There are few set rules to this often harrowing experience, mostly there are merely guidelines based on the experiences of others, but from the knowledge of many of those experiences, including my own, this article has been written with an aim to help those considering “coming out”. Of the few rules there are, one hard and fast one is to always do what you think is best for you – but to do it considerately.
Another is that before even contemplating coming out to anyone, especially to your family, you do need to be absolutely sure in yourself that you really are gay. Don’t base anything on just a few pleasurable experiences you may have had with someone of the same sex.
Straight people do sometimes experiment (as many as two in every five males will have same-sex at some time in their lives – statistics that are a blessing to many a gay man) and they do often enjoy it – so be thoroughly sure before dropping what to some people might be a bombshell! Few will thank you later for a: “Whoops! I got it wrong!” Once you have completely accepted that you are gay then the whole coming out issue raises its ugly head.
You will find yourself questioning:
Do I really need to tell anyone? Should I try to keep it a secret?
Should I tell my parents? And if so – both of them, or just one of them – at least at first?
How about my brothers and sisters; the rest of the family; and my friends – should they all be told?
Then there’s the people at work – do they need to know?
Each person’s situation will be different, and only they will have the best idea of who, if anybody, they should tell. Some people will feel it is best to tell everyone – others to tell no-one. Some won’t want to tell either one, or both, of their parents because they “know” it would devastate them, or they would simply never understand, whilst others may conclude it is best to keep it under wraps at work.
With friends, especially close ones, you may think you know who you could, and who you could not, confide in. It is you and you alone who will be the best judge of each situation, but you will need to have done some groundwork on which to base your conclusions. An obvious way if you are unsure of someone is to pass a casual non-judgemental comment on something gay that is in the newspaper or on the television (there’s usually something around most times) to see how they react.
If you do decide to come out to someone, then this is no time to rush into anything. You will need to pick a good time to tell them – a time when neither of you are busy or are likely to be disturbed. Don’t be tempted to undertake the task when you, or they, are the worse for drink. Don’t prepare a speech or a lecture full of baffling statistics – just try to be your usual self and converse as you normally would.
Do try to get it across that your coming out changes nothing, that you are still exactly the same person you were before telling them, and that the only one thing that has changed is that they now know your true sexuality. Assure them that you still love them / like them / need them the same as you always have done, and tell them that you hope upon hope that they can come to terms with your sexuality and accept you for what you really are, just as you had to.
Do be prepared for questions, some of which you may not know the answers to – in which case be honest; don’t attempt to blag it. And do be prepared for the unexpected; for things to go badly wrong. They don’t often, but they can. If you are living with parents and you decide to tell them, then no matter how sure you may be that they will take it okay, it is sensible to have somewhere else lined up where you could stay for a while – just in case.
This is one reason why my advice for anyone under sixteen is to wait until they are old enough to leave home. That way there are no legal complications if it all goes terribly wrong, life becomes unbearable, and they need to spend a few nights away from home. A major reason for a lot of people coming out is to stop all those embarrassing questions like: “When are you going to find a nice girl and settle down?” As this doesn’t usually apply to anyone in their early teens, a time when most lads still go “out with the boys” and anything they might do is likely to be seen as a fad or a mere phase that they are going through, it is probably prudent to wait for a few years.
But whatever age you are, if you do come out and it does all go tits up it is imperative that you don’t get into a heated argument or a full blown row – be man enough to walk away. A little time will often improve matters, so make sure you stay in touch. Never burn your bridges. Worrying about how coming out might affect you, the way it may affect others sometimes gets overlooked.
Here’s a few issues regarding your parents that you may need to understand and address: It is natural for mothers to eagerly look forward to their grandchildren and, especially if you are an only child, they may feel they are going to miss out on a large part of their lives. Occasionally a father may feel that his masculinity has been put in question by producing a gay son and there may be some, albeit even subconscious or hidden, resentment that you have made it public knowledge.
Your parents, searching for a reason, may come to believe that you are gay directly as a result of them raising you incorrectly – they may hold themselves responsible and feel guilty. Unless you’re cruel and don’t care about your parents, these issues need addressing with a lot of love and support. Keep them involved in your life as much as possible, let them see that you are happy with your lifestyle, and be involved in their lives too, but do respect their wishes when it comes to meeting your gay boyfriends – some will want to meet them; some won’t in the early days but will come around to it later; and just a few will wish to carry on as if nothing had been said – with the word “gay” never mentioned again in front of them.
In the event the coming out to your parents goes really badly, despite any animosity you need to remember (for they will) that you are still their son. They may hate your lifestyle, they may not understand it, they may not be able to come to terms with it, but they will always love you as their son even though they may tell you different and not be showing it at that time.
