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It’s never too late: Tips for coming out as LGBTQIA+ and how to support a queer loved one’s journey

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Oct 23, 2023

It’s never too late: Tips for coming out as LGBTQIA+ and how to support a queer loved one’s journey

National Coming Out Day was first celebrated in 1988 and has been a national holiday every October since. It was founded on the feminist and gay liberation concept of the personal being deeply political. The founders believed that one of the most basic forms of activism you can practice in your life is coming out. 

“How can people change their minds about us if they don’t know who we are?” 

Famous words of Harvey Milk

National Coming Out Day was born in the political climate of the late 1980s, but the impact of coming out remains as relevant as ever. For the first time in its four-decade history, the Human Rights campaign declared a national state of emergency this year for LGBTQIA+ people living in the United States. Because homophobia and transphobia thrive in environments of ignorance and silence, letting people in our lives know that we are LGBTQIA+ can be a revolutionary act!

But you might be wondering, what does it mean to come out? What’s coming out really like? Am I too old to come out? And do people even need to come out these days?

It’s important to know that learning how to share our authentic selves with the people in our lives is a life-long process. Coming out doesn’t just happen in a day. There are many reasons why people delay coming out as queer or trans or struggle to do so. Just know that no matter where you are at in your journey, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to come out. Everyone’s coming out experience looks different, and you get to decide what it means for you.

That being said, sharing your gender and/or sexuality with others can also be a deeply liberating and empowering act.  If you are a baby gay looking for a sign to come out, this is it! You deserve to be celebrated, accepted, and liberated in every part of your life. Even if some people won’t understand, you have an entire gay life ahead of you! There is a chosen community out there that will lovingly embrace every part of you. No matter what your current circumstances are, I know this is true because I’ve experienced it firsthand. 

In this guide, we will explore all aspects of coming out including what it means to come out in 2023, coming out to family, and how you can best show up for someone who came out to you. 

A Pride parade in 2023 marching the streets of Strasbourg, France waving rainbow flags against a blue cloudy sky.

Coming out in modern times

It’s been many a decade since the founding of National Coming Out Day, so what does it mean to come out in modern times? Things have changed quite a bit since I came out as queer 15 years ago and as transgender almost a decade ago. I was the only queer person in my high school of over 2,000 people to bring a date to prom my senior year. 

Gen Z in particular is shifting the cultural dial on sexuality and gender. 1 in 5 Gen Z adults identify somewhere on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, which is nearly double the number of millennials who are out. Although overall social attitudes towards LGBTQIA+ people have shifted significantly in the past few decades, this visibility has also created an uptick in the amount of political antagonism and anti-LGBTQIA+ hostility across the US. 

So, while more and more people are feeling safe to come out, it can also be a particularly confusing and scary time to live your life authentically as an LGBTQIA+ person, especially for younger folks. Many people face cultural or racial stigma, religious pressure, or barriers to coming out including fear of losing stable housing, financial resources, family, friends, or access to community and support. 

However, it’s been proven that the mental health benefits of coming out for LGBTQIA+ people are by and large tremendous. Even though coming out can be a complex and nuanced process, researchers at the University of Montreal found that people who have chosen to be open about their sexual orientation tend to have less chronic stress and fewer symptoms of depression than those who remain in the closet.

Being a supportive environment around people who celebrate and understand your identity plays a vital role in the mental health of queer and trans people. If you don’t have this yet, don’t worry. There is an entire queer community out there cheering you on from the sidelines. All it takes is finding one or two people in your life who you can come out to. Coming out to a few trusted people can help you accept yourself and build the confidence you need to live your life loud and proud. 

How do you come out?

  • You don’t have to come out to everyone at once
  • You can always start with one trusted person and gradually test the waters to see how people in your life respond to you coming out
  • Figure out which parts of your life feel safe to come out in—whether in work, school, with friends or family, or any combination of those
  • Think about how you’d like to tell people—whether that’s face-to-face, over the phone, by email, or an announcement post on social media
  • If you are going to have a conversation over the phone or in person, plan out what you want to say 
  • Consider the time and place you come out, you can always bring a friend or partner if you need extra support
  • Have a backup plan, somewhere you can go, or someone you can call in case coming out go badly
  • Emotionally prepare for questions, disbelief, or potential rejection
  • Allow the other person time and space to process their feelings
  • It’s also okay to set boundaries and take space from people who react negatively to you coming out
  • As hard as it is, try not to take things personally 
  • Make sure they know whether or not they can share this information with others
  • Lean on your chosen family and surround yourself with supportive people
  • If you are in a crisis or feel unsafe, call the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text ‘START’ to 678-678, or call Trans Lifeline at (877) 330-6366. 
An image of a young black girl and her mother embracing in a loving hug, after coming out to her family.

Tips for coming out to family 

Maybe you’re on already on the queer dating apps, but you haven’t quite figured out how to tell your family that you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. When deciding whether or not you should come out to your family, it can be helpful to make a list of pros and cons. You can discuss this list with friends or other people who you trust so that you can make an informed decision about when and how to tell your family you are LGBTQIA+. 

Your family members might respond with offensive comments or by asking questions you’d rather not answer. Are you sure? When did you know? But you don’t look gay! Try not to take these to heart. Know that no matter how this conversation goes, you are not alone and your identity is still valid, even if your family doesn’t quite get it (yet). 

  • Consider telling one person in your family who you have the strongest relationship with. 
  • Speak from the heart and be honest with your loved ones about your feelings.
  • Find examples of LGBTQIA+ who share the same racial or cultural background as you to reference during the conversation.
  • Know that you might not work everything out in one conversation, and that’s okay.

If your parents don’t speak English as a first language, try to come out to them in their native language.

