Coming Out: Everything You Need to Know (XXL Guide 2021)
If you have landed on this page, it is probably not by chance, but because you want to know how you can best come out. In this detailed guide, we answer exactly this question (and much more). It doesn't matter if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans* or whatever - we are here for you! 🙂
Don't take this text as a set of rules, but rather as inspiration - in the end it is your decision if, when and how you come out.
What does "Coming Out" Mean?
The 5 Phases of Coming Out (a Bit of Theory)
Vorbereitung auf dein Outing
Tipps für dein Coming-out
So schreibst du einen Coming-out Brief (Anleitung)
Coming out ... und dann?
1. What does "Coming Out" Mean?
Coming out is already a widely used term these days. The dictionary Oxford Languages defines it as "the act of revealing one's sexual orientation or gender identity". Coming out refers to all sexualities, romantic orientations and identities.
- Why is coming out necessary at all?
Wouldn't it be great to live in a world where you don't have to come out at all, because it's just "normal" to be who you are and love who you want? Of course it would! But unfortunately it doesn't correspond to reality. Most people grow up in a heteronormative (the assumption that everyone is heterosexual) and cisnormative (the assumption that everyone identifies with the gender assigned at birth) society. If the majority of people around you, and maybe even your own family, live by such values, then it is self-explanatory that we are forced to come out as a way of saying "Hey, I'm not what you just assume I am!".
- The inner & outer coming out
When coming out, one can distinguish between inner and outer coming out (even if the border between the two is very blurry). The inner process includes everything up to the point where you realise that you are not heterosexual and/or cisgender. For example, the realisation that one is gay, aromantic, etc.. The outer coming out is about sharing this realisation with others.
- Coming out is independent of age
Coming out often takes place in adolescence and young adulthood. However, there is no "deadline" or right and wrong until when you have to come out. There are always people who come out at an advanced age, who are already heterosexually married and have children. The search for oneself is a process in life that simply takes time - for some more, for others less.
2. The 5 Phases of Coming Out (a Bit of Theory)
We have already touched on the inner and outer coming out. The whole process of coming out is often divided into 5 phases, which we would like to explain to you here. If you are in the middle of your coming out or are planning to come out, it can help you to better understand where you are right now and to look at the "big picture". The 5 phases we present here are not set laws. The duration and intensity with which you go through these phases are very individual.
- Pre-Coming Out:
This phase often begins in childhood with the feeling of being different. What exactly this experienced otherness is, however, cannot yet be understood exactly. Especially children often have the intuition that they cannot share these feelings with others - not even with their parents. Due to the often hetero- and cisnormative environment (the assumption of others that all people are hetero and cisgender), one has the feeling that something is "wrong" with one, up to subtle feelings of fear and guilt.
- Inner Coming Out:
This phase usually starts with understanding what exactly this feeling of otherness is. That is, that one feels attracted to one's own gender, for example, or that one cannot identify with one's birth gender. Often there is a frightening feeling of being different from others. Also, already known negative images and prejudices of the sexuality, romantic orientation or gender identity in question lead to an inner conflict. Often, these are not questioned at first because they are already strongly internalised (this is also called internalised homophobia). This phase is often accompanied by the central fear of being excluded by the environment.
- Stigma Avoidance:
We are probably all familiar with various negative images and prejudices against queer people. Exactly these lead to an inner struggle in this phase, as one does not want to belong to such a group under any circumstances. This can go so far that you try to suppress your feelings and force yourself to become heterosexual or to conform to the norms of society.
In this fourth phase of coming out, one's own wishes and needs, or the pressure of suffering, become so strong that one begins to question one's previous assumptions and inner attitudes. This usually leads to seeking out relevant information and later also making contact with "fellow sufferers". The more one's own self-acceptance grows, the stronger the positive feelings of liberation and relief become, even euphoria at having finally found oneself.
- Outer Coming Out:
In the final phase of coming out, you finally share your self-knowledge with other people, e.g. your family or friends. The more positive reactions and support you receive, the stronger your positive self-perception and identification with your queerness becomes. By the way, this phase remains throughout your life, as there are always situations in which you have to decide whether to open up to others or to keep it to yourself (for now).
3. Preparing For Your Coming Out
Even before you actually come out, there are things you can do to prepare yourself. Of course, each of us is different, so there is no fixed guideline that you have to follow. Just have a look which of the tips appeal to you and are feasible for you.
- Each of us is on a different journey
There is no deadline or anything else by which you have to come out. Some people come out very early, while others do it in their later years and others only confide in a few people without making it completely public. There is no right or wrong here - so decide what feels best for you.
- If you want to come out ... then do it!
There are many reasons to come out, for example ...
... you are in a relationship and want to finally make it public.
... you would like to start a relationship.
... you want to meet like-minded people.
In the end, it doesn't matter what your reasons are, if you want to come out, then do it! 🙂
- Not to Come Out is Fine as Well!
If you don't want to come out, for whatever reason, that's totally fine! Many people worry because they think they are not honest, too cowardly or something else. No! No matter what your reasons are, it's okay if you want to keep it to yourself.
- Coming Out is Not Black And White
Coming out is rarely an "all or nothing" thing. Even if there are some people who blurt out their news via social media or at a major event, you can decide for yourself how to go about it. For example, consider only telling your close friends and people who are close to you. This way you can come out step by step and learn to deal with the new situation.
