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LGBTQ Guidance: Tips for Coming Out

Prioritize Your Safety and Well-Being

If you identify as LGBTQ, coming out can be difficult and intimidating, especially if you feel unsafe or unsure about doing so.

Juan Pablo Zapata, PhD, Alithia Zamantakis, PhD, and Michael Curtis, PhD, are postdoctoral fellows at the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing (ISGMH) at Northwestern University. Here, these experts share some guidance on what to consider during your gender and/or sexuality journey.

Do It Your Way

"Coming out is not something that is said and then done," Dr. Zapata says. "We like to think of it as a process, during which you might even jump back and forth."

If you are a member of a sexual or gender minority, keep these truths in mind when you are deciding about coming out:

  • You have no obligation to come out. Do not hold the weight of the LGBTQ community on your shoulders. You do not need to be the "gold standard," Dr. Curtis explains. All you need to be is yourself.
  • Coming out may look different for you. A verbal coming out experience, though popular in media, might not be what suits you best. Depending on your background, it may feel more natural to just start living your life in accordance with your identity. That could mean wearing different clothes, bringing your romantic partner to family events or introducing people to your LGBTQ+ friends.
  • Coming out is not a single moment. Over your life, you may find different moments and settings where you have the choice to come out. It is always up to you if and when you do so.
  • Labels are not mandatory. You are allowed to explore your identity or be unsure of it, Dr. Curtis says. Embrace what feels right to you, and know that your identity may even shift and evolve as you become more comfortable with yourself.
  • It gets easier. The more you share yourself with others, the more confidence you can gain about the process and your coming out experience. You can learn the language and situations you feel comfortable with, Dr. Zapata says.

Establish Boundaries

If you do decide to come out, following certain practices can help protect your mental and physical well-being.

  • Prioritize your safety. Depending on your environment or home setting, coming out can be dangerous both physically and mentally. You deserve to be safe, explains Dr. Zamantakis. Sometimes, that might mean keeping your identity to yourself until you're in a safer environment.
  • Start with the most accepting people in your life. "You want to make sure your experience of coming out is with someone who is affirming," says Dr. Curtis. "That might not always be a family member or a friend."
  • Allow yourself to prepare and to recover. Give some thought to what you might say and do in certain situations, and establish time afterward to care for yourself and to recover emotionally.
  • Explore healthcare options, if you have them and they are accessible to you. Therapy with a mental health professional can help you work through emotional issues related to your identity. Additionally, you can find self-guided workbooks and other texts available to help you process your experiences.

Another key resource for you can be your support system. Lean on the people whom you know you can trust and will be there for you unconditionally.

Practice Acceptance

No matter what, remember that you get to define what coming out means to you. You do not represent your community; you represent you.

Identify spaces where you are supported and loved, and stick with the people who uplift and celebrate you.

"Your understanding of your sexuality and gender is exactly that," Dr. Zamantakis says.  "It is yours."