to think about this process as a way of letting the people you know and love to get to know you better, rather than it being a ‘secret’ that you’re having to ‘let out’. Just as it’s taken you some time to come to terms with your personal identity, so too it may take other people time to process and understand what you’ve just told them, so don’t get put off by people’s immediate responses as they can often be charged with emotions and opinions that are not reflective of how they actually feel about you as a person.
If things do get hostile with people that you’ve told, remember there is always support available, whether it be from family members or friends, support groups, teachers or professionals. You are never alone, though you may feel it at times.
QLife is a national online and telephone counselling and referral service for people of diverse sex, genders and sexualities. If you get into an awkward situation when coming out, or even if you just want to talk to someone who knows about the ins and outs of being same sex attracted or gender diverse, consider getting in touch with this service or any of the other services listed on the Support Organisations page of this website. They are there to help, and all your personal information is kept strictly confidential.
(QLife: www.qlife.org.au; Free call: 1800 184 527)
Different kinds of identities
There are lots of ways people identify themselves around sexuality or gender identity, and these identities may well change over time.
Some guys may feel, “Yes, I am gay, and that will never change”, however with some guys, using labels like ‘gay’, ‘bi’ or ‘queer’ may not reflect the way they see themselves. The gender of the people you have sex with doesn’t have to be the defining feature of your identity. And if you don’t know your identity, that’s cool too. If you don’t think you fit with one of the labels out there, that’s ok too!
Family and friends
Coming out to family and friends, whether it be at school, university or work, can be a liberating, while at the same time, intimidating thing, so where possible, you need to be prepared and comfortable when telling people.
Young gay and same sex attracted guys come from a variety of family types, traditions and backgrounds that may influence how family members and friends are likely to respond to your news, and you need to take this into consideration when telling them and be prepared for negative or hostile responses so you’re not caught off guard.
Sometimes friends and family can react by cutting off contact with you. Although this is often a temporary way of coping with the situation and contact is eventually re-established, you need to consider the effects it would have on you should your main means of financial or emotional support be pulled suddenly from under you.
If this happens, you may be able to cope OK by yourself, but regardless, it’s wise to line up some friends that can provide you with some help if things go pear-shaped when coming out to family so you have a place to stay, food to eat and perhaps some money in your pocket until the situation calms down. Other gay or same sex attracted guys and girls can be often be the best support as they may know firsthand what it’s like to come out and be able to offer advice as well as practical support.
There are many support networks available if you can’t confide in family members or a friend, so never feel that you are alone. See the Support Organisations section of this site.
These days, most people are online, whether it’s on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter or hook-up and dating apps like Tinder or Grindr. Being ‘behind the keyboard and screen’ can provide a degree of anonymity that can make coming out to others easier than doing it face to face.
But on the other hand, if you’ve got a group of Facebook friends that you’ve been chatting to for years before you’ve decided on your sexual or gender identity, coming out online can have just as many hurdles and pitfalls as doing it face to face…sometimes even more. Some guys—and girls—that have come out to friends and acquaintances about their sexuality or gender identity online have been subjected to devastating abuse and harassment, not to mention breaches of confidence where people have been ‘outed’ to their entire family or school.
Disclosing personal information online needs to be done with care and good judgement. Once information is out there on the web, it’s very difficult, if not impossible to take it back. Your photos, videos and conversation threads can sometimes be distributed to others without your consent, so think about what information and files you’re put out there before pressing the ‘Post’ button.
Of course if you’re using a gay chat or hook-up sites or apps, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be harassed in this way, as practically all the guys you’ll be chatting to will be sensitive to the need for privacy—after all, they’re in the same boat. Nevertheless, it’s wise not to share photos or other personal files or information that might make you uncomfortable if, for example, a straight mate or family member saw it.
One of the good things about the internet, of course, is that you can experiment with situations without letting others know who you really are. Being ‘SexyDude98’—instead of using your real name—can give you the confidence and space to chat and play with other guys with little risk of being outed or embarrassed. If things get out of hand or uncomfortable, you can always just log off.
Of course, the internet is also a great place to find information and support, and to find other guys like just you for friendship, sex and love. But remember that the shield of anonymity provided by the World Wide Web also means that the person you’re talking to may not end being the person you think they are, so tread carefully while remembering to have fun.