A Guide to Coming Out

How to disclose your sexual and gender identity with others

a family embracing

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

If you have spent time questioning your sexuality and/or your gender identity, chances are that once you have grown more clear about how you identify, you won't want to keep that information to only yourself indefinitely. It's natural to want to share who you are. Doing so is how we find community and camaraderie in life.

Coming Out

"Coming out" is the phrase used for the decision to speak about one's sexuality and/or gender identity, and the act of sharing that information with others.

Coming out is a wholly individual process that requires you to share only the information you choose to. You can come out as just one part of your identity at a time, or all at once, and you can come out to only one person, to all of the people you're close to, to the whole world, or anything in between.

The idea of coming out can feel like it would be a very daunting task. It's something you're never obligated to do at all if you don't want to, but if it does sound like a good idea to you, we want to provide you with the tools you need to do so in a safe manner that feels healthy for you.

Read on for suggestions about how to make your coming out process as smooth and positive as possible.

How Do I Know If I'm Ready to Come Out?

There are countless idioms about how life hits a point where the struggle to stay small becomes more difficult than it would be to live large. This idea holds true for coming out, too.

You know you are ready to come out when it feels more challenging and painful to not do it than it would be to do it.

Here are some specific ways to tell you're ready to share your sexuality and/or gender identity with others:

  • You think often about telling people
  • You want to meet other people with similar identities and form a community
  • Not coming out feels like you're keeping a secret from loved ones
  • You want to express affection with a partner in front of others, and don't feel you can without sharing information about your identity
  • You want to date and don't want to do so while closeted
  • You're comfortable enough with your sexuality or gender identity that it feels emotionally safe to discuss it with others
  • The idea of coming out is exciting and fun

Precautionary Mental Health Measures

Before you begin the process of coming out, it's vital to make sure you are in a good place to take on this task. Feeling comfortable with your identity is the first, and most important step to be sure you have taken. Beyond that, there are measures you can take to protect both your emotional and mental health through your coming out journey. These include:

  • Be honest with yourself about friends, family members, and others in your world who are homophobic, transphobic, and/or otherwise, and don't assume they'll change their opinions for you
  • Read about other people's coming out experiences so you know in advance what you might encounter from others, as well as how you might feel
  • Move as slowly as you need to through the process to make sure you don't get overwhelmed
  • If you are scheduling conversations with people in your life, spread them out so it doesn't take all of your energy, rather than trying to get them over with
  • Consider a coming out email, phone calls, or virtual meeting if in-person discussions seem potentially taxing
  • Have resources ready for loved ones about how they can best support you
  • Know the facts and be prepared to share them. For example, you can mention that acceptance of family members' LGBTQ+ identities saves lives

Who to Come Out to

In order for your coming out experience to be a positive one that has an affirming effect on your life, it's most important to first come out to the person or people who you know for sure will accept you without issue.

This method may sound a bit counterintuitive, as you may think that there is a particular person or people, such as your parents or your partner, for whom it's the most necessary for you to come out to. However, the first people you come out to will shape your experience of coming out. It's a conversation you're unlikely to forget, even after many years from now. That's why you need to make sure they will be loving and accepting of you. If they aren't, it could make moving forward with coming out to others very challenging and unpleasant.

In order to facilitate a positive experience that is best for your mental and emotional wellness, it makes the most sense to first come out to whomever you know to be free of homophobia, transphobia, or prejudice towards any other identity you may wish to share. Other people who you know share your identity are your safest bet if you happen to be close to any.

Once you've chosen someone, or a group of people, in your life who you are confident will be happy for you, arrange a time to talk with them. Share the information with them, and after, assess how you feel.

Choose additional conversations based on what your experience was, and continue talking only to people who will be accepting until you have run through them all.

When you hit the point where you feel the desire to come out to loved ones who you think might not be supportive, consider including loved ones you've already come out to (who responded well) in those conversations, to support you.

Eventually, your family and friends will know what your identity is. From there, it may feel easier than it did before to be more public about your sexuality and/or gender identity. You may wish to join forums, go to events, use dating apps, and more, while fully disclosing your identity. At that point, you'll feel less like you're coming out, and more like you're just living the life you are meant to.

How to Address Questions

When you share your identity with others, it's natural and normal for those you share with to have questions. This is especially true if your identity is surprising to them, and they are curious about your journey from point A to point B. They may want to know about your dating life, attire and personal expression, future life plans, or anything else about your life.

Some questions asked will have you answering happily, while others may give you pause and make you feel shocked that anyone would have the audacity to ask such a thing. Know that both scenarios are likely to happen!

People can ask pretty outrageous questions, so you'll want to be prepared for outside the box situations.

Questions That Feel Comfortable

If you are asked questions that make you feel like you definitely want others to know the answers to them, go ahead and answer those questions. Be honest, and if the person feels safe to you, don't be afraid to be vulnerable.

Let it be a dialogue, where someone can better understand you through the information you share about your experience. This will likely lead to a relationship with someone that feels even better and closer than it did before you came out to them.

Questions That Feel Uncomfortable

You are under no obligation to answer any question that makes you cringe or feels uncomfortable. If a person asks you something that feels too personal or sounds to you in any way inappropriate, know that you have no obligation at all to answer them.

When this occurs, and it likely will at some point, the easiest solution is to encourage the person to do their own research. Let them know that there are websites, forums, and studies about these personal topics and that they can do their own research.

Know your boundaries before you have these conversations, and stick to them during the inquiries. If you think it will be helpful, share your boundaries at the start of the conversation. This can be as simple as, "I'm open to talking about XX topics; I'm not open to talking about YY. If you have questions about YY, I encourage you to look into that yourself."

A Word From Verywell

Coming out can be a magical time in your life. It's likely that you'll only have one time period in which you come out, and you want it to be one you'll remember fondly. Taking the above steps will help ensure your coming out experience is one you'll smile about for years to come.

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  1. The Trevor Project. Research brief: accepting adults reduce suicide attempts among lgbtq youth