What to Expect When Coming Out to the Not-So-Accepting
Happy Pride Month! In honor of this month, I thought I would share some unexpected tidbits I learned from my experiences with coming out as bisexual in order to help other people also come out, if they’re currently considering it.
For more context on my particular situation, I grew up in a pretty politically mixed and religious environment. I first came out to friends during high school and later to my family during college. Due to my environment at home being fairly mixed, I received a lot of “lukewarm” responses to coming out from a lot of people—as well as some positive ones, too. I especially wanted to write this piece to address what a person can anticipate in these unexpected, not-exactly-positive, but not-exactly-negative response situations; they can be difficult and emotionally exhausting to navigate.
HUGE disclaimer: no one coming out experience is the same as another person’s, so the tips I’m sharing below might not be helpful to you at all. It’s really important to gauge how people will react and take different precautions for your well-being if necessary.
Expect The Unexpected
It’s good to remember that people will not always react in the way you think they will—whether that be good or bad. I’ve had people who I thought would embrace me with open arms be completely skeptical or uneasy towards me, as well as people who I thought would be skeptical towards me be completely open and understanding. The fact of the matter is that we’re all complex people, and your friends and family might harbor ideas and thoughts towards queer identities that they may not show on the surface.
Questions, Questions, Questions
After coming out, your more “lukewarm” family and friends may have a lot of questions for you. Unless they are intentionally malicious, my advice would be to answer them as honestly as you can, or to direct them to sources where they can find out more about queer subjects, or both if they’re really willing to educate themselves. Of course, that may not be true of everyone, and in the interest of your own mental health it’s important to know when to engage in educational conversations when you want to, and when to simply refuse to at all if the questions themselves are harmful and not worth your mental energy to answer.
In the vein of the above tip, your more uneducated peers may slip up when trying to address your identity. For example, they may spout false stereotypes about queer identities when discussing it with you, or randomly bring up their token LGBTQ+ acquaintance they know from work in show of support (unfortunately, we’ve all been there). Like I said above, in these sorts of moments it’s up to you to gauge how you should respond—up to you to decide if you should educate the person during the conversation, hours later, or at all. By now, I’ve personally developed an ability to determine when people say such problematic things out of pure ignorance and lack of exposure to LGBTQ+ people and when they say them out of willful ignorance; distinguishing the intent behind someone’s words can be a key factor in determining whether or not you should educate them and when.
This one’s a tough one, but the reality of the situation is that you may need to come out more than once to your more “lukewarm” peers. When someone has known you to be identified a certain way for your whole life, they may not know how to properly acknowledge what seems to them to be these “new” aspects of yourself—or feel awkward about acknowledging them, so they don’t at all. This may come off to you as if the person in question has “forgotten” your initial coming out to them. A couple of gentle reminders of your identity to this person over a consistent period of time may be the trick to getting them to become comfortable with it enough to acknowledge it. These sorts of reminders can be subtle in nature, like correcting the incorrectly gendered pronouns they use to refer to your partner, to not-so-subtle, like pulling the person aside to have a clarifying conversation with them.
It Takes Time
Amongst LGBTQ+ people, this phrase has become a bit of an exhausted cliché. Still, there is truth to it. For those skeptical but not exactly rejecting of your identity, it may simply take time for them to grow comfortable with seeing you in what they think is a “new light.” A long stretch of time and even distance from these people can be the opportunity for them to wrangle with not only yourself, but with the prejudices they’ve built up towards queer identities. This can be a painful period, but it’s sometimes a very necessary one. And besides—on the brighter side, you can dedicate this period to working on yourself and surrounding yourself with a friendly and helpful support group (always a must!).
It should go without saying, but coming out is one of the absolute hardest things someone can do. By even taking the steps to do so, a person is committing a radical act in making themselves vulnerable to the world around them—is taking a radical act in choosing to live their truth in a society that conditions them to do otherwise. Unfortunately, the initial “coming out” process is only half the battle, which is why I really hope my tips can give people a heads up on what they may have to expect on their rocky, uphill battle towards love and acceptance—a fate that for some, may never even come.
For queer people, it would be of great help if our cisgendered, heterosexual friends took strides as allies by educating themselves on queer experiences; learning about these experiences and knowing how to lend an empathetic ear to friends and family who may come out to them are all great ways to help normalize the “coming out” process. Normalizing it is a constant struggle: as queer people, we are constantly coming out anytime we enter a new space, whether it be a new job, school, community, or when we make new friends. We constantly have to relive the anxiety and fear that can come with making yourself known to the world as you are. I hope that I can alleviate some of the stress surrounding this whole process, and also hope that one day, we can eventually reach a more accepting future where there will be no need for us to come out at all.