Coming Out

"Family fears of catching homosexuality, or of being recruited at school or elsewhere are utterly without scientific foundation."
 ~ Dr. Jack Weinberg, President, American Psychiatric Association, October 6, 1977.

Research suggests that the homosexual orientation is in place very early in the life cycle, possibly even before birth. Research findings suggest that efforts to repair homosexuals are nothing more than social prejudice garbed in psychological accouterments.
   ~ From the American Psychological Association Statement on Sexual Orientation, July, 1994

Definitions:

Homosexual: of, relating to, or having a sexual orientation to persons of the same sex; a homosexual person; a gay man or a lesbian.

Gay:  a person whose sexual orientation is to people of the same sex; a man whose sexual orientation is to men.

Lesbian: a woman whose sexual orientation is to women.

Bisexual: a person who is attracted to both men and women; the attraction may not be equal and may vary over time.

Transgender: describes a broad range of people who experience and/or express their gender somewhat differently from what most people expect. It is an overarching term that includes anyone whose gender characteristics don't correspond with physical/social characteristics traditionally ascribed to the person's sex or presumed sex. Some may describe themselves as female-to-male or male-to-female. They may also take hormones or have sexual reassignment surgery in order to look on the outside more like they feel. It is not a sexual orientation.

Sexual orientation is the direction of one’s sexual interests towards another person. An estimated 10% of the human population is thought to be homosexual, although this number varies depending on which organization you ask. 

For homosexual adolescents, their teens through early twenties can be especially difficult. Along with the normal teen angst of hormones gone haywire and bodily changes, they have to deal with their insecurities concerning their sexual orientation, their fear of telling their families and friends and the possibility of their negative reactions (coming out), and society’s prejudice and stigmatization towards homosexuality. This may increase a young homosexual person’s feelings of distress and depression, lower their self-esteem, and could possibly lead them to engage in sexually risky behavior, such as multiple partners and unprotected sex.

Coming Out
Coming out refers to the revelation or acknowledgement that a person is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. The coming-out process is seen as central to the identity of homosexual individuals. Some psychologists maintain that the coming-out process is related to higher self-esteem; that is, when the individual is involved in gay/lesbian activities (for example, support groups or advocacy initiatives), holds a positive attitude towards homosexuality, and has disclosed their own sexuality to others, they tend to have higher levels of self-esteem, leading to increased self-competence.

What should I consider before coming out?

  1. Get a sense of how the person you wish to tell might react beforehand. For example, you might watch a movie that has gay characters and then discuss it.
  2. Be prepared for a wide range of reactions. Your confidant may be shocked, angry or not surprised at all.
  3. Remember how long it has taken you to come to terms with your sexual orientation or gender identity. Be willing to give the person you are telling the same amount of time to adjust.

What should I do once I’m ready to come out?

Once you have personally come to terms with your sexuality, the next step is sharing this information with others, such as family and friends. Once individuals come out, most report feeling better about not having to hide their sexuality, pretend to be someone they are not, and by being able to be honest about who they are. One possibility you might consider is coming out first online (in a chat room, for example) as this gives you an opportunity to practice what you want to say and how you might say it. NOTE: Care should be taken when utilizing the Internet; while it can be a very valuable resource, it can also pose a serious threat to personal safety. NEVER give out ANY personal information and realize that not everyone online is who they say they are!

The coming-out process is associated with elevated levels of distress and conduct problems. Suicide attempts are more common among youths (20-42% lifetime prevalence) who are going through this process when compared to the national average (9%). This distress often leads youths to act in sexually inappropriate manners, such as having multiple partners and engaging in unprotected sex. Youth especially need support in the coming-out process because they may encounter disapproval from society, their families, their peers, or even from within the gay community.

There are several ways to approach the person you are coming out to; you should do what will work best for your situation. One suggestion is to write the person a letter, especially if they live some distance from you. This allows you the luxury of taking your time and getting your wording just right. This also gives the person time to absorb the information and space to react before facing you. This is a good option with individuals you expect to get a hostile or angry response from.

If you decide to tell the person face-to-face, timing is everything. First, you want to allow ample time for discussion: you do not want to have the discussion right before bed or with a quick phone call. Do not do it when you or the others are under the influence. Second, try to have your discussion in a non-threatening environment, preferably somewhere you will both feel safe and comfortable. And most importantly, be honest. If you are nervous or fear an angry reaction, tell them that you do not wish to hurt them, but feel you must be honest with them. Don’t feel guilty about this and tell others only when you are ready.

Your own comfort level is important, as well as how safe you feel revealing this information. Understandably, some people may be shocked, hurt, or angry about your sexuality. Try to remember how long it took you to become comfortable with yourself, and allow the person time to adjust. 

The Counseling Center is a SAFE ZONE participant. As a SAFE ZONE participant, we agree…

  • To be an ally for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members of our community;
  • To confront homophobic and prejudiced behavior on our campus;
  • To actively combat the use of heterosexismand challenge other members of our community to do the same;
  • To keep the identity of homosexual and transgender individuals who contact us confidential;
  • To serve as a referral source for homo-sexual and transgender individuals; and
  • To continue our own education regarding homosexuality and transgender issues and culture.

If you find yourself struggling with issues relating to homosexuality, realize that you are not alone. There is nothing “wrong” with you, and you have no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed. A person’s sexual identity is as much a part of them as their hair color or food preferences. Whatever you may be dealing with, we are here to help. As with the coming-out process, the first step you take in seeking counseling is the hardest. We are here.