Homosexuality has long been taboo in many cultures, but with the advent of the new Millennium, society became more tolerant and it has become easier for subsequent generations to come to terms with their sexuality. However, no matter how liberal society may have become, coming out is still a traumatic experience for many young gays and lesbians - indeed the very thought of coming out to one's parents and peers is enough to dissuade many people from coming out at all. This collaborative entry has pooled the collective experiences of many of the h2g2 Community to make this potential nightmare a little easier to bear.
Taking it Easy
The best piece of advice is to come out slowly. You don't have to tell your parents everything right away. It can take quite a while to decide to come out, to give your parents time to adapt, and also to give yourself time to adapt. Trust your friends and family - people who really love you will understand - but don't treat the issue like it's an unusual thing, that makes it worse. Act as if it's a fairly normal, commonplace thing, and that's how they'll treat it too. Here's how one Researcher came out to her family and how long it took them all to adapt:
I told a very good school friend, and then some others. I made sure that the first couple of people I told were not religious types and unlikely to be gossips. About four months later I told the most liberal aunt in the family, and asked her advice. She helped me arrange a weekend when my Dad could visit his family, leaving my mother and I alone. I had friends call three times that day to remind me of the reasons I wanted to come out. Principally these all came down to a desire for honesty.
My mom freaked out. I spent the night at a friend's. This was the smartest thing about my coming out: I did it during summer break. So life could stand still while I sorted things out. I told my Dad the next night (he had returned); he really freaked out. So I spent the next three nights away from home. At first, I didn't tell them that I'd lost my faith. I didn't tell them that I was sexually active. I told them that I was planning a celibate life, which, due to their extreme need for comfort, they believed.
You don't have to tell your parents everything right away. It took quite a while to decide to come out, give your parents time to adapt. Give yourself time to adapt. Five years later, my parents and I are better off than we've ever been. I can be honest with them, and though I know they are frequently uncomfortable with my choices, I know they love me.
It Can Take a Long Time
Coming out can take years. For many people out there, families, friends and self-acceptance are all issues that need a delicate and nurturing approach. You may need longer to reconcile yourself to your new freedom, and then there are always the surprises coming from family and friends...
For 18 years I knew, inside, that I was gay. I kept up the front, went out with blokes, even convinced myself so well that I 'fell in love' a couple of times. In 2000 (I was 29), I made some new friends through a society I joined. Two of those were Anne and Dawn, a gay couple who showed me, along with some of their friends, that being gay didn't have to be an issue. I came out to them, but no further as I'd still not been with a woman and didn't want to face the comments of 'But how do you know you're gay if you've never been with a woman? I just hadn't met the right one - until the end of that year, when a lass called Tracy joined a role-playing group I was in. On New Year's Eve she asked me out. I panicked for two weeks then gave in to the strange floaty feelings, and told my sister I was going out on a date with Tracy.
I was lucky - none of my friends are homophobic, I have a supportive family, and I've found a true life partner in Tracy. I just wanted people to know that it doesn't have to be that hard, and if your friends don't support you, they're not your friends. Everyone at work knows too, and they don't care either - all they know is that I've been happier in the last year or so than they've ever seen me, and that can't be a bad thing, can it?
Tips on Coming Out
Many people have a varied response to coming out, some people take it well, some people get the 'we already knew' response, and others have friends who have walked away into the sunset and were never heard of again. But then, who wants friends like that anyway?
Make sure you are comfortable with your homosexuality first. You can't expect people to understand and accept you for who you are, if you don't accept it yourself.
'Test the water'. Sometimes, just dropping hints to a friend/relative is enough to start the ball rolling.
Be ready for questions. Your friends/relatives are likely to be curious and may need more information to help them understand.
Be prepared for a bad reaction. Unfortunately, not everyone takes the news well. Make sure you are emotionally prepared for that. It probably will not come to that, but it's best to consider a 'worse case scenario' and work out how to deal with the emotions involved with that before the event.
You may lose a friend. Some people's views on homosexuality are so deep-rooted that nothing you say or do will reassure them. However, you must remember that it's their problem, not yours! If you do lose friends, it hurts like hell at the time but, in the end, the pain of staying closeted is deeper, lasts for longer, and damages you more. Being able to live openly as a lesbian or a gay man is worth it for the peace of mind alone.
