The term "Coming Out" is shortened from "coming out of the closet", a metaphor for revealing one's sexual orientation or transgender status.
Coming Out is the process of recognizing, accepting and sharing with others one's sexual or gender identity. Coming out is not a single event, but rather a life-long process. In our society, people tend to assume everyone is heterosexual, so LGBT+ people must continually decide in what situations they want to correct that assumption by disclosing their own orientation or identity. In every new situation, with every new person they meet, they must decide whether or not to come out.
There are many stages to coming out, and the process is not the same for everyone. Generally, the coming out process begins with coming out to oneself. This can be stressful at first, because LGBT+ people, like most people, have learned negative stereotypes and misrepresented information about what it means to be LGBT+.
Later stages involve coming out to others, such as friends, family, co-workers, etc. It can be a long and difficult process because it not only involves confronting the assumption that everyone is "straight", it also involves confronting discrimination and homophobic and transphobic attitudes along the way.
Ultimately, coming out is a freeing experience that allows LGBT+ people to live more authentically, and develop more genuine relationships with others (adapted from HRC.org).
Why Come Out?
Coming out allows the person to develop as a whole individual, allows for greater empowerment, and makes it easier for an individual to develop a positive self-image. By coming out, the person is able to share with others who they are and what is important to them, rather than having to hide or lie about their identity. Coming out frees the person of the fear of being "found out" and helps the avoid living a double life, which can be extremely stressful and demoralizing. Finally, coming out makes it easier to connect with other LGBT+ people, giving a sense of community. Outlining the benefits of coming out is not meant to convince anyone to do so in any situation. Rather, thinking about some of the possible outcomes can clarify an individual's decision by helping to determine the appropriate time for coming out and preparing for possible reactions. Some benefits of coming out include:
· Ability to live one's life honestly
· Building self-esteem by being honest about oneself.
· Developing closer, more genuine relationships with friends and family.
· Alleviating the stress of hiding one's identity.
· Connecting with other people who are LGBT+
· Being a part of a community with others with whom you have something in common.
· Helping to dispel myths and stereotypes by speaking about one's own experience and educating others.
· Being a role model for others.
How do I know if I'm LGBT+?
Behavior is not the same as orientation, so the best thing to do is ask questions: When I fantasize sexually, is it about men, women or both? Have I ever been in love with or had a crush on someone of the same or opposite sex? If you cannot answer these questions, give yourself time. Only you can decide how to identify yourself. What about transgender? Consider the broadest definition: one who bends, challenges or stretches beyond "traditional" gender roles. Do you identify as male to female, or female to male? Do you want to change your physical body, or live androgynously? Any number of descriptions may apply to you, but how you identify is your decision.