If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you might be going through the process of accepting and exploring your sexuality or gender identity.
You might also be thinking about sharing this identity with others, which can be a highly emotional time. It’s normal to feel nervous, unsettled, hopeful, liberated, confused – or something else entirely. But it’s worth remembering that whatever you’re feeling is valid.
If you feel ready to come out, then there might be various different reasons as to why. Perhaps you’re tired of hiding who you really are and feeling trapped. Or maybe you dream of having the freedom to openly pursue new relationships, introduce people to your partner, or connect with others in the LGBT community who share the same sexuality or gender identity as you.
The process of coming out can be incredibly liberating and many liken it to feeling truly happy and alive for the first time.
It’s important to remember that the decision about when and if to come out is entirely yours. You might decide that you’d prefer to keep your sexuality or gender identity private, or that coming out simply isn’t an option due to concerns for your safety (though this can be difficult to comprehend, it’s a sad truth for many).
Only you will know what’s best for you; and if you decide that you don’t want to come out or that now isn’t the right time, then this is okay.
The process of accepting and sharing your sexuality or gender identity is one that’s often associated with teenagers or people in their early 20s. But people come out at all times in their lives.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), more people than ever before are identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (rising from 2.7% in 2019 to 3.1% this year). And, in 2021, the ONS also reported that 68,410 people (0.62% of over 65s) identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or another minority sexual orientation (LGB+).
So, whether you’re thinking about coming out, have already started the process, or you’ve recently found yourself feeling attracted to people of the opposite sex; the following 12 steps might help.
1. Remember that coming out is often a gradual process
The term ‘coming out’ can make telling others about your sexuality or gender identity seem like an event that happens once. But the process of coming out will often unfold gradually.
The first step might involve accepting and embracing your identity, and becoming comfortable in your own skin, even before you decide to tell anyone else. Sometimes, this part can actually be the most challenging; especially if you’ve been suppressing your identity.
When it comes to telling others, most people start by telling family and close friends, or by connecting with others in the LGBT community.
Next steps could involve reaching a stage where you feel happy talking about your partner at work or openly dating people of the same sex. Throughout life, there might also be times when someone makes a wrong assumption about your sexuality or gender identity – and whether you decide to correct them will be your choice.
It’s worth thinking about what you want to achieve by coming out, as this is very personal and will be different for everyone. For example, if you know that you’re gay, but are in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, then perhaps your main concern is finding a way to tell them.
Or maybe you’ve told loved ones about your sexuality or gender identity already, but would like to work on feeling more confident about going out on dates in public – simply because this is new territory for you.
2. Consider how you want to come out
There’s no right or wrong way to come out, and it doesn’t necessarily have to involve a serious sit-down discussion. If the idea of starting a conversation about your sexuality or gender identity makes you feel uncomfortable, then you could explore other ways to come out.
For example, you could ask a friend or family member to accompany you to an LGBT event or casually mention your partner.
Some people also prefer to come out slowly, while others might prefer to tell as many people as possible at once. For example, by making the decision to post something on social media where all their connections can see it.
If you plan to tell people on a one-to-one basis and want to give them more time to process the information, you could consider writing them a letter, sending a text or email, or having a conversation on the phone. Sometimes communication at a distance is the best way to give you and the person you’re telling some breathing room, and can help you to feel more in control of the situation.
Alternatively, if you do decide you want to have a face-to-face conversation with someone and you’re unsure what to say or worried you’ll forget if you get nervous, then you could try writing it down and/or practising it beforehand.
3. Connect with others from the LGBT community
As human beings, we’re often happiest when we can unapologetically be ourselves and make meaningful connections with like-minded people. So hiding parts of your identity and feeling as though you can’t be true to who you are can be a lonely experience.
Sometimes coming out to others in the LGBT community can be an easier first step to make than coming out to friends and family. You’ll likely meet others who can share their experiences of coming out and offer support and advice – and it can be a relief to speak to people who can relate to what you’re going through.