“I had never tried to explain my transness and queerness in Spanish, no matter how fluent I was.”

Lucas, a Cuban trans man, told me.

This led him to find resources online in Spanish and built a more well-rounded vocabulary to communicate his queer and trans identity to his parents. 

Even if your family does have a hard time understanding at first, in lots of cases things do get better over time. Many people initially react negatively because they are afraid or misinformed about LGBTQIA+ people. Sometimes, providing people with a list of resources or readings can help guide and educate them so that you don’t have to. If there is someone who is supportive in your family, you can also ask them to step in and do this work for you.

Coming out vs. outing 

Coming out is very different from being outed. Telling other people about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity without getting their approval is called “outing.” Whether you intentionally out someone or not, disclosing someone’s status as LGBTQIA+ without asking them first is a violation of privacy. This can also apply to transgender people who are stealth (or choose not to disclose their transgender status) in some areas of their life.

Coming out can be a vulnerable and empowering experience when we get to voluntarily share information about who we are, in our own words, and take back control of the narrative. Outing a queer person can rob us of the agency and power we can gain from telling our own stories. This can be especially harmful in the workplace, at school, or in social or family settings that might be culturally unsafe for LGBTQIA+ people. 

How do you avoid outing someone? It’s always best to ask a person if they are out, or if they are comfortable with you sharing the fact that they are queer or trans with other people. If you’ve accidentally outed someone by misusing their pronouns, they might feel betrayed, hurt, or angry. It’s important to be accountable, apologize, and discuss it openly with them. 

A black queer person wearing a rainbow ribbon around their hands after coming out at school.

Frequently Asked Questions about coming out

What does it mean to be a baby gay? 

A baby gay is an honorary title saved only for the newest members of the queer community. It basically means a lesbian, gay, or bisexual person who has recently come out. Being a baby gay is an age-defying title. Anyone can be baby gay as long as they haven’t been out for very long, they feel slightly inexperienced, but also really, really excited. 

While some people use the term ‘baby gay’ in a patronizing way, we know that to be in your gay infancy is a time of immensely potent magic. You are finally reborn, freshly out of the cocoon, hopefully having the best sex of your life, ready to outstretch your gay little arms and soar! Sure, you’ve got to overcome the dreaded feeling of imposter syndrome and also master the LGBTQIA+ lingo while referring to your new pocketbook of gay slang in every conversation… but other than that, it’s amazing! You’ve got the rest of your gay life ahead of you. 

Am I too old to come out?

While it’s easy to feel like the entirety of the LGBTQIA+ community is full of youth and beauty, the truth is that it is never too late to come out. Many people don’t come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender until later in life, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. 

There are also lots of queer and trans people in their 40s-60s+ who are also looking to build community with other older LGBTQIA+ people. If you’re feeling isolated and struggling to find community, try contacting a resource center in your area and see if you can join any local support groups to help you meet people and find a sense of belonging. SAGE is also an amazing advocacy organization that works to build welcoming communities for LGBTQIA+ older people. If you haven’t heard of SAGE, check them out. 

Do I need to come out?

First off, I just want to say that you don’t have to come out to anyone if you don’t want to. Your gender or sexuality isn’t anyone else’s business, and you don’t have to tell anyone if you are in an unsafe environment to do so. Coming out is a deeply personal choice that no one else can decide for you. For many people, coming out as LGBTQIA+ might cause emotional, financial, or physical harm or hardship.

For others, especially bisexual people, coming out can feel reductive or unnecessary, especially if they are dating someone of the opposite gender or currently single. An example of this is when Heartstopper fans accused Kit Connor of queerbaiting after his role in the successful British teen drama, thereby pressuring him to come out as bisexual. He felt forced to disclose his sexuality when he wasn’t ready to do so because of the public pressure and online bullying from fans. 

Some people are out to their friends and family, but they are closeted at work. Others are out in their general lives, but choose not to come out as LGBTQIA+ to their family. Some people only choose to come out to a few, select people, but keep their sexuality or gender private from most of the people in their life. Whatever you decide is the best and safest way to disclose your gender or sexuality (or not) is completely okay. You get to decide what feels right. 

How can I best support someone who came out to me?

Did someone recently come out to you as LGBTQIA+? If someone is choosing to come out to you, it means that they trust you. The best thing you can do for your loved one is let them know that you are here to support them however they need. 

Make sure to respect their confidentiality and allow them to tell other people at their own pace. Reassure them that nothing has changed between you and that you love and support them unconditionally. You can always ask them how you can best support them, but they might also just need someone to listen, witness their truth, and respond positively. 

You can also challenge homophobic and/or transphobic comments, attitudes, and jokes in your everyday life. If someone you care about has recently come out as transgender and changed their name or their pronouns publicly, make sure to correct yourself if you mess up and let other people know if they also make a mistake. These are some of the best practices you can follow to be an LGBTQIA+ ally and support your loved one’s coming out journey. 

Being an ally isn’t an identity as much as it is a practice. You can make life easier for the LGBTQIA+ people you know by being vocal about queer and trans issues and letting other people in your life know where you stand. 

At the end of the day, it’s your life

Hopefully, this guide gives you the reassurance and confidence that you need to start telling people about your sexual orientation or gender journey. Remember to take things at your own pace, surround yourself with people who love and accept you, and keep a journal for when the going gets tough. 

Coming out can be a difficult process, but once you will become more resilient and comfortable with yourself at the end of it. You get to decide who you are and what your life looks like. Don’t let anyone else take that away from you. And when you’re ready to start dating, we’re here for you.

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Dusty Brandt Howard is a writer & a fighter. He is a trans masculine cultural narrator who builds worlds with words. You can follow his thirst traps on Instagram, his writing on Substack, or find him at your local queer bar in northeast LA.

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