The journey to being out and proud is not always the straightest road (pun intended!) We've asked some of our colleagues and supporters to share their stories and asked them what advice they would give someone who wants to get out of that musty old closet.
What is your coming out story?
Andre, SH:24 coordinator
I came out in the pre-internet age (feel like a dinosaur writing that) so the only exposure I had to gay and lesbian life was sneakily borrowing books from the LGBT section in Lewisham libraries, far far away from where I lived. I had accidentally borrowed a copy of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City in the returned items section, and it opened up a whole world far away from the tragic AIDS victims portrayed on TV and tabloids in the 80s and early 90s.
Eventually, due to a love of unnecessary drama, I ran away to a homeless shelter in Soho, and reinvented myself on the other side of the river. The following summer I invited my family to dinner with a big announcement. Telling them I was gay was a big announcement to me. My sister laughed, my mother shrugged and my dad said I had more important things to worry about, like getting a job.
Stuart, SH:24 support worker
Coming out was something that just seemed to happen to me.
With my friends there was only one time where I told friends and the people I was working with at the time that I was gay. Mainly I used to just drop it into conversation, either that I was attracted to a guy or I would mention my partner in conversation.
My mother asked my outright one day and I had clearly got the to the point where I felt that I could just admit it with her. No big drama, just a conversation one afternoon and it was done.
It took longer to tell my dad and that did feel harder to do, but again there was no big drama and it was all done.
Linnéa, SH:24 graphic designer
When I came out to my sister and my friends, I just sort of told them in passing that I'd started dating girls, and their responses were really positive like they were excited for me. I was much more anxious about coming out to my parents, mainly because I knew their responses wouldn't be as positive. I put it off for ages and it wasn't until I'd dated my girlfriend for six months that I finally told them I was in a relationship with a woman, when my dad asked if I was seeing anyone. They responded as if it was something very serious and sad, and my mum cried a lot. It felt horrible like I had disappointed or hurt them. What made matters worse was that my best friend and cat of ten years, Felix, suddenly passed away that week from heart failure (unrelated to me coming out! He already knew and was cool with it) so I felt really alone and isolated. My sister helped me a lot and talked to my mum for me, which really helped. It made me realise that I hadn't disappointed them, but that my parents were worried for me and also upset that they hadn't known and were struggling to come to terms with that. It made me realise that their reactions had more to do with them, rather than a rejection of me. It's so much better now, and both them and I are much more comfortable with it! And yes, they have met my girlfriend (several times) and it went really well!
When I think about it retrospectively, the hardest person to come out to, was myself. It was pretty tough with my dad because he didn’t seem to mind at the beginning, but then took at least 6 or 7 years to get over it. My mom cried, because it was in the early nineties during the AIDs crisis, so she was scared for me. To her, it also meant that she would have fewer grandchildren. The first person I came out to was my best friend Alek. I was very mysterious and overdramatic, like teenagers can be sometimes - everything is the end of the world. She was freaking out, because she thought I was going to tell her I had terminal cancer or something like that.
When I told her, she was completely relieved and assured me she was completely ok with it, that it really didn’t matter to her and that she’ll remain friends with me. So I came out to my male friends, mostly because I was tired of them setting me up with girls, and they didn’t mind at all. I ended up coming out to everyone in high school, the idea was if everyone knew then I’d have more chance to have sex! No one else came out though, but I didn’t get bullied either. There would be jokes or stupid comments sometimes but I’d be really sarcastic about it. Since, I was not comfortable with being gay for a while, I didn’t want to be associated with campness. I identified as queer, because it had some punk idea about it. But in the end, I actually grew up being comfortable with my sexuality and accepting of other gay guys. After high school I didn’t really come out per se, it just came up naturally in conversations. As for the rest of my family, I came out to the people I really care about, nevertheless I didn’t lie about my sexuality.
Susan, twitter follower
When I became sexually aware, it was totally clear that I had an equal like for all genders and that I was never going to be in a pigeon hole of one sexuality or gender. At school I was in the company of entirely boys, but had clear sexual feelings for a girl of my age from the age of 15 until my early twenties. Nothing ever materialised with her but I was aware other boys were interested in me sexually and I felt ready to experiment. The real coming out as bisexual waited until university and I think the greater freedoms enabled me to grow in confidence emotionally. I joined the university LGBT group and met with like-minded people. The actual coming out as bisexual was to three friends in our student bar and I told them, quite clinically, that I was both attracted to and sexually active with all genders and had been since school. One of them laughed and asked me if I had really thought people hadn’t known! She meant it in a supportive way and said the fact no one had said anything was because no one had any issue with my sexuality. We decided to have a coming out bar crawl and I invited anyone and everyone.
What advice would you give to someone who's thinking about coming out?
Don’t spend your whole life waiting for the right time to tell people if they are important to you. There are as many ways of being LGBT as there are LGBT people – don’t get hung up on the weird cracked mirror of LGBT life the media offers. Oh and also if your only experience of other gay men is logging into Grindr with a faceless profile, you’re probably not going to get a realistic impression of what gay life is actually like and how we treat each other – putting a face pic up makes people more likely to treat you like another person. We don’t all spend our lives asking for bareback sex, begging for more chems or inviting strangers to group orgies at 7 am on Tuesday morning!
Even though you may only have to come out once to family, you do seem to have to come out over and over again when you start a new job. I have been lucky in my workplaces that there were other LGBT people working there too, so it felt “normal” for me to do that.
At the end of the day you have to be true to who you are and that can be harder for some and easier for others. I was extremely lucky in that my family never saw it as a big issue. They just wanted me to be happy.
My advice would be to try to have a support network in place, so you have someone to talk to if things don't go perfectly. If you don't feel you have any friends or family members that can be that support network, there are several LGBTQ+ charities and helplines who can offer support and ways to prepare! I would also say try not to take it personally if people respond by being upset or confused – some people just need to go through a sort of mourning period before they can come to terms with it. Remember that for a lot of people LGBTQ+ issues and lives seem very removed from their own, especially if they are from an older generation. There might be a sort of adjustment period for them that can be difficult for you, but more often than not things get a lot easier over time, so have patience and remember that how they come to terms with it is their process to deal with – you don't have to take it on or feel responsible!
Don't worry too much, just do it when you think you’re ready, and give people time. Some people might not accept it at first; remember, it takes a while to accept it yourself so don’t expect people to process it instantly or in the next few days. We live in a largely heterosexual society, full of prejudices, so we all need time dealing with our sexuality.
Look at http://ditchthelabel.org, which is where this next paragraph is taken: “When you are ready to come out (you will know when the time feels right) – don’t think you have to tell everyone straight away – it’s not a race! Choose one person who you trust more than anyone else – a friend, sibling, parent/guardian or teacher. As soon as you’ve opened up to the first person things will seem a thousand times easier and clearer for you. It’s an age old saying but talking really does help. You’ll also have someone you can talk to and ask advice from when coming out to others.”
Further support for LGBTQ+ people
Whatever way you get there, coming out and being true to yourself is an amazing and brave thing to do! Remember that you are not alone, and there are lots of support out there if you need it. Switchboard is a confidential LGBTQ+ helpline that is trans and non-binary friendly, and can help you by talking things through with you. They are don't end a call until you tell them, and all their volunteers are self-defined LGBTQ+.
If you are LGBTQ+ and homeless, at risk of homelessness or in a domestic abuse situation, Stonewall Housing can offer housing advise, support and help to get you to a safe environment.
If you are or have suffered from domestic abuse, sexual abuse or hate crime, GALOP have a national helpline, and offers counselling and support. They also support lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people who have had problems with the police or have questions about the criminal justice system.