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Ask Anna: Ready to come out? Tips for a smooth and empowering experience

Anna Pulley, Tribune News Service on

Published in Lifestyles

Dear Anna,

I’m a 20-year-old college student. I'm majoring in computer science and have a small but pretty great group of friends, and a campus job that keeps me busy. I’m also part of the university’s LGBTQ+ club, but hardly anyone in my life outside the club knows that I’m gay.

Here’s the thing: I’m ready to come out. I’ve known this about myself for a while, and I feel confident in my identity. However, the thought of actually telling people still feels overwhelming. I’m concerned about how to bring it up and how to handle potential negative reactions, even though I believe most people will be supportive.

My family is pretty open-minded, and I think they will accept me, but I’m still nervous about their reactions. As much as is possible, I want the coming out process to be smooth and positive. How can I ensure that I do this in a way that’s authentic to me and minimizes stress? — Ready to Be Me

Dear RBM,

Happy Pride month! First, let me say how gay-proud I am of you for reaching this point in your journey. As Sterling Graves put it, “Pride is important because someone tonight still believes they’re better off dead than being themselves.”

Coming out is a deeply personal and courageous step, and it's clear you've given it a lot of thought. Navigating this process with authenticity and grace is the goal, and you’re already on the right track by seeking advice on how to make it as smooth as possible.

While the process varies wildly from person to person, here’s a general road map that you can tailor to fit your individual experience.

Start by identifying one or two people who you feel confident will react positively. It could be a close friend, a trusted family member, or even a mentor. (I first came out to my gay high school teacher, who was, unsurprisingly, supportive.) You mentioned being part of your university’s LGBTQ+ club, which is fantastic because it means you already have a supportive community. Sharing your truth with someone who’s likely to be affirming can build your confidence and provide a cushion of support as you move forward.

Having a few positive reactions under your belt can help build your confidence. Once you’ve had some good experiences, you can start sharing with others you’re less sure about, gradually widening your circle. This approach allows you to gain momentum and resilience as you go.

Also, you don’t have to tell everyone, particularly people who aren’t close to you or with whom you’re not in regular contact. It can be tempting to want to contact that great-aunt who calls you at Christmas or a second cousin, once removed — to cross them off your list in one fell swoop, but it’s not necessary. Even if you have a big family, keep your list on the small side. Besides, family rumor mills are strong — telling one or two people will often send the message up the pipeline.

When it comes to the actual moment of coming out, consider these steps:

 

Choose the right setting: Opt for a calm, private environment where you can have an uninterrupted conversation. This might be over a casual coffee or a quiet walk. A setting where both you and the person you’re telling feel comfortable can make the conversation flow more naturally.

Keep it simple and honest: You don’t need a grand speech. Start with something straightforward like, “I’ve been wanting to share something important with you. I’m gay.” From there, you can let the conversation unfold. Honesty and simplicity often make for the most authentic and clear messages.

Prepare for questions: People may have questions — some will be deeply personal and more than a little awkward, and that’s OK. You don’t have to answer them! But, you know, you can. Be ready to answer a few as best as you can. It’s also perfectly fine to say, “I’m still figuring some of this out myself,” if you don’t have all the answers yet.

You’re very right that you can’t control how others will react. Some responses may surprise you in good ways, while others might disappoint or downright depress you. Remember, their reactions are more about them and their own processes than about you.

(You will forget this but try not to. It’s really, really not about you. It’s their baggage and biases and trauma.)

Regardless of what happens, stay grounded in your truth. Your coming out is about being true to yourself. Regardless of how others respond, hold on to the fact that you’re embracing your authentic self, and that’s incredibly powerful and important.

As I mentioned earlier, have a support system ready. Make sure you have someone to lean on after you come out. Whether it’s a friend from the LGBTQ+ club or a counselor at your campus, an online group, or your own therapist, if you have one, having a support system in place is crucial. If a conversation goes poorly, you’ll want someone to turn to for reassurance and strength.

Lastly, embrace the journey. Coming out isn’t a one-time event; it’s a lifelong process. You’ll have many, many opportunities to share your story in different contexts, with new people, and in varying ways. Each time you do, it’ll likely get a bit easier, and you’ll become more adept at navigating different reactions and responses.

In the words of Harvey Milk, a trailblazer for LGBTQ+ rights, “Hope will never be silent.” By coming out, you’re not only giving yourself the gift of authenticity, but you’re also contributing to a world where others can find hope and courage in your example.

As you step into this new chapter, hold onto the fact that you are not alone. Many have walked this path before, and many will follow, inspired by the daily braveries, voices, struggles and triumphs of those doing the hard, simple work of being true to themselves, day in and day out.

Wishing you strength, pride and an abundance of support on your journey. And glitter. Bring glitter.


©2024 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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