For many people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), coming out of the closet is a huge moment in their lives — and also sometimes one of the most nerve-wracking. It can be so tough and scary that it’s easy to forget that it gets better.
Most people experience an indescribable feeling of freedom and relief from being open and honest about their sexual and gender identities. The freedom to openly be your whole self is unlike any other freedom, but it needs to be done on the person’s own time — not from being pressured into it or “outed” from someone else. In fact, outing a friend or family member can be one of the most damaging and hurtful things someone can do to a person who is struggling to accept their identity.
In honor of Pride month, some of our app users and staff wanted to share their own coming out stories.
SPOILERS: Some common threads you’ll notice are how much having a loving friend, family member, therapist, or community can be when someone is struggling on the path of acceptance. There is also a common agreement that the only regret many people have after coming out is not doing it earlier.
If you’re struggling or know someone else who is: have hope — it does get better.
I was around 12 when I first realized I was attracted to other guys. While my friends were interested in pictures of boobs, I was catching myself wanting to check them out in the locker room. It was a weird time in my youth and since I was both shy and a gentleman, I never pursued any of it. I was juggling a lot of things at the time so I tried not to give it much thought.
Eventually, the fact that I’m gay grew to be more obvious. It became harder to hide from the world that I feared wouldn’t accept this part of me. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t all that meaningful and it was just my hormones messing with me. In high school though, I had my first real crush and that’s when I finally understood that this wasn’t just sexual attraction, but also emotional. It was textbook young love in every sense except one — I felt it for someone of the same sex. There was no textbook that accepted and normalized love between two young men.
My biggest fear was that I would lose the love and support of my friends and family. I was blessed with an incredible group of friends and a family that always had my back. I never wanted to lose that. As loving as they were, though, almost all of them made jokes or little side comments about LGBT people and that had me living firmly in the closet until I just couldn’t stay in there anymore.
Busting down the closet door
The first person I told was my friend Heather. Heather had friends from other schools who were gay and treated them like she would treat anyone else. She was also one of my newer friends that I didn’t have as much history with and thus less to lose if things went downhill. She took it super well and was one of the main sources of encouragement when it came time to bust down that closet door. Because of her support, I ended up coming out to my sister and eventually most of my core friends and family members.
A few close friends and my sister, Amanda, were my rocks when it came time to come out to the whole world. Poor Amanda was the second person that I told I was gay and was the only member of my family who knew for what must have felt like a lifetime to her (in reality it was maybe a couple of months). There were rumors and gossip at that point, which she had heard through the grapevine, but she was the second person to actually hear it from my lips. As difficult as it was for her, she held that secret well and supported me when it came time to tell Mom and Dad.
Hands down, my parents had the most memorable reactions. I remember being really scared to tell them but decided to tell my Mom first guessing that she would be the more understanding parent. Boy, was I in for a shock!
Don’t get me wrong, my Mom has nothing but love for me, but I didn’t fully understand her expression of it at first. I had to come out to her three separate times until she really believed me. Finally, she sat me down, in tears, and asked me what I thought this meant for my siblings, for her, and for my life.
I didn’t get what she meant at first. I was actually really pissed, thinking, “Really? You think I choose to be gay, Mom? You think it’s going to be easy for me? If anyone has it difficult it’s me. I am living my life, not my sister’s, or my brother’s, or yours”.
But in time I understood what she meant: she was afraid of what it would mean for my life, the violence and discrimination I would face, and how it might hurt or endanger my siblings if I came out publicly while we were in the same school district. It wasn’t the reaction I expected, but my Mom never stopped loving me and became my #1 supporter. She has continued to love me, cheer me on, and bail my butt out when I hit rock bottom. And that love and support is shared with my partner too, who sometimes I think she might hug more frequently than me, her own son! 😉
My Dad, on the other hand, surprised me in a very different way. I went into the situation scared to death that I was about to lose the awesome father-son relationship that we had. I was dead wrong though.
What was his response, you ask? I can sum it up in two words: “Well, duh.” When those words came out of his mouth I think my jaw might have hit the floor. I was like, “Wait, I’m confused. Come again? Did you just say, ‘well duh’?” I considered myself to be fairly “straight acting” and most people seemed shocked when I came out. I mean, I played sports, I enjoyed camping and fishing, and I even liked country music and classic rock. I guess it goes to show that stereotypes are a bunch of BS!
He laughed and went on to explain to me that as a guy, he was totally aware of all the times I should have been into something, acted a little different, and expressed a desire for things (namely, girls). Yet not once did he see me chasing a girl, looking crushed when a girlfriend and I broke up (yup, I had a few), nor did I ever get hot and bothered around an attractive woman like I was undressing her in my mind. Okay, I give him that. He wasn’t wrong. And as I was getting past my shock, he was already promising me that he would help me tell the rest of the family, will always have my back, and that I was still his son and he will always love me.
Thoughts about coming out
Coming out was an awkward experience, one that I hate anyone must do. But at the same time, it was the most freeing experiences of my life! Am I the same person now that I’m out? Hell yea I am. I still geek out over Star Wars, dream of visiting Middle Earth, love video games and cute animals, and enjoy getting my hands dirty playing and working outside. Just, now I do all that while also being free to express my love for my boyfriend. I was finally able to be my whole self, inside and out.
The only thing I would have handled differently with my coming out is that I wish I had done it earlier. I wish I had mustered up the bravery to admit it to myself and others before hurting the feelings of some girls who I considered friends. I wish I had not let my sister hold onto such a large secret before finally coming out to my folks and brother. In the end, it all worked out. But I wish my journey to freedom would have ended earlier.
Communities are made up of so many different people, with different stories and experiences, and different paths to travel in life. Yet, at the same time, we’re all the same too. Within the LGBT community, we recognize and embrace the diversity of others. We are inclusive and firmly believe that no one should be discriminated against because of whom they love or whether or not their gender identity matches the parts they were born with. We are a community that recognizes and cherishes the differences, as well as the similarities, of each person as they embrace their own humanity. We, like any community, are not perfect, but I love that we strive to be!
Coming out is a process, a process that is all your own. There is no wrong or right way to come out. I encourage you to truly accept and love yourself for all that you are and all that you aren’t. For me at least, that’s where true freedom really begins. There is no better feeling than the freedom you feel when you embrace and empower yourself to live your life out loud.
Coming out can be scary, it can be difficult, and sometimes it doesn’t go as expected. But without a doubt in my mind, it’s worth it all. Surround yourself with people who accept you for who you are and you will thrive. These people may be your family, they may be your friends, or they may be complete strangers who soon become your family. The important people in your life should never shun or mistreat you because of your sexual orientation or gender identity.
You have a unique and fabulous gift to offer the world: you! So don’t half-ass it, give all you are and share that love and positivity with others! I know that the fear is real, but my friend…you are stronger than you know. You got this!