Thursday, October 13, 2011

Coming Out Month: Coming Out Don'ts

When coming out, here are a number of things you might not want to do:

(For the list of Coming Out Dos, please click here.)

Coming Out Don’ts

Don’t be intoxicated. 
You might think a little liquid courage will give you the confidence to come out,  but I don't recommend it.  The words you use might not be the best ones, and you could make an already difficult situation worse.  Better to be completely sober and conscious when you tell someone you're gay.      
Don’t come out in the middle of a fight, argument, or confrontation.
Blurting out that you’re gay in the heat of the moment, when you’re having an argument or fight, might seem like the right thing to do at the time.  But, believe me, it isn’t, particularly if it's your intention to stick it to a loved one by admitting you're gay.  This one will backfire on you, so don't do it.  You'll wish you hadn't.  Wait until you're calm and steady and in control of your emotions and words.        
Don’t be surprised if some people already figured out you’re gay. 
It could be the person you’re coming out to already considered the possibility you’re gay and, even better, accepted that about you.  So much the better.  This will make your job easier.
On the other hand, don't be insulted if someone thought you're gay before you came out.  Don't question it.  It could make your job a lot easier.         
Don’t expect every reaction you receive to be positive. 
Depending on who you tell and what they think about homosexuality, people’s reactions will be different.  Be prepared for that.  Some people’s reactions may be negative, at least initially.  But, upon reflection, they’ll come around and support you, just as you’d hoped they would.  This is what typically happens for most gay and lesbian people.         
Don’t collapse or crumble under the stress of the moment. 
First, have the guts to stand up for yourself and finish the job you start.  And, if the reaction you receive isn’t good, respect yourself enough to walk away.  You’re gay, for goodness sake.  You didn’t kill anyone.  Keep everything in perspective.  
Don’t expect everything you say to be perfect, and don’t get frustrated at yourself if it isn't.    
Yes, you’ll be nervous.  Yes, you’ll probably stutter and stammer as you try to find the right words.  Even if you rehearsed in your mind what you intend to say, you might forget some of it in the moment.  That’s all right.  Remember to breathe and keep going.  You’ll get back on track.  Be patient with and don't judge yourself.     
Don’t mumble. 
You might think you can get away with mumbling a few words and out yourself, the person you're telling accepting you wholeheartedly, But it doesn't work that way.  Be sure the person hears you correctly so there's no confusion about what you said.  The only thing worse than having to come out once is having to come out a second time, to the same person, because you did a sloppy job the first time around.             
Don’t expect coming out to be over quickly.
At the time I came out to my mother, I hadn’t thought about the ball I'd gotten rolling--in other words, all the other people I'd have to come out to in addition.  Not only did I have the rest of my family, but also I had friends and co-workers.  And, because friends come and go and, in my case, because I worked in different locations, I continuously faced the task of coming out, as all gay and lesbian people do to some extent.      
Coming out is a continuous process that takes place over a lifetime, but, the more often you do it, the easier and more natural it becomes.  And the less you care about having to do it.  
Don’t get your sexuality wrong.
Some think telling loved ones they're bisexual is more palatable than admitting they're gay, but I suggest coming out only when you know for sure what your sexual orientation is.  By trying to soften the blow, all you do is create confusion, both for yourself and your loved ones.  Get it right the first time.  Own what you really are and move on.  
Don’t take bad reactions personally. 
Yes, you’re the person who’s gay, who’s sitting down with a family member or friend and admitting your sexual orientation.  So you might think you’re responsible when your family member or friend reacts badly.  But don’t take that on.  It’s not about you.  You are what you are; you can't help that.  Nor can you help your loved one's reaction.  They own that, not you.      
Don’t rush.    
You might want to say what you have to and escape as quickly as possible, leaving loved ones wondering what just happened, but I wouldn’t recommend that.  Unless you and the person you’ve told you’re gay need a cooling off period, in which case you can provide further details at a later date.  Otherwise, while planning to come out, give yourself lots of time to say what needs to be said and to answer any questions or address any concerns that come up. 
Don’t use the word “gay” if you’re not comfortable with it.
When I came out, the term “gay,” and all it stood for, was hard for me.  In fact, I hated the word.  That’s because, even though I’d begun to accept myself and realize being gay wasn’t so bad after all, it felt hard and final and confrontational.  And I didn’t think it described what I was, or how I felt about myself.      
So, instead of saying, “Mom, I’m gay,” try, “Mom, I’m not into girls like other guys are,” or, “Dad, I prefer the company of other guys.”  And go from there.      
Don’t come out in a car moving down the road. 
The first person I came out to, a good friend at the time named Judy, was when we were both in a car.  But the car was parked under the apartment building where I lived at the time.  Judy and I had enjoyed a night of dancing together, we’d gone out for something to eat, and we found ourselves watching the sun come up as we sat in my car, talking about everything, including my homosexuality. 
But I would never have come out to her, or to anyone for that matter, if we’d been in a moving car.  It’s not the time or place.  If you’re driving, and the reaction from the person you’re telling is bad, you could be significantly distracted.  And, if you’re not driving, you could impair the driver’s ability to keep focused on the road.  Either way, you could find yourself in a worse mess than coming out.   
Don’t come out on Facebook or online before your family knows. 
Young people today use websites like Facebook to tell the world everything about themselves.  But coming out online before you sit down with the people important to you is not the right or respectful route to go.  No mother or father should have to learn his or her son or daughter is gay by reading it on Facebook, or, worse, hearing it from someone who’s seen it on your profile or in a video.  There are much better, more effective, ways to come out.   
Don’t avoid talking about it again.
Once you’re out, you don’t have to be in the face of everyone you’ve told, bringing it up again and again.  Respect that each person will need a different length of time to process what you said.  
On the other hand, don’t avoid discussion of it altogether.  If you do, you might give family and friends the impression your coming out never happened.  And they could fall into a comfortable place of denial.  Be sure your loved ones know you’re happy to discuss your sexual orientation, and to answer any questions they may have, when they’re ready.   
Don’t assume people won’t change. 
When my mother reacted badly to learning I was gay, I believed I’d done irreparable damage to our relationship, and things between us would never again be the way they were before.  But I was wrong.  And I thought when my father found out (through my mother), he’d hold it against me for the rest of my life.  But I was wrong. 
People change.  People are resilient, even in the face of what they consider the most difficult and distressing news.  Give those you come out to the benefit of a doubt.  In other words, don’t write anyone off.  Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, people come around.  And you’ll find everything will get back to normal—only this time, you won’t be keeping a big secret, and you'll be able to get on with the life you were meant to live.       