Plus, being around the energy of those who are out and proud can be incredibly empowering and uplifting.
If you want to get involved with your local LGBT community, there are a few ways you can do this. For example, Meetup.com has an extensive list of lots of 186 LGBTQ groups across the UK that hold regular social events – both online and in person.
You could also try meeting people through Opening Doors London; the UK’s largest LGBT charity for people over 50. They hold regular meetups in London – though there’s also the option to attend events via Zoom if you don’t live close by.
Alternatively, Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBT rights charity has a helpful search tool that’ll show you which LGBT services and community groups are available in your local area.
4. Talk things through with a support organisation or counsellor
If you don’t feel ready to speak to friends and family about your sexuality or gender identity, but you need to get things off your chest, you could consider speaking to someone impartial and non-judgmental; like a counsellor or support organisation.
This can be a helpful way to process your thoughts and feelings and get used to talking about your sexuality or gender identity out loud.
If you’re coming out later in life, this step can be particularly useful, as you might have years of repressed feelings to work through. It’s also not uncommon for people coming out later in life to feel as though their sexual or gender identity is less ‘valid’ because it took them longer to express it or to have worries or concerns about breakups or divorce after coming out to a spouse.
If any of this sounds familiar, or you’re questioning your sexuality, struggling with your mental health, or feeling lonely or isolated, it’s important to know that you don’t have to suffer in silence. There are plenty of support LGBT support organisations out there, who can offer you information, support, and advice. Many of these have helplines you can call to talk through whatever’s on your mind – and these are often run by volunteers from the LGBT community.
You can call the LGBT Foundation on 0345 330 3030 (weekdays from 9am-9pm) or email [email protected]. Another option is the Switchboard LGBT+ helpline, which you can call on 0300 330 0630 (every day from 10am-10pm) or email [email protected].
It’s also worth noting that if you’re feeling desperate and need somewhere to turn quickly, then the Samaritans helpline is open 24/7 (just call 116 123). They’re always ready to offer a listening ear and some kind words to anyone, at any time.
Regular counselling sessions can also be beneficial and there are plenty of counsellors who have experience dealing with issues that LGBT people can face; such as low self-esteem, difficulty accepting your sexual orientation, or coping with other people’s reactions.
Pink Therapy has a directory of therapists who can provide specialised support for LGBT people. Some LGBT charities also offer counselling sessions.
5. Start with people you trust
If you’re worried about how certain people will react to your news, then it can be helpful to build a support network around yourself first.
You could start by only telling people that you really trust, and feel reasonably confident will support you. Having the love and support of just one person can make a real difference, and you could even ask them to be there when you come out to others.
If you have children and your ex-partner is supportive of your news (though this won’t always be the case), you could tell your children together.
6. Expect people to ask questions
The process of coming out later in life is likely to come with a few questions – especially if, say, you’ve always been in heterosexual relationships, or are in one now and have children.
A partner might want to know if you always knew you were lesbian, gay, or bisexual, or whether you’re feelings have recently changed. They might also want to know whether your feelings for them in the past have been genuine.
If you have children, they might have different questions surrounding what will happen now, where you’ll live, and what this will mean for your relationship going forward.
How you answer these questions (and how many you answer) is completely up to you. There might be some questions that you’re expecting and feel prepared for, and others that you might not have the answers to yet. If a question catches you off guard and you need more time to think about it, it can be helpful to say this so that the person asking doesn’t feel as though they’re being dismissed.
It’s important to remember that coming out isn’t an invitation for interrogation and that you don’t have to share any details you don’t feel comfortable sharing. However, those close to you might ask for a level of explanation to help them understand and process what you’re telling them; so it’s best to be prepared for this.
7. Consider that your loved ones might already know
It can take a great deal of courage to come out to others, and you might be worried about what sort of reactions you’ll get. Many worry about negative reactions, but it’s also a common occurrence for loved ones to reveal that they already knew.
It’s best to prepare for this eventually too, as sometimes when you’ve had sweaty palms, a racing heart, and you’ve built up to tell someone your big news, it can almost feel like a wasted effort.
