Coming to terms with the fact you're gay is one thing, but telling the world is quite another. Here are some tips on making it easier.
Understanding your sexuality is something that can involve a lot of soul-searching - it's been said the first person you need to come out to is yourself. Sharing your secret with friends, family or colleagues, though, opens a new can of worms. Even in these more enlightened times homophobia is still common. It's not always easy to know how people close to you will react to your news, regardless of whether or not you've been brought up in a tolerant environment.
"Coming out can be really risky and when it goes badly it can lead to bullying, ostracism, domestic abuse and homelessness," says Petra Davies, a sex and relationships advice columnist. "And even when it goes well in terms of getting support from friends and family, that doesn't mean the rest of the world will agree, particularly if you're still at school."
Knowing when the moment is right is crucial, so ask yourself if this is a good time to share your news. Are you sure about your sexuality? What's your motive for coming out now? Never come out in anger, or during an argument, your announcement may come as a huge shock to people - especially parents. If you want them to understand who you are it's important not to use your sexuality as a weapon.
Come out to an expert
One helpful way of getting started is to talk everything over confidentially with an expert. Organisations like the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard (LLGS) offer confidential, non-judgemental listening. "We speak to everybody, regardless of their sexual or gender orientation - you don't have to live in London, either," says Phil Nichol of the LLGS. "Whether you want to do anything about your feelings is entirely up to you and your particular situation."
Talking on the phone is a good first step. It's anonymous and there's no pressure. You can share your worries and decide if the time is right. They'll also be able to point you in the direction of local Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender youth groups, who may be able to offer drop-in services, or events where you can meet other young people in a similar position.
It's important not to use your sexuality as a weapon.
If you're worried about how your friends or family are going to react, it may pay to test the water first. Find a way to subtly bring up homosexuality in conversation, perhaps through something that you've seen elsewhere, like on TV or in the newspaper. It's a good way of sussing out how accepting and open-minded people might be when you decide to share your secret.
- Expect a variety of reactions - some people will be happy for you, while others may greet your news with anger or denial.
- Remember, some, especially those with strong religious beliefs or members of the older generation, may have little past experience with homosexuality.
- Their views on the subject may be bigoted, but if you take the effort to explain things to them they may change their mind and accept you for who you are, given time.
Breaking the news
Coming out to the most important people in your life is a huge step, but many report the more people you tell, the easier it becomes. A good first step is talking to some trustworthy friends or a close sibling first. Knowing the truth is out there can be a weight off your mind, and the confidence you'll gain from supportive mates may be a big help when it comes to telling people who might not take it so well.
Many people delay breaking the news to their family for fear of rejection. If you're worried it could cause real upset or confrontation, consider putting something down in a letter. It'll give you a chance to explain your fears and answer any questions you think your family members might have, without the intensity of a face-to-face meeting.
Parents may experience a range of emotions, from anger or denial to guilt. Reassure them it's not their fault and you're still the same person you were before. Suggest they talk to an organisation like Familes And Friends Of Lesbians And Gays, who can provide information or put them in touch with other parents who should be able to provide insight and support.
Telling the world
Modern technology can prove helpful. Social networking sites like Facebook are a helpful way of telling a wider group of friends simultaneously. Direct message people, or invite them to a private group - it's a great way of telling everyone you care about personally and bypassing the rumour mill.
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