  1. Hey, Rick, half way through "coming out month"! I'm sure you've given people out there a lot of good ideas about how to get through what sounds like a pretty challenging time. :)

  2. Sarah, I have to thank you for your observation.

    As I've been putting all of these posts together, in addition to completing research on the Internet and in books, what occurred to me is exactly what you said: Coming out is indeed a challenging time for anyone who is gay. In all cases, it's life-changing, whether the gay person is outright rejected or comes out of it relatively unscathed.

    What really upsets me is that we have to come out at all, risk losing everything that's important to us, and potentially turn our lives inside out. Should we have to go through that just because we're gay and had no choice in the matter? Those who believe gay is wrong have their answer, but you and I know the correct answer.

    Your understanding and empathy are very much appreciated. Thanks for your interest.

  3. Seems to me a lot of the turmoil comes from parents' expectations of their kids, and the blind assumptions we make for them. A bit like the football coach dad whose son wants to take ballet, there would come a time when the son had to have a challenging conversation, which would probably be really stressful, and might lead to the dad viewing the son in a different light. Which, to me, means we have to allow our children to have the freedom to be whoever they want to be, not to follow our preconceived notions. If you leave religion out of it (yes, please!), from what I've read, a lot of parents have trouble coming to terms with their kids being gay because all of their preconceived ideas fall away..."I won't be able to shopping with my daughter-in-law, you won't have kids (why not?), what will I tell my friends?" There's nothing in that conversation that has anything to do with the woman's son, but has everything to do with her, and maybe that's the problem. Parents should learn to live their own lives, and be happy for their children, regardless of how it will impact their own lives. Sheesh, we raise them to be independent, right?

  4. What a wonderful comment, Sarah. And thanks for taking the time to write it.

    There's an element here of what I wrote at the end of the post titled "A Coming Out Party (Reprise)," but I think you wrote it far more effectively.

    I'm thinking of using a form of your comment in a dedicated post. I hope you don't mind. You raise some great points, and I don't want them lost in a comment few people might read. I'd rather feature them front and center, with the hope of changing the focus on coming out (from those who aren't gay to those who are).

    Thanks again, and my apologies for taking so long to respond.