Adapted from: University of California Davis LGBTQIA Resource Center
There is no right or wrong way to come out. Only you can decide what’s right for you. Everyone’s process is unique and based on a number of factors, including personal comfort level, environment, and many other considerations.
Many people come out so they can live openly and true to who they are. Many people also decide not to come out for a variety of reasons after considering their circumstances, and that’s okay too!
When deciding who to come out to, consider the level of trust in your relationship with someone. It’s also important to think about who will support you during this process, as a strong support system can assist in the coming out process and help you feel more empowered during this important time. Remember that your safety should always come first. Coming out can be a challenging process, but you don’t have to go through it alone. There are many resources, including the LGBTQIA Resource Center, that can help you with the coming out process.
Identifying as LGBTQIA
- How do you know if you identify as LGBTQIA? It may be helpful to review some terms and ideas first.
- Sex assigned at birth – Sex is assigned by a doctor when a baby is born based on genitalia. Besides male and female, there are other sexes such as intersex. Sex is separate from gender identity.
- Gender identity – A sense of one’s self as trans*, genderqueer, woman, man, or some other identity, which may or may not correspond with the sex and gender one is assigned at birth.
- Sexual orientation – an attraction or non-attraction to other people. Sexual orientations include straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, and others.
- Gender expression – how one expresses oneself, in terms of dress and/or behaviors. Society, and people that make up society characterize these expressions as “masculine,” “feminine,” or “androgynous.” Individuals may embody their gender in a multitude of ways and have terms beyond these to name their gender expression(s).
- Romantic orientation – attraction or non-attraction to other people characterized by the expression or non-expression of love.
- The above concepts – sex assigned at birth, gender identity, sexual orientation, and romantic orientation, exist on a spectrum. These concepts encompass a wide range within which people can identify on these spectrums.
- Some reflective questions can help people affirm who they are (How do people of the same sex, opposite sex, or people of other sexes make you feel? What gender feels true to who you are?)
- Qualities like sex assigned at birth, gender identity, sexual orientation, and gender expression exist on a spectrum.
- Sexual orientation can range from heterosexual (attracted to the other gender on the spectrum, or “straight”) to homosexual (attracted to the same gender – gay, lesbian).
Figuring out if coming out is right for you
- Coming out is a big deal! After you’ve made the decision to come out, the next question is figuring out who to tell. As mentioned before, this should be someone you trust and feel like will support you.
- If you’re not sure how someone will respond to you coming out, you could get a sense of that person’s attitudes by asking them about their attitudes towards LGBTQIA-related topics in the news, about LGBTQIA celebrities, or even LGBTQIA stories and characters.
- Think about why you want to come out to a person and why now. Is this the best time for you and the person you want to tell? What factors could make the process easier or more challenging?
- After reading through this guide, you may decide that this is not a good time for you to come out and that’s ok. The LGBTQIA Resource Center provides a safe, inclusive space to explore your identity and connect with a supportive community.
- Think about what you will say. You may want to lead up to the news of your LGBTQIA identity by introducing the topic slowly.
- Make sure the situation is appropriate. It may be ideal to find a space where you and the other person can talk openly without distractions and are free to take the time to have a discussion about your feelings.
- Consider doing some research so you are prepared to answer questions that will likely come up. After you tell someone you identify as LGBTQIA, they will likely have a lot of questions. It’s okay if you don’t know all the answers, but being prepared can help smooth over immediate concerns.
- Remember that the specific LGBTQIA labels aren’t important. What matters is how you feel and that you want to share this part of yourself with someone.
- Be prepared for the possibility that the person will need time adjusting to your news and even might react in a way you might not expect. Many people need time to process the information you’ve shared with them, even if they love you dearly and support the LGBTQIA community. Remember that you’ve had time to understand your feelings but this is the first time the other person is learning this information. Think before you come out to someone how you might address different scenarios, and understand that coming out starts an ongoing dialogue.
- Recognize that someone’s initial reaction may not be how they feel after they’ve been given time to process and reflect on their feelings. Be patient and recognize if someone needs time and space.
- Remember that coming out is a big deal and should be handled thoughtfully and with care.
- Consider how you would address different responses to your coming out discussion. Some people may surprise you with their openness, while others may not be as understanding as you imagined. Plan on how you would respond to these various scenarios.
- Remember that your safety comes first. Think how coming out to someone may change your relationship with them or how it could affect your living situation and financial support. If these could be affected by your coming out, make plans for how you would address these changes.
- Think about having a space or support group to visit afterwards. Coming out can prompt a lot of thoughts and feelings, and you may feel the need to share these with a supportive friend or group. Remember that the LGBTQIA Resource Center is here to help you and provides a safe space for community members to meet.
- Realize that even if you decide not to come out now you do not have to keep your LGBTQIA identity a secret forever. It simply means that your unique circumstances right now are not the best time for you to come out to this particular person or group of people.
- Recognize that circumstances may never be truly ideal for you to come out and the process doesn’t have to be perfect. The important thing is that it feels right for you to share this information at this moment.
- You may not be ready to identify with a specific community. That’s ok! Perhaps you just want to share your feelings with someone and that you’re still figuring things out. There’s no rush.
- Identifying yourself can be a powerful way to affirm who you are to yourself and to others, but remember that it’s ok if you aren’t sure how you identify. “Labels aren’t important; your feelings are.” (Human Rights Campaign Resource Guide to Coming Out)
- Remember that you’re not alone in this process! The LGBTQIA Resource Center is here to support you on your journey.
- Realize that, for many people, coming out is a lifelong process. After coming out to close friends and family, for example, you may find yourself coming out to your work colleagues, new friends, extended family, and others throughout your life. People often have assumptions that others are straight and cisgender and LGBTQIA people find themselves in the position to challenge these assumptions. The process of telling others your LGBTQIA identity usually gets easier over time and with practice. By coming out ourselves, we can help make it easier for future generations to be themselves.
This guide was created by UC Davis LGBTQIA Resource Center staff with information adapted from The Trevor Project “Coming Out as You!” resource, the Human Rights Campaign Resource Guide to Coming Out, and the Trans Student Educational Resources site.
The LGBTQIA Resource Center is here to support you by providing a safe space to hang out, talk about your experiences, make friends, attend educational and fun programming, and pick up some resources to take home with you. UC Davis students can also meet with our community counselor for one-on-one support. Counseling Services also has a support group for LGBTQIA students.
Resources for Families & Friends
PFLAG offers a number of publications available for download via their website. These publications include Spanish and English resources for families and friends.
Resources for Allies
Young people in search of support in their identities or help with coming out can check out
these support organizations:
- 988 Lifeline
- The Trevor Project: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/trvr_support_center/coming-out/
TrevorLifeline 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386. Counseling is available via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678-678.
- GSA Network
- Q Chat Space
- Coming Out Resources for LGBTQ+ Christians
- How you can know that it’s really OK to be LGBTQ and Christian
- Proud and Supported: Definitions and Beyond (Autistic Self-Advocacy Network)
- Easy Read (PDF)
- Plain-Language Edition (PDF)
- Advice For Someone With A Disability Who Wants to Come Out Or Explore Their Sexuality (Green Mountain Self-Advocates)
- Top Ways Teachers and Service Providers can Support a Person with a Disability Who is Coming Out LGBTQ (Green Mountain Self-Advocates)
- The Coming Out Hanbook (Trevor Project) (PDF)