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Coming Out is the short phrase for “coming out of the closet,” and it means recognizing, accepting, expressing and sharing one’s sexual orientation with oneself and the world.  It is a life-long process of exploring one’s sexual orientation and gender identity. Throughout this process people who are LGBTQ will share this truth with family, friends, co-workers, and ultimately the world.

It is important to keep in mind that while these stages provide a great overview of the general process, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive nor are they often times experienced only once. The initial stage of awareness gradually evolves into acceptance and pride and it is important to note that the purpose of this transition and process is to allow a person to integrate their sexual orientation into their lives and find a good balance.  Consider viewing the Cass Model of Gay Identity Development: Stages of Coming Out for more information on this development.

 

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER BEFORE COMING OUT

This linked list, adapted from the Texas A&M & UCF Allies Program (1984), offers questions one should consider before coming out to others.

  • Are you confident about your sexual orientation? You should be confident in your answer to the above question. Confusion may undermine your credibility.

  • What is your motive? Come out to people you want to bring closer to you.

  • Are you comfortable with your sexuality? If you are uncomfortable with yourself, how can you justify yourself to others?

  • Do you have a support network? You need an environment in which you feel comfortable. If that environment is not with family, you should seek out a group of friends or a supporting organization.

  • Are you knowledgeable about homosexuality? The best defense is a good offense. Do research so you are prepared to answer and correct the most common misconceptions regarding homosexuality.

  • Do you have available resources? Most heterosexuals have little real knowledge of homosexuality. Be prepared to offer references, a contact for a homosexual support group, or the name of a third party counselor.

  • What is the emotional climate? Timing crucial. You will want the undivided attention of the person to who you are coming out. Be sure that they also have the time to devote to you while you tell them this news so that you may talk about this in depth after you tell them.

 

TO ASK OR NOT TO ASK

Many people often suspect that others they meet, see on the street, or are even friends with may be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. In addition, some of the people may even hurt for their friends who they suspect because they may think that they are not being a good enough friend to them if their friend is not comfortable in coming out to them.

 

While concern and good intentions are understandable, it is not appropriate to ask someone what their sexual orientation is. There is a personal process that must occur within the individual before they are ready to come out of the closet and affirm their sexual orientation. This personal process occurs at different times for each individual and asking a person their sexual orientation is not only offensive to anyone, but could actually be hurting their coming process rather than helping them.

Should a person decide to come out to you, confidentiality should be held with the utmost importance. Many LGBTQ people will first come out to a few select people who they feel they can trust. If confidentiality is not practiced, that trust will be irreparable and you could be setting that person back greatly in their coming out process. You should always be open with the person who came out to you whether or not it is okay to be open with others about their sexual orientation. Still, even if they give you their permission to be open about their sexual orientation to others, you should still reserve that information when possible. It’s not your place to reveal that information about another person, nor should you have to, as sexual orientation is not the defining factor in a person.

WHEN A FRIEND COMES OUT

We live in a society that often discriminates against people who are different. We have all been taught to believe that to be “straight” is to be normal. This can cause a great deal of pain for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. “Coming out,” or disclosing their orientation to others, is an important step in LGBTQ people’s self-acceptance. Like everyone, LGBTQ people accept themselves better if others accept them. Someone who is coming out feels close enough to you and trusts you sufficiently to be honest and risk losing you as a friend. It is difficult to know what to say and do to be a supportive friend to someone who has come out to you.

  • Thank your friend for having the courage to tell you. Choosing to tell you means that they have a great deal of respect and trust for you.
     

  • Don’t judge your friend. If you have strong religious or other beliefs about homosexuality, keep them to yourself for now. There will be plenty of time in the future for you to think and talk about your beliefs in light of your friend’s orientation.
     

  • Respect your friend’s confidentiality. They probably are not ready to tell others right away and want to tell people in their own way.
     

  • Tell your friend that you still care about them, no matter what. Be the friend you have always been. The main fear for people coming out is that their friends and family will reject them.
     

  • Don’t be too serious. Sensitively worded humor may ease the tension you are both probably feeling.
     

  • Ask any questions you may have, but understand that your friend may not have all the answers. You can save some questions for later or, better yet, you can find some of the answers together.
     

  • Include your friend’s partner in plans as much as you would with any other friend.
     

  • Be prepared to include your friend in more of your plans. They may have lost the support of other friends and family, and your time and friendship will be even more precious to them. This may include “family” times like holidays or special celebrations.
     

  • Offer and be available to support your friend as they “come out” to others.
     

  • Call frequently during the time right after you friend has come out to you. This will let them know you are still friends.
     

  • Be prepared for your friend to have mood swings. Coming out can be very traumatic. Anger and depression are common, especially if friends or family have trouble accepting your friend’s orientation. Don’t take mood swings personally. Be flattered you are close enough to risk sharing any feelings of anger or frustration.
     

  • Talk about other LGBTQ people you know. If your friend knows you have accepted someone else, they will feel more comfortable that you will accept them. Learn about the LGBTQ community. This will allow you to better support your friend, and knowing about their world will help prevent you from drifting apart.
     

  • Don’t allow your friend to become isolated. Let them know about organizations and places where they can meet other LGBTQ people or supportive allies.
     

  • If you friend seems afraid about people knowing, there may be a good reason. People are sometimes attacked violently because they are perceived as LGBTQ. Sometimes people are discriminated against in such things as housing and employment. If your friend is discriminated against illegally, you can help them in pursuing their rights.
     

