Coming out is REEAALLLYYY scary. I worried about being gay and the terrifying prospect of coming out for years before I finally found the courage to do it. And as a young gay teen I felt incredibly lonely with no clue at all about how I should come out.
And the whole idea of coming out has been thrust into our collective consciousness recently with two very different coming out tales: Ezra Miller and Kevin Spacey. In a fantastic sit-down with ShortList magazine, Ezra revealed how coming out as queer helped him to “undam [his] identity in the world.” And even though it was misreported in other outlets that he was coming out as gay, Ezra’s story is one of openness, positivity and embracing his identity. Spacey, on the other hand, caused an uproar by cynically coming out to deflect from a firestorm of sexual assault allegations he was facing. Even worse, he said in a statement: “I choose now to live as a gay man.” As far as I can tell, sexual identity isn’t a choice – it’s about who you are.
So I’ve put together some thoughts on the things I wish I knew before coming out:
1. Coming out is amazingly liberating
Finally revealing that you’re gay feels fantastic. There’s no more pretending to be straight to fit in. No more awkward conversations about which girls you fancy. And you’re free to be yourself without the pressure of rigid ideas about gender and sexuality.
2. You’ll have to come out MANY times in your life
One of the less enjoyable parts of being gay is that you’ll probably have to come out many, many times. It’s wrong but our society still assumes straightness and requires people to constantly reaffirm their sexuality. It could be at work, meeting new people at the pub or even booking hotel rooms, but coming out is not a single event.
3. It’s best to come out as soon as you can
If possible, try to come out as early as you feel comfortable. Bottling in your identity can cause incredible internal stress. I never seriously considered suicide but there were times when I couldn’t see the point in living if I was never going to be free to be myself or find someone to fall in love with. So, whenever you’re ready, let people around you know what you’re going through. (And if you are thinking about suicide, reach out to charities like Samaritans or Mind). And try not to stress out about other people’s bad reactions – it could be that it’s your own fear of how people will react that’s holding you back.
4. Don’t assume people already know
I was convinced my family and friends must have known I was gay but lots of people close to me said they had no idea.
5. Go to your friends – they’ll offer support
I was incredibly lucky to have friends around me to talk things through. If you’ve got some close friends, go to them first and they’ll more than likely be happy to help out.
6. When the big day comes, prepare what you want to say in advance
When you’ve decided to come out to the important people in your life (more than likely your parents), you’ll feel like you want to throw up and your mind will be spinning out of control. When I told my parents I was gay I rushed into the conversation in a daze and just spat it out. In the moment I found myself rambling on and saying things I didn’t mean and have come to regret. Looking back, I wish I’d prepared some thoughts to help the conversation stay on track. And be prepared for other people to say things they don’t mean – try not to hold it against them.
7. It’s OK to keep it to yourself if you don’t feel comfortable or safe
Always consider your circumstances. I was lucky to have supportive parents who I knew wouldn’t kick me out the house once I told them. But I’m fully aware that as a white male, I have inherent privileges that people from different parts of the LGBT+ community don’t have. In fact, young LGBT+ people make up around 25% of the youth homeless population in Britain. If you don’t think you’ll be safe, consider coming out when you’re more in control of your life and living situation.
8. Be prepared to cut people out if they don’t support you
Unfortunately, there’ll be people who don’t support your coming out. Don’t be afraid to drop them from your life – you don’t need to waste time or energy on people working against you.
9. Don’t assume there’ll be big lifestyle changes
Even when you come out, you’re still the same person. Don’t think everything will change overnight but know that you’ve taken your first small step to liberating yourself.
10. There’s still discrimination (even in the LGBT+ community)
I’ve only faced mild homophobia in my life so far but across the UK and around the world, gay people suffer incredible hostility and abuse. Sadly, there’s even discrimination in the gay community (including biphobia and transphobia). Being a gay man there’s also huge pressure to conform to outrageous standards of hyper-masculinity and being physically fit.
11. Gay sex can be amazing (but it takes time to get it right)
Gay sex, in my humble opinion, is awesome. But because of the mechanics of anal sex, it’s best to take your time and not rush. It’s also important to look out for your sexual health with regular STD check-ups, condoms and PrEP.
12. There’s an enormous and beautiful spectrum of gayness, straightness, bisexuality and more
You’ll discover that there’s a beautiful spectrum of sexuality out there. Let yourself be open to all the amazing things that being LGBT+ brings.