The Counselling Centre
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Student Issues
For gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people, coming out is a process of understanding, accepting, and valuing one's sexual orientation/identity. Coming out includes both exploring one's identity and sharing that identity with others. It also involves coping with societal responses and attitudes toward GLBT people. GLBT individuals are forced to come to terms with what it means to be different in a society that tends to assume everyone to be heterosexual and that tends to judge differences from the norm in negative ways. The coming out process is very personal. This process happens in different ways and occurs at different ages for different people. Some people are aware of their sexual identity at an early age; others arrive at this awareness only after many years. Coming out is a continuing, sometimes lifelong, process.
While some anxiety related to sexuality is common among college students, the problems facing GLBT people are often more difficult than those facing others. Because positive role models are often difficult to identify, GLBT people may feel alone and unsure of their own sexual identities. Fear of rejection is greater among GLBT people due to the prejudices in society against them.
Coming Out to Oneself
Recognizing your own sexual identity and working toward self-acceptance are the first steps in coming out. First, concerning sexual identity, it helps to think of a sexual orientation continuum that ranges from exclusive same sex attraction to exclusive opposite sex attraction. Exploring your sexual identity may include determining where you presently fit along that continuum.
Concerning self-acceptance, it can be very helpful to focus on the positive aspects of GLBT culture, for example, its music, art, theater, books, events, and groups. It is also very helpful to seek out positive, well adjusted and comfortable role models among GLBT people. Building on the positive does not mean that you pretend that our society is past its discrimination, fears, and negative myths concerning GLBT people, or that these things do not have any effects on GLBT people. However, these negative things are better understood as externally based rather than inherent to your identity or your orientation. Part of developing a positive sense of self is understanding that your own homophobia is also externally based, the product of societal prejudices and anti-GLBT biases that have impinged upon you for much of your life.
There are many things to think about when considering coming out. Some of the positive outcomes may be increased self-esteem, greater honesty in one's life, and a sense of greater personal integrity. In addition, there is often a sense of relief and a reduction of tension when one stops trying to deny or hide such an important part of his/her life. Coming out can lead to greater freedom of self-expression, positive sense of self and more healthy and honest relationships.
One safe means of beginning to come out to yourself is through reading about how others have dealt with similar issues. There are many books and periodicals available on all facets of GLBT life, from clinical studies on GLBT people to collections of coming out stories.
Coming Out to Other Lesbians and Gay Men
Often, after spending some time getting in touch with one's own feelings, the next step is to come out to others. It is usually advisable to come out first to those who are most likely to be supportive. GLBT people are a potential natural support system because they have all experienced at least some of the steps in the process of coming out. Sharing experiences about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can help you decrease feelings of isolation and shame. Furthermore, coming out to other GLBT people can help you build a community of people who can then support and assist you in coming out to others in your life. Many GLBT communities offer a number of helpful resources, including local coming out groups, switchboards, social outlets, and political and cultural activities and organizations.
Coming out to other GLBT people does not need to happen quickly. Also, choosing to do so does not mean that you must conform to real or presumed expectations of the GLBT community. What is most important is that you seek your own path through the coming out process and that you attend to your unique, personal timetable. You should not allow yourself to be pressured into anything you are not ready for or don't want to do. It is important to proceed at your own pace, being honest with yourself and taking time to discover who you really are.
Coming Out to Heterosexuals
Perhaps your most difficult step in coming out will be to reveal yourself to heterosexuals. It is at this step that you may feel most likely to encounter negative consequences. Thus it is particularly important to go into this part of the coming out process with open eyes. For example, it will help to understand that some heterosexuals will be shocked or confused initially, and that they may need some time to get used to the idea that you are GLBT. Also, it is possible that some heterosexual family members or friends may reject you initially. However, do not consider them as hopeless; many people come around in their own time.
Coming out to others is likely to be a more positive experience when you are more secure with your sexuality and less reliant on others for your positive self-concept. The necessary clarification of feelings is a process that usually takes place over time. It may be a good idea to work through that process before you take the actual steps. Usually it is not a good idea to come out on the spur of the moment. Make coming out an action, not a reaction.
In coming out to others, consider the following:
- Tell the truth to yourself and others.
- Say aloud “I AM GAY!” and see how it feels.
- Never come out to others when you are angry or to hurt someone.
- Be sure to be in a private, comfortable environment.
- Join a gay/lesbian support group; if there are none in the community there are a million online!
- Make sure you’re sober when you tell your family and friends.
- Don’t bring your partner with you when you tell your family; that may be too much all at once.
- Know that there are always going to be people who will never accept it.
- Be ready to give people their space to accept things.
- Be prepared for loving acceptance even if you don’t expect it; people can surprise you.
- Be prepared for an earful of questioning.
- Be prepared for ANY reactions.
- Have resources such as brochures for them.
- Don’t expect immediate acceptance from everyone.
- Never doubt your own self-worth!
The decision to come out is always personal. Whether to come out and, if so, when, where, how, and to whom are all questions you must answer for yourself. Taking control of this process includes being aware in advance of potential ramifications so that you can act positively rather than defensively. Coming out may be one of the most difficult tasks you confront in your life, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. Coming out is one way of affirming your dignity and the dignity of other GLBT people. Remember that you are not alone; there is a viable GLBT community waiting to be explored, and more heterosexual "allies" are willing to offer their support than you might have first imagined.
The Counselling Centre offers individual and couples counselling to help with these issues. For more information, call The Counselling Centre at 902-420-5615 or drop by our office on the 4th floor of the Student Centre.