Coming Out and Being an Ally: Show Your True Colors
Originally Published: September 10, 2019
Revised: May 29, 2020
For many people who identify as LGBTQ, coming out can be a way to show your true colors. Coming out is the process of sharing your sexual orientation and/or gender identity with others. Homophobia and transphobia—the irrational fear or hatred of lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans people—can make it scary or even unsafe to come out. But even if there isn’t the threat of discrimination or violence, LGBTQ people can feel invisible and therefore hesitant to fully express their true selves, especially when many people assume others are heterosexual and cisgender.
Coming out can be liberating. But when I first decided to come out as bisexual to a few, select friends, I was scared and apprehensive about how they would react. I was nervous that they wouldn’t understand or that they would treat me differently. I was fortunate to be met with love and support. I was so relieved my friends accepted me for who I am and let me know they would be there if I needed them. Having allies helped make my coming out experience a positive one. It made it easier for me to be my genuine self, and it was comforting to know that I had people I could rely on.
It can take some people years to discover and understand exactly how they identify, and how some people identify may evolve over time.
Being out has truly helped me express who I am and build my self-confidence. My experience made me even more interested in understanding others’ coming out experiences—both those of the person coming out and of the people they come out to.
Coming out can be a huge moment, and it’s important to remember to take things at your own pace and not let anyone rush you. It can take some people years to discover and understand exactly how they identify, and how some people identify may evolve over time. As you’re determining how you identify, and if you decide you’d like to identify by a specific term or description, being able to come out can mean support from others.
“Coming out has provided a space where I can actually feel comfortable, welcomed and accepted for who I am,” says Julia, 19, of Easton, PA, who identifies as bisexual.
Coming out is also something that should only be done if you feel safe and secure. “I’m lucky; I had pretty good experiences,” says Cas, 16, of Parkland, FL, who came out as gender fluid to their parents when they were 12. “I’m always happy to share my story because I don’t think there are enough positive coming out stories out there and that just makes it harder for LGBTQ people to come out.”
Friends and Allies
One of the biggest fears LGBTQ individuals can face when coming out is how the people around them will respond. When Aiyden, 16, of North Plainfield, NJ, came out as transgender the summer after seventh grade, he was lucky to be met with support from his best friend, Dylan, 16, also of North Plainfield, NJ. “He was the first friend I came out to,” says Aiyden. “He became my first support, especially in school.” After he came out, Aiyden says that he and Dylan became much closer. “A lot of stress was lifted off my shoulders,” he says. “I wasn’t bottling up everything inside.” Being able to express himself authentically made him more confident and comfortable in his own skin.
At the time, Dylan didn’t know much about what it meant to be transgender. However, he became a supportive ally to his friend and others by keeping an open mind and asking questions. “When he came out, he helped me understand more about what it means to be trans,” says Dylan. “I feel like we both really benefited from that. It helps to know more about the topic so you not only understand how LGBTQ individuals feel, but are motivated to support the community in times of need.”
Coming out to a significant other can be even more daunting than coming out to a friend. Josh, 18, of Alexandria, NJ, decided to come out as bisexual to his girlfriend, Riley, 17, of Frenchtown, NJ, after ten months of dating. “I had come out to a few people already, but it hadn’t been a big deal to me,” he says. (Josh grew up with a progressive, supportive family.) “But after telling her, I felt a sense of relief. Not from her reaction, but instead from the fact that I had felt like I was hiding something from her.” Despite being shocked by the news, Riley says, “I would love him regardless of his sexual orientation. That did not matter to me because you love who you love.” Responding with an understanding, supportive attitude can help the person coming out feel safe. This is a big part of being an ally.
Being a Good Ally
I was curious to hear from some teens about what they thought was important for other allies to know. For Savannah, 17, of Thousand Oaks, CA, being an ally means “being someone you are able to trust, someone who will be on your side through the ups and downs and who will not tolerate the judgment of others.”
For Riley, being an ally is “being available 24/7 to help—giving advice, being a shoulder to cry on, laughing with someone and so much more.”
Homophobia and transphobia exist, so there are times when LGBTQ people need allies to step up and show support. Says Julia, “Allies need to understand that their experience is different than that of a person in the LGBTQ community, and they should actively use their privilege to help make a positive change.”
Allies help to create safe, inclusive environments for LGBTQ individuals: at home, at school, socially and in the workplace. Unfortunately, not everyone has a positive coming out experience. They can face harsh and unfair responses to choosing to authentically express themselves. This is why having allies is so important. Coming to terms with identifying as LGBTQ and coming out can be mentally draining. It’s important that those who are LGBTQ can come out and share their identity safely and at their own pace. When asked what an ally can do to create a positive coming out experience, Cas says they can, “Stay calm and reassure me that their view of me has not changed due to my sexuality [sexual orientation] and/or gender identity.” If someone is coming out to you, try to respond in an accepting and understanding manner and be patient with the person who is coming out.
If you’re not sure how to react to someone coming out or don’t feel like you have a good understanding of LGBTQ issues, listen and ask questions. It can be hard to understand someone else’s gender identity or sexual orientation if you can’t relate, but keeping an open mind is the most important thing. Learning through doing your own research and talking to loved ones is the best way to become a good, supportive ally.
Need someone to talk to about coming about? Visit the LGBT National Youth Talkline or call 1-800-246-7743 (PRIDE).
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