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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay

Are you making a decision to start letting the world know you've found your sexual identity? Good for you! It's a major step to take, and I've a few words of advice, having done this myself and seen a good many others do it—some well, some not so well. I've divided the topic into parts.

1. Teenagers Coming Out

This is the hard decision. No matter who you tell, the news that you are gay or lesbian is so juicy that in spite of solemn promises of confidentiality, it will spread and reach the ears of unsympathetic homophobes. Bullying is likely, even violence in some situations. Some gay people have body types or personalities that are stereotypical, they have no choice but to be out to everyone. Others can hide with varying degrees of success. If you're in this situation, go immediately to "It Gets Better" at, the Dan Savage organization designed to give guidance to teenagers dealing with bullying (there is a book of this same name by Dan Savage and Terry Miller). What you will find there is true. It does get better, and you will get stronger. If you bravely come out, first of all be proud of yourself for your courage. What a step! Know also that, as explained below, you are helping so many others by this daring action. I cannot tell you how much I admire you, having hidden myself when in high school (granted it was the 60s).

2. Telling Yourself You're Gay

I've posted about my own journey where the biggest step was getting over the idea that because I could have successful and enjoyable sex with women that meant I was straight. Never mind that all my dreams were about sex with men, I was STRAIGHT, damn it! See my post "How To Tell If You're Gay," August 31, 2010, for more on this topic. But let me add that every moment you waste in pretense means you are postponing the life you should leading, a life that will be very rewarding if you can finally talk truth to yourself.

3. Telling Your Parents and Family

This is hard too, but a necessary step. First of all, on some level they already know. Parents watch their children very carefully just for this sort of issue. If you've shown little or no interest in the opposite sex, they've noticed that even if they haven't said a word to each other. My father told me late in his life that when I got married, "Both your mother and I breathed a sigh of relief." When I did tell them, at Christmas 1976, I made them sit down, hold hands, and then said, "It's time I told you that I have always been, am now, and will always be a homosexual." I thought Mom would squeeze Dad's hand off. I had brought with me books to give them about being the parents of homosexuals and, to their credit, they both read all three of them (but when they put them on their bookshelf in the closet they turned the spines to the wall!). Dad told my sister if was just a "phase," and he died before I became heavily involved in gay civil rights in Ohio. I like to think that if both of them could see everything that eventually happened they'd be very pleased with me.

But you know your own parents. What's likely to occur? Acceptance? Ostracization? As far as books to give parents, go see for a list of good ones. That site will also direct you to PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), a wonderful organization for parents of gays, and having support groups all over the globe.

Siblings tend to be easier to reveal your sexual orientation to, but you also know them. If you have more than one sibling, tell the easiest one first and enlist his/her help with parents and others.

Finally, tell your family that difficult as this all is, coming out is ultimately an act of love. If you had decided not to tell them, then you've also decided to cut them out of a major portion of who you really are, and lie to them steadily about your life. What family would think that a good thing? One other blessing is this: when it spreads throughout the entire family (grandma, cousins, Uncle Louie) the homophobes among them will likely go silent or be condemned by the rest of the tribe.

4. Telling Your Friends

This is the fun part. In the beginning when you first tell a friend it will be scary. But friends are friends for a reason. Like family they may already suspect, and, in any event, if they're truly friends it won't make any difference. If they can't handle it, who wants a friend like that? The line I learned to use is this: "We are such good friends that I have to tell you something important. A number of people who I don't like half as well as you, know that I'm gay, and it's time you knew it as well." Be prepared for questions. Make sure this person knows you are not coming on to him/her.

5. Homophobes

Homophobic people usually react badly because they are terrified of their own homosexual desires. Remember that. If brave enough, you might ask, "Why does this bother you so much?" See my post, "Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory," April 25, 2010, for more on this.

6. Euphoria

When my partner Jerry and I moved in together he was in the closet to everyone who knew him (though he'd had great many sexual encounters in his 26 years). First I made him come out to his parents (quite a story there—his mother thought I had made him gay, which was wrong, but she and I straightened that out), and then I sent him into the world to tell others. The first time he told a friend he came home all enthused. The woman he'd chosen had welcomed the news. Jerry found that incredibly liberating, a reaction he hadn't expected. So then he told someone else and then someone else and then someone else, selecting what he called "the victim of the day." He was thrilled. Jerry was suddenly free to be Jerry.

These days everyone who knows me is aware I'm gay (including thousands of my former law students), and I no longer deal with the issue of coming out except with strangers. I don't bring it up, but if the fact I'm gay is relevant (and the situation safe, say talking to someone sitting next to me on an airplane) I'll casually mentioned it. Most people have no reaction, but if it's an issue for them, what do I care? It's not my problem if they're bigots.

Coming out is important. It's important not just so you can live your life freely (no small reason), but also because as we do this singly, by the tens, hundreds, millions, we've forced society to change and look at us anew. All over the globe—in a breathtakingly short period of time—homosexuals have gone from being pariahs to constituting just another component of the human experience. When you come out you're advancing this movement, doing your share. You will silence some homophobes, you will cause people who didn't think about homosexuals as people to finally do so, and you will put a face on the topic that won't be ignored when these same friends notice others being homophobic and, indignant, speak up.

So that's my advice for you, blog reader: Come out and help make the world a better place. ________________________________________
Related Posts:
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,”September 3, 2010
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011

"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"On Being a Gay Sports Fan," March 9, 2012
"Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi," April 15, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
“I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts To Ban Gays,” July 24, 2012
"Disowning Your Gay Children," October 9, 2013
"Republican Politicians: Reluctant Homophobes?" November 26, 2013
“Gays Will Be Able To Marry in All States By July of 2016 (and Maybe 2015): A Prediction,”       February 14, 2014
“Is It Legal To Discriminate Against Gay People?” March 19, 2014
“Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality and Gay Marriage?” June 29, 2014
“Are Gays Really Just 1.6% of the U.S. Population?” July 22, 2014

“A Gay Hoosier Lawyer Looks at Indiana’s RFRA: The Religious Bigot Protection Act,” March 30, 2015;
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013


  1. what if your parents told you that " if you are gay then we will kill you" is it still necessary to tell them now? i am a senior in high school so really i got 1 year left to live in the house with them

  2. Of course, don't tell them. But these things have a way of revealing themselves whether you want them to or not, so you need a back-up plan: a place of safety to go to in an emergency. Be very careful.

    Douglas Whaley

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