Don’t give up on trying to build bridges – one day one will probably reach them. Whilst it is possible to come out to your parents, and sometimes even to the wider family, without others including your friends knowing about you, the reverse may not necessarily be as true. Unless you live away from your family and nobody that knows you works (goes to college / uni) where you do, in time there is a likelihood that rumour or word will get back to someone you would have preferred not to have known.
It only takes one friend to unwittingly tell someone, perhaps someone who has revealed an interest in you, that you bat for the other side for the word to spread like wildfire as they do their “Did you know…?” bit to all their friends and family. Remember: once you have come out, even if it is to only one person, you no longer have a secret and you must be prepared for others to find out about you at any time. For this reason I have always considered it best to come out to everybody, but you may feel differently.
There are some people who, when they weigh it all up, decide it is best for their circumstances to keep their sexuality a total secret and to not come out at all. It can work, but it’s not without some consequences. For years these people will have to suffer family and friends frequently asking them when they are going to meet the right girl and settle down. In time they may even find that strange liaisons are being arranged as they are invited to dinner parties and paired off at the table with an endless stream of left on the shelf girls.
It can all get a bit embarrassing, and when that doesn’t work, and there’s still no girlfriend in sight, at least one person will at some time come right out with it and ask them point blank if they are gay. What then? Do they lie to them, and thereafter really live a lie? And if they do, how do they feel about lying to their friends and family – those people who love them?
Sometimes not coming out can be as hard as actually coming out – only it lasts longer! I have particularly covered coming out to the parents and family most in this article because I believe them to be the most important – you cannot change your family whereas your friends you can, and probably will, change many times throughout your lifetime. If a friend can’t accept your sexuality, then how good a friend are they?
You are better off finding another friend. And anyway, if you’ve come out, or are coming out, you’ll probably already have a lot of gay friends, or be seeking them, so the loss of an old friend won’t matter that much. Every year gay people are accepted a little more, and so every year it becomes a little easier for those considering coming out. Nevertheless to most faced with the task the experience can still be very unnerving – a little like a first flight in an aircraft or a first solo performance on stage to a massive audience, but more so.
You know it’s all been done before; it’s done on a daily basis and rarely does anything go wrong. You know by all the odds that afterwards you will feel relieved, and proud of yourself – but even knowing all that doesn’t help you much. Some of the ways I benefited from coming out may help you: There was an instant relief that I didn’t have to hide anything anymore – I could be my true self.
No more did I have to look over my shoulder and scan the street before going into a gay pub; no more did I have to check out who was in WH Smiths before buying the Gay Times; no more did the pictures on my walls have to reflect the straight world – up went the hunks! And no more did I have to cringe in horror in case someone I knew saw the obvious camp queen cooeying hello across the street at me.
Then there was the pleasure of being able to tell a girl who had been after getting the pants off me for months that I was gay, instead of coming up with yet another excuse why we shouldn’t be doing it, and an even greater pleasure in putting on an outrageously camp voice (it’s not the usual me) to a good friend’s over-sexed and persistent wife who once more was playing tootsies under the table. “Dhaaarling! I’m gay and I don’t do fish suppers!” I screamed. He looked; she fled – and I was never bothered again.
Getting back to the more serious side, being completely out it was no surprise to anyone when I turned up at all the works parties with my male partner. No more did I have to find excuses and miss out on such things – it also started a bit of a trend as two others began to bring their male partners along too! And with my partner, as an out gay couple, we were able to go to both of our respective family’s celebrations, weddings, funerals and Christmas parties as a part of that family.
You could say that coming fully out allowed us to enjoy a normal life similar to that of any heterosexual couple – apart from that what we did in bed. All our neighbours accepted us. They loved our gay parties and barbecues to which we always invited them (some would even help out with the cooking and the preparations – we were no fools!) and they in return would invite us and many of our gay friends to their parties.
I cannot imagine living my life in any other way than being totally out and honest. What you see is what you get, and if you don’t like it – tough! I know that not everybody will feel that my way could be their way, but if they are considering it and think it might be for them then I am living proof that it can work.
There is so much I would not have done, and so much life I would have missed out on, had I remained even partially in the closet. A few tips: It will be easier to come out if you already have gay friends who will help and support you. If you have a boyfriend who is happy to come out with you (or is already out) it will be even easier.
If you are setting up home with a partner, and you are out to your parents, get your mothers to help you move in – they’ll do all the outing needed to the neighbours and give you a “legitimacy” – you’ll have no problems. Finally, and I believe the most important tip of all: Always try to live your life with compassion, but the way that YOU want to live it. It is your life and yours alone – and you are only given the one. To waste even a moment of it is to miss so much. Be lucky!
This article has been written by a gay man, one who has been out to all for most of his lifetime and during which time he has been a supporter of the Campaign for LGBTI+ Equality.