Your friends/relatives may suspect already. It's possible that they have wanted to raise the subject but have been unsure of how to approach it. By 'coming out' it gives an opportunity to discuss the matter openly.
Most large cities will have coming out support groups, which can be a real help too - hearing others' stories and seeing other people who've gone through it can be a real morale booster. Kind of like the h2g2 Conversations below really...
How to React when Someone Comes Out to You
Someone has just come out to you and as a gay friendly heterosexual you want to act in an acceptable manner, but you've no idea what to say. Like most situations it depends on the circumstances.
If it's a close friend and family member act as honestly as you can. If you can genuinely tell them that it doesn't matter to you and nothing will change, then do so!
Say how you are feeling - they will appreciate it in the long term. The person is likely to be worried about your reaction; if they suspected that you were being less than honest they would continue to worry.
If the gay person is a new acquaintance the rules are slightly different. Stick to a few trustworthy don'ts and you can't go far wrong:
Don't panic - if you must back away and vomit do so slowly and with discretion.
Don't assume that they fancy you - gay people, in common with most of the population will assume that you are straight until you tell them otherwise, there is no need to make it clear to them.
Don't ask what lesbians do in bed - or even worse ask for a threesome.
Don't rant - especially about how disgusting you find anal sex.
There's nothing like learning from other people's experiences and mistakes - below you will find four Researcher's very unique approaches, views and experiences on coming out. Each experience highlights the recurring theme of this entry which is that coming out is an intensely personal and unique experience, and one that must be adapted to suit your needs and environment.
On Homosexuality, Coming Out and Religion
Throughout my teenage years I had acknowledged to myself that I was not heterosexual but since I felt very uncomfortable in my school, it wasn't much of an issue anyway as I knew I couldn't come out there. The first person I hinted to that I might be gay was a Researcher on h2g2 back in the summer of 2000.
In July 2001 I had my first sexual experience and confirmed to myself that I was in fact gay. The next week, I told my parents. My mum said she suspected as such already due to my subtle question on BBC Question Time about Tory policy of homosexual age of consent. She went on to ask 'Is it reversible?' and told me she would never tell anyone - by the end of the day she had already told to people.
My dad dealt with it by analysing it to hell - What did it mean? Is it due to my upbringing? Is it a phase? I talked to them both about it a few times and have had wonderful remarks such as 'Your father and I are both shattered by this' and 'You'll change' as well as 'It's just wrong, disgusting, unnatural'.
My sisters were supportive and very understanding. At college it has had little change on my friends and within my political life people were supportive. But I've had countless 'I had no idea' responses which says a lot about the stereotype people hold in their minds.
I am so glad I came out then - I couldn't have done it before and I've been so much happier since.
There was another issue with my parents - both are of Jewish, Israeli upbringing. There is still a very homophobic attitude held by many in Israel - it is a Western society but there is quite a bit of sexist attitude still present which makes homosexuality even more of a taboo.
My mum always told me how she 'wished she had a boy' every time she was about to have a child and how happy she was when I was born. This made my sexuality even more of a disappointment to her and when I told her I'm not ashamed of my sexuality and have not the slightest wish to be heterosexual, she could not understand. When I said that she made out homosexuality to be a disability she told me that was her exact view.
Then there's Judaism. Although liberal and reformed Jews hold far more tolerant views, Orthodox Judaism sees homosexuality as a curable disease. What astounds me is how this view is tolerated. It is much better to confront homophobic attitudes then to let them win by bowing down to them and not repressing your true feelings.
On Who to Come Out to First
I picked a sympathetic gay male friend as the first person I came out to... and his reaction was the classic 'Oh, I've been wondering when you'd realise'. It was good, because he made an effort to find nice lesbians for me to meet and offered to take me clubbing and so on. Plus, because he'd been through the whole coming out thing too, he was able to give me support in that.
Can I also flag up that, at least in the UK, the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard are an excellent source of information about local groups, any events, meetings, etc. They're also generally good people to talk to about the whole coming out process.
An Unconventional Approach
A friend of mine did the 'I'm going to tell everyone - now' at 1am on New Year's Day. He phoned as many people as he could, yelling loudly 'I'm gay!' and then put the phone down.
Shame for me, as I didn't have the chance to actually speak to him one-to-one at the time. I suppose that's one way of going in at the deep end...