That moment of coming out is a sacred one. When those words are uttered, they are not to be taken lightly.
Whether you come out as gay, lesbian, bi, trans or non-binary when you are young or older, the experience and intensity of that initial moment of sharing is all encompassing. Not knowing how it will go and what to expect as a result of opening yourself up can be incredibly scary.
Deliberating for weeks over who to come out to first, then there is the agonising concern over the ‘right’ moment and the ‘right’ words to say to them.
5, 10, 35, 100 times?
Saying it over and over in your mind before actually going through with it, always considering there may be a ‘better’ moment.
This is not a phase or a fad. This is the result of many sleepless nights and years of confusion, struggle and anxiety. Many hours of deliberating the exact words to use, the appropriate timing and potential reactions go into that one moment.
I came out to my family when I was 21 years old. Christmas Day, of all days.
Imagine this. The table is all set, the aromas of a lovingly prepared Christmas dinner wafts all through the house. Gifts lying around. The family is all assembled.
My mum had invited her long-time friends round to celebrate with us. I hadn’t seen them for a few years and I remember being sat on the sofa with them when talk turned to relationships.
They asked me whether I had a boyfriend.
My mum very simply replied with: “No, she has a girlfriend. She will be here in half an hour.”
Thankfully, I didn’t need to have the conversation with me mum. Turns out, she knew. And she made it super easy by telling my family on my behalf. Yes, I had a really embarrassing moment that Christmas, but it was out in the open and it opened the door for us to talk about it.
What I Wish I Had Known About Coming Out
What do I wish I had known back then about coming out as gay, as a lesbian?
I wish I had known the language and the words to use that would describe who I am and how I was feeling.
I wish I had more self-awareness and awareness of other people around me.
I wish I had known what impact being gay would have on my life, so I could prepare a little better for it.
I wish I had known the impact coming out would have on my family. As I said in my last article I wish I had known upfront what they would have to go through after I came out. I would have been more present with them, more open (instead of defensive) in our conversations about it and I would have stepped up to support THEM more.
I wish I had known there were other people around me that had similar thoughts and feelings, and that I wasn’t alone. I felt alone for many years.
The Five Lessons I Learned From Coming Out
There are 5 lessons I learned from coming out that I want to share with you.
Lesson 1: The Words To Use
When I was younger I was worried about the words to use and the ‘best’ way to say “I am a lesbian”. I practised in my head the words I would use when I had to tell people; at work, with my friends and socially.
What I have learned over the years is that the exact words you use aren’t important. It is the discussion around it that is.
I didn’t know the language or the words to use to describe my sexuality at the time. So I used phrases like “I like girls.” Simple, to the point and doesn’t get lost in translation.
Keep it simple. And don’t agonise over the words to use.
Lesson 2: Who To Tell First
I was most worried about telling my boyfriend. I thought after my family, he needed to be the first person to know.
In hindsight, it really doesn’t matter who you tell first. You are most likely to tell everyone anyway.
I would recommend the first person you talk to about it is someone you trust, who you can talk openly to and feel relaxed around. Because once you have told this person, you will be at ease and you will feel more settled and relaxed when it comes to having the conversation with the next person.
Lesson 3: The Reaction From Others
One of your concerns is most likely, how will things change in your relationships from that point forwards?
I was anxious about telling people about my sexuality because I was unsure of how they might react. Would they disown me? Would they not want to talk to me or be friends with me anymore? Would they distance themselves from getting closer to me? All I wanted was for them to continue loving me.
I learned not to presume you know how people will react. Your preconceptions and judgements about them may be wrong. Mine certainly were! Everything I had built it up in my head to be – it wasn’t like that at all in reality. My mind had run away with itself and created all sorts of stories and scenarios that were not real.
Once you have had the conversation with the person about your sexuality, give them the space and the time to process it. You’ve had time to process who you are. Now, give those you have come out to the space and time to process it too. They may go through a grieving phase for the YOU they once knew. That is common. Give them space to process whatever comes up and keep the conversation flowing with them to answer any questions they may have.
Lesson 4: Waiting For The Perfect Moment
When is the perfect moment?
Is there a perfect moment?
I came to realise, there is no ‘right’ or ‘better’ moment.
NOW is a good time.
One hour from now is a good time.
It really doesn’t matter.
Count to 3 and say it. Get it out there.
It probably won’t be as much a shock to people as you think it will be.
Lesson 5: Frequency Of Coming Out
When we talk about coming out, it is like we come out once and that is it. That is the reason why many people agonise over the ‘right’ words and ‘best’ time to come out.
But listen. You don’t only come out once.
I have come out every day for 17 years since that first instance – at work, at home, with family, friends, new people I meet, clients, associates, utility providers, hotels, medical care professionals – you name them, I’ve told them.
It doesn’t need to take up all your head space. Simply be yourself and say it with pride.
That first time will feel pretty raw and vulnerable. But rest assured, the more you do it, the easier it is!
You will even notice yourself experimenting with different wording, levels of subtlety and having fun as you tell people.
What I Would Have Done Differently
If I could do this all over again from the beginning, I would have told my family myself, instead of my mum telling them on my behalf. I would have told my boyfriend much sooner than I did and I would have told my friends, instead of my boyfriend telling them. Sadly, that one cost me some friendships.
And. I would have gone all in with the girl that I kissed instead of being influenced by other people and society’s expectations of me.
I would have followed my heart and let it guide me.
But I can’t change any of that.
It happened and it was as it was meant to be.
The biggest lesson that has stayed with me is to follow my heart and intuition. It is there to guide me.
And yours is there to guide you too.
I’d love to hear your experiences.
What are the lessons you learned from coming out that you would like to share with others?