Coming out is not a one-time thing, but a process LGBTQ+ people go through throughout their lives in a million different ways. Sometimes coming out is simply correcting someone for misgendering you or explaining that the person you live with is not just a “very good friend.” Others it is far more serious.
I know this from experience, or, better put, experiences. After realizing my sexuality in the 7th grade and my gender the summer before high school, I have come out in at least a hundred different ways in the last five to six years. One thing I realized is that no two coming out experiences will ever be alike, even with the same people.
The first day of my freshman year in high school, I was asked something no one has ever asked me before: what are your preferred pronouns? I figured out my gender identity over the summer, and I was so excited to finally be able to tell people. I had lost my voice the night before, so I wrote on a piece of paper “my pronouns are they/them.” For the first time in my life, I was in an environment where people would see me as the genderfluid person I have always been.
As soon as I got home, I dropped my bag on the floor and left it there open for hours as I got to work on my assignments. When my mom looked for me to ask about my day, she found the paper instead.
Suffice to say, she did not react well. We screamed at each other for almost an hour. I barely recall any of it, except for one thing she said: “you do something like this again and I’m kicking you out.” I doubt she remembers this, but I will never forget it. I can never be the daughter my parents wish I was.
The next few years were terrible for my mental health. I got through it, but my relationship with my family never fully recovered. I turned to my peers for the support and acceptance I could never find at home. A friend from school gave me a binder for my birthday. My parents gave me a card addressed to “our favorite daughter.” I don’t have many regrets in life but leaving my backpack open is one of them.
I wish I could’ve come out to my parents properly, or that evening went over as well as when I came out as bi in the seventh grade. I would’ve sat them down, explained gender theory over time, and once I felt they finally understood, tell them who I am. Sometimes I blame myself for being careless with that bag, but my actions did not cause the poor reactions of my parents, nor my suffering. But I can’t control how someone reacts to my queerness, no matter how much I prepare for the moment. That part of coming out is not on me.
I almost never give concrete advice about how to come out, just vague specifics informed by the numerous occasions where coming out was no problem and this one moment where it was. Always be sure to understand what the other person is familiar with or what their views are. Go slow, and come out on your own terms. Ask them to listen first, then ask questions when you are finished. Explain the identity before coming out. Most importantly, only come out if you think it is safe. After that, there’s not much else you can do.
Just as I learned the rough way, I hope that any LGBTQ+ person reading this realizes that you are not responsible for other people’s feelings and actions. As a general rule this can be difficult to accept, and in terms of coming out, it’s only harder. And if you ever come out and find yourself feeling alone, know that you aren’t. If not in body, then in mind and in spirit. Millions of people like you, like me, are all over the globe. We are here for you, and we are in this together.
For those who may need it, below are sites with international lists of hotlines and numbers for any LGBTQ+ or mental health related support you may need.
The Trevor Project — Saving Young LGBTQ Lives
Suicide Hotlines - Suicide.org! Suicide Hotlines - Suicide.org! Suicide Hotlines
Support Hotlines | PFLAG
List of LGBT Friendly Helplines Worldwide | Lives in Transition
Crisis Text Line | Text HOME To 741741 free, 24/7 Crisis Counseling