- Think About Where You Feel Safe
Unfortunately, there are still some areas in life where you are discriminated against or get strange looks because of your queerness. If you feel safe in your environment, then of course that's great! However, if you are unsure, think about the people and the environment in which you really feel safe and accepted. This could be family members, friends, clubs, groups or colleagues.
- Feel Your Way Forward to Gauge Reactions
We can never know how people will react to our coming out. However, by bringing up queer issues you can get a feel for how the people around you deal with them. This is a good indicator of how they will react to your coming out.
- Build a Support Network
Maybe you already have friends, relatives or teachers you have come out to. If not, think about which friends, guidance counsellors or contact points could give you support. Confide in them, tell them what you are going to do and that you might need their help - as a shelter, a listening ear or emotional support for a while.
4. Tips For Your Coming Out
The time has come! You are ready to share the big news with the outside world! Here we would like to give you some tips that can support you with your coming out. Of course, it is up to you to decide whether and how you want to implement these points.
- Start With a Single Person
Especially if you are very unsure and scared about coming out, you can consider starting with just one person. This could be a person you trust completely or even a queer person who has already come out themselves. This person can then also support you in your further coming out process and stand by your side.
- Think About How Exactly You Want To Do It
Coming out does not necessarily have to happen in a face-to-face conversation (unless you want it to). For example, you could mention something incidentally like "My girlfriend/boyfriend ..." or talk more about queer issues. Emails or letters are also popular, because you can think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Instructions on how to write such a coming-out letter can also be found here in the guide (further down the page).
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OurComingOut.com is a project by us - the RainbowWarriors. We are a virtual youth movement by & for queer youth and young adults. As a strong team we work together to advocate LGBTQ+ & mental health issues.
- The Right Time And The Right Place
Although there is no right or wrong time or place, you should think about what is most comfortable for you. For example, if privacy is important to you, you should not do it in a public place where other people may overhear. However, if you are concerned that the person you are coming out to may become physically aggressive, a public place is recommended. Also consider whether you would like to have someone by your side who you have already come out to. This person can then support you.
- Prepare For Counter-Questions
Your counterpart may ask you counter-questions. These may be purely out of interest, or they may try to "convince" you that you are not gay, lesbian or whatever. Whatever the questions, it is important to know that you do not HAVE to answer questions if you do not want to (even if the person means well).
- Conversation Starter
From our experience, one of the hardest parts of coming out is starting the conversation. So here are some conversation starters for you on how to start a conversation:
"After thinking about it a lot, I realised that ..."
"You are extremely important to me, so I really want to tell you something ..."
"I have realised that I ..."
- Give The Other Person Time And Space
Even very open-minded people may need some time to process the news after you came out. Also remember that a lack of reaction is not necessarily negative. Many people are just unsure how to react and what is the "right" thing to do at that moment. For example, you could tell them that it's okay if they don't know what to say, but that it's important for you to hear that they accept you for who you are.
5. How To Write a Coming Out Letter (Step-By-Step Instructions)
As mentioned above, a letter is a good way to calmly sort out your feelings and put them on paper. In addition, the well-known coming out letter is great if you just can't bring yourself to tell someone in person. Here are some tips on how to write your own coming out letter.
- The Length Does Not Matter
Your coming-out letter can be as long - or short - as you want it to be. A letter is the perfect way to express your emotions freely, so you can just write away and then sort everything out logically and write it down again. It doesn't matter if you end up with one or 10 pages - if you're happy with it, it's perfect!
- Forget About Grammar Rules
The purpose of your letter is to tell a person something, not to win a grammar prize. Just let your thoughts flow freely and don't let any sentence structure rules or complicated grammar slow you down.
- Write About The Past, Present & Future
With this little tip, you can make your letter extra deep. Write about how you felt about yourself in the past, what it means to you now to finally share it with person XY and what wishes/plans you have for your future.
- Get Prejudices Out of The Way
If the person to whom the letter is addressed is not very familiar with the queer world, a letter is the perfect way to change this. Address any myths, stereotypes or common misconceptions that may exist.
6. Coming Out ... And Then?
The outing in front of one or more people is now behind you ... and now what? First of all, congratulations! We know how much courage this step takes and are super proud of you! We would like to give you some suggestions on what you can do with your life now.
- You Will Have Coming Outs All Your Life
In many situations in the future, you will have to decide whether to tell others your little secret or keep it to yourself. So coming out is not a one-time event, but rather a long, exciting journey through life. But don't worry: as time goes by, you will become more and more confident with the person you are, and it will become easier and easier for you to tell new people.
- Support Other People With Their Coming Out
Think about whether you would like to help other queer people come out and share your experiences with others. Even if you have decided against coming out, you can still stand up for others (e.g. online or in an anonymous forum). By the way, this website is completely maintained by queer young people. If you would like to take part in this or one of our other online projects, please take a look here: https://www.en.rainbowwarriors.eu/
- Explore Your New Life
The journey to yourself has just begun. You will have so many wonderful experiences and meet unique people. Take advantage of the new freedom you have gained by coming out. Get to know other queer people, attend your first CSD or stand up for other queer people.