I’m gay. Two words, but they have a ton of meaning behind them.
Being both a psychotherapist and a gay man, I am intimately familiar with the complexities of coming out and telling others who you really are. Coming out can be a very confusing process, and if often involves many intense emotions. People who have not come out yet may find themselves feeling shame, like they are lying to those people around them, sadness, anxiety, fear, and worry. Given that coming out is such an important step to take forward in life, I wanted to write a bit about this deeply personal process.
Coming out generally refers to telling other people about your sexual orientation. More specifically, telling other people that you don’t identify as heterosexual. When the topic of coming out comes up, most people think of people who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. In reality there are many other identities that may involve the process of coming out. Some of these other identities may be coming out as asexual, intersex, transgender, pansexual, or any number of equally important self-identities.
If you find yourself wanting to come out, the following are a few major issues I want you to remember during this process.
- You should be proud of yourself! You have discovered who you really are, and you want to take the next step forward in living your life. What you are doing is deeply personal, and you should feel proud of yourself for coming to this point.
- Only come out when you are ready! Some people in your life may already know, and they may be pressuring you to come out. You may be pressuring yourself to come out. Pressure is the last thing anyone in this position needs. Coming out takes as long as it takes. You need to tell other people about that part of yourself on a timeline that works for you. There is nothing wrong with taking things slow.
- Have a plan. Think about what exactly you want to say and how you want to say it. Practice in the mirror if you need to. Sometimes having some structure and a plan to go by can help people from feeling overwhelmed and feel more prepared.
- Try to control your negative thoughts and self-talk. People who are not out can often develop some very unhelpful thoughts in regards to themselves. “Why don’t you just come out already!? What are you waiting for?!” “Why can’t you just be honest to others?” “You are lying to others everyday by not telling them.” These negative thoughts and self-talk can be incredibly harmful to people’s mental health. The last thing someone needs right now is a harsh critic in their heads pushing them to do something they may not be ready to.
- Consider seeing a therapist. Seeing a professional with expertise in this area can be very helpful. A therapist can support you through this time in your life, help guide you through this frequently intense process, and help you manage any situations that may arise along the way. Ethical therapy NEVER involves efforts to change your sexual orientation or gender! Instead, therapy focuses on creating an outlet for expression, perspective, and help during the coming out process.
- Consider coming out to people you trust the most first. This could be your best friend, your sibling, or any other person you feel safe around and can trust. Coming out to those in your close inner circle can be incredibly beneficial. The hope here is that this conversation goes well with these people, and this creates a positive emotional experience as you begin the process of coming out. After you have a positive coming out experience with them, talk with them about how you feel it went. Process your feelings around it.
- Your physical safety is the most important thing! We are lucky to live in a country where it is not illegal to be LGBTQIA+; however, people in these groups often are faced with violence and hate. This is a sad reality we must be mindful of. Before coming out, you need to make sure you will be physically safe. This may involve having an exit plan in place if you are around people you don’t know or trust. You can also have someone who makes you feel safe with you when you come out to others. Working with a therapist can also help with this issue and help ensure your physical safety.
- Don’t get discouraged if some people react negatively. Some people will accept you and others won’t. One of the biggest fears that people who want to come out face is the fear that others will see them differently. The harsh truth of this is – some people will see you differently. Some people won’t be accepting. Some people won’t be accepting at first, but they will come around. Some people will be super supportive right away. Coming out to some people won’t change your relationship with them at all. Remember: People’s negative reactions say a lot about them, but they say very little about you. You are not responsible for other people’s reactions. They need to be in control of their behavior and feelings.
- Give yourself room to grow. Coming out is an intense process, and it is going to be incredibly important that you practice good self-care! Take time to do things you enjoy and bring you comfort. Spend time with friends and around people who support you for who you are.
- There is nothing wrong with you. People who are different from others can often feel wrong, broken or abnormal. For the record – from a professional – and from the whole field of psychology – there is nothing wrong with you for being different. Your gender, level of ability, sexual orientation, gender expression, and body are acceptable. They always were, and they will always be acceptable.
- There is support out there to help you. As mentioned before, therapy can be very helpful during the coming out process. Below is a short list of local resources that can support you in this process.
For those of you who have come out, want to come out, will never come out, and are still figuring it out: Just because coming out is seen as brave ~ that doesn’t mean not coming out is cowardly. LGBTQIA+ survival is essential and radical in itself. If I can help support you in any way, please feel free to contact me.
Samuel Donath, MS.
Local Resources Related to Coming Out and LGBTQIA+
Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) – Sacramento
Sacramento LGBT Community Center
Coming Out Support Group with Sac LGBT Community Center
Gender Health Center – Sacramento
Love Heal Grow Counseling
Hi, I'm Samuel Donath, therapist for couples and individuals at Love Heal Grow Counseling.
I help individuals and couples from all walks of life learn the skills to experience increased fulfillment in daily life, their relationships, and with their sexuality.
You can read more about me or schedule an appointment here: About Samuel