But try to remember that someone knowing about your sexuality or gender identity and carrying on like normal is often a testament to how they feel about you, and a sign that they appreciate you for who you really are.
8. Allow people time and space to process the information
If you come out and someone reacts badly, then, as hurtful as this can be, try to remember that initial reactions aren’t always permanent.
With some time and space, someone who’s just shocked or surprised will hopefully be able to process the information and have a more positive conversation later on.
9. Be prepared for the possibility that you could lose friends – but will hopefully gain new ones
Unfortunately, there might be times when someone can’t seem to accept you for who you are. It’s always a good idea to be prepared for this, but not to let it affect your feelings towards yourself or your decision to come out.
Coming out to others is an incredibly brave step for you to take, and those who don’t support you or who reveal themselves as homophobic aren’t worth having in your life anyway.
However, coming out involves sharing more about your authentic self with the people around you. And in doing so, you’ll hopefully build stronger connections with those who accept and support you, and form new connections with other like-minded people. You might lose a few friends, but there are hopefully many more to be gained.
10. Remember that you’re in control of who you share information about your sexuality or gender identity with and when
When you come out to someone, it’s a good idea to let them know whether or not they should keep this information to themselves.
Sometimes people can assume that, if you’re telling them, then you’re telling everybody. But this isn’t always the case. So if you want to come out in your own time and at your own pace, it’s worth being very clear on this.
There’s a chance that people may encourage you to tell others once they consider the news to be ‘out’ but this decision is yours alone. If you don’t see a reason to tell certain people or you’re not ready, then this should be respected.
11. Read books and watch films that celebrate being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender
In many cases, being in the closet and hiding your sexual or gender identity can subconsciously leave you feeling as though there’s something wrong with being who you are. But, this isn’t true and whether you decide to come out or not, it can help to remind yourself of this.
One way to do this is to read books or watch films that celebrate LGBT individuals, and the larger movement for equality, love, and acceptance for all.
If you enjoy reading, you could start with Orlando by Virginia Woolf, Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough, or Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide by Kate Charlesworth. Or, if you fancy watching some films, why not start with Moonlight (2017), Portrait of A Lady (2019), or Before Stonewall (1984)?
12. Try online dating
Coming out can be an exciting and liberating time. You might feel relieved that you no longer have to hide parts of yourself – including who you choose to date. If you don’t currently have a partner, but you’re interested in finding love or companionship; then online dating might appeal.
Dating online can be a helpful way to test the waters and ease any nerves if you’ve never dated someone of the same sex before. You can chat to people at a distance and explore what sort of people you might be attracted to – all in your own time and at your own pace. There’s no pressure to meet up with someone if you don’t want to.
Rest Less Dating, Match.com, and eHarmony are examples of dating sites that welcome singles of all sexual identities and gender identities. And for some tips for navigating the world of online matchmaking, check out the dating section of our website.
Final thoughts on being kind to yourself and embracing who you are...
Coming out can be a life-changing experience, but unfortunately, it’s rarely easy. It can bring on a whole range of emotions from freedom and true happiness, to confusion and sadness, to anger and guilt.
Whatever you’re feeling, it’s important to be kind to yourself and only come out on the terms that are right for you. If you decide that coming out isn’t the right step either (now or ever), then this is okay too. No one should push you to reveal information about yourself that you’d prefer to keep private.
If you’re feeling frustrated or distressed by the fact that you haven’t come out sooner, then remember that there will always be reasons why you’ve chosen not to and that, at the time, these reasons were just as valid as your decision to come out now.
Try to be gentle and compassionate towards yourself in the same way that you would if a friend shared their sexuality or gender identity with you.
Some say that coming out feels like falling in love with yourself. Not only does it involve committing to and accepting yourself, but also allowing yourself to be completely honest about who you are and how you feel.
You can’t control how others respond when you come out, but what you can do is trust yourself, practise self-love, and remember that you deserve to be happy…