  • Don’t worry that your friend may have attractions or feelings for you that you may not share. If they have more or different feelings than you have, these can be worked through. It’s the same as if someone of the opposite sex had feelings for you that you don’t share. Either way, it’s probably not worth losing a friend over.
     

  • It’s never too late. If someone has come out to you before and you feel badly about how you handled it, you can always go back and try again.

Adapted from a publication from the UC Riverside LGBT Resource Center (2007)

What Friends Need to Know

The term “coming out” (of the closet) refers to the life-long process of the development of a positive gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender identity. It is a very long and difficult struggle for many people because they often have to confront many homophobic attitudes and discriminatory practices along the way. Many individuals first need to struggle with their own negative stereotypes and feelings of homophobia which they challenge their own attitudes and take them from the lower end of that homophobic continuum (repulsion, pity, tolerance) to feelings of appreciation and admiration. But it often takes years of painful work to develop a positive gay or gender identity. Then, many individuals begin to make decisions about whom to tell that they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Many of these people are afraid to “come out” to their friends and family.

 

What might gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or transgender individuals be afraid of?

  • Rejection and loss of relationships

  • Gossip

  • Harassment or abuse

  • Being thrown out of family

  • Being thrown out of house

  • Having their lover arrested

  • Loss of financial support

  • Losing their job

  • Physical Violence
     

How might gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or transgender individuals feel about their coming out to someone?

  • Scared

  • Vulnerable

  • Relieved

  • Wondering how the person will react

  • Proud
     

How might someone feel after a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person comes out to them?

  • Scared

  • Shocked

  • Disbelieving

  • Uncomfortable

  • Not sure what to say

  • Not sure what to do next

  • Wondering why the person “came out”

  • Supportive

  • Flattered

  • Honored

  • Angry

  • Disgusted
     

Why might gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgender individuals want to come out to friends/relatives?

  • End the “hiding game”

  • Feel closer to those people

  • Be able to be “whole” around them

  • Stop wasting energy by hiding all the time

  • Feel like they have integrity

  • To make a statement that “gay is ok”
     

What do you think gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or transgender individuals want from the people they come out to?

  • Acceptance

  • Support

  • Understanding

  • Comfort

  • Closer friendship

  • A hug and a smile

  • That knowing won’t negatively affect their friendship

  • An acknowledgement of their feelings

Taken from the University of Central Florida Allies Program (2007) developed by Vernon Wall & Jamie Washington (1989)

The Kinsey Scale

Many people believe that sexuality fits into a specific category and that a person is “either this or that.” As a result of this belief, people attempt to label others and even themselves as either heterosexual or homosexual. This is simply myth. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, Dr. Alfred Kinsey and his associates conducted extensive studies to show there is actually a continuous range of sexuality that is contrary to rigid categories. Kinsey ultimately developed the seven-point continuum based on the degree of sexual responsiveness people have for members of the same and opposite sexes. Even for those who fall within the range that is considered heterosexual or homosexual, there are different levels within that range – nothing about a person’s sexuality can be placed in a discrete category.

Kinsey research involved many different methods of research, but one of the most integral parts of his research was the conducting of thousands of interviews with people regarding their sexual behaviors. This provided Kinsey with a candid report of what was actually the reality of sexuality in America. At a time when talking about sexual activity was taboo, Kinsey’s work was groundbreaking. Kinsey took into a count a whole host of activities in order for him to determine an individual’s ranking such as:

  • Fantasies

  • Thoughts

  • Emotional Feelings

  • Dreams

  • Frequency of Sexual Activity

Adapted from Kinsey, A.C. Pomeroy, W.B. & Martin, C.E. (1948). Sexual behavior in the human male. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders

Advice for Families if Your Child Comes Out

It’s no doubt a difficult and perhaps challenging time for a parent when their son or daughter comes out to them. Your initial reaction and immediate search for answers to your many questions may be compounded by the fact that your son or daughter is also far away from you while at college. While every parent’s experience is unique to them and to their family when their child come out to them, know that you are certainly not alone. It is estimated that 1 in every 10 people in this country are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).

Your first reaction could range from sadness, fear to hurt, confusion to grief, and anywhere in between. Even if you consider yourself to be open to member of the LGBTQ community, you may experience some of these feelings when a loved one comes to you. These feelings and many others are normal and happen to almost everyone who is a friend or family member of a loved one who has just come out to them.

The first thing that you should do with your loved one is talk to someone who has either been through the process itself or is knowledgeable on LGBTQ sensitivity-training such as an ally. As the parent of a RISD student, you are welcome and encouraged to contact a member of our staff should you seek support after your student has come out to you. Note that we always respect your student’s confidentiality first (unless it is deemed they are potentially a harm to themselves) however, we are happy to help you and your family through this process as much as we can. Educating yourself is not only the second thing you should do, but also something you need to do. You owe it to yourself and your loved one to learn more about what it means to be LGBTQ and also how your loved one may be feeling.

We encourage you to visit the website of the national organization, Parents & Friends of Lesbian & Gays (PFLAG). They are the leading national organization that seeks to support friends and family members when a loved one comes out. They are an affirming organization that embraces their LGBTQ children and friends. They are also composed of members that have been through the same experience you are going through. They have been through much of what you’re feeling and understand. They have over 500 local chapters across the United States and Canada and at least one in every US State. Their website contains a generous amount of resources and family stories, as well as how to contact a local chapter.

When a loved one comes out, it is not just coming out for themselves, but also their family. Make a commitment between you and your loved one of patience and understanding during this time. Make a commitment to education and understanding. All feelings are valid. And know that ISE staff is always here to help.

"Coming Out"