When I came out as gay at sixteen years old, I remember feeling like I shed a stiff layer of skin that kept me from moving freely. I felt so confident; I felt like I climbed a mountain and screamed to the world that I’m gay, and there was nothing the world could do to stop me from growing into my final gay form.
However, what no one tells you is just how many more times you’ll have to come out in your life. They don’t tell you that so many more times after your initial coming out, you’ll have that same stomach drop that you felt at first when you have to tell anyone else. It might not be as intense, but it’ll be reminiscent of that first time.
Society has been built in such a way to where we’re expected to be cis and straight. We’re raised to believe that if we identify outside of these expectations, something is wrong with us, and that alone is a struggle that we have to work so hard to overcome. I am much less nervous about coming out to people today, but when I have to tell straight people (especially in person) that I’m gay, I still feel some butterflies fluttering away, because it’s never certain that they’re going to be accepting.
And I think this is only one of many reasons why no one should be pressured to come out. It’s an absolute struggle to figure out how to come out for the first time, but after that, you have to be mentally prepared to do it for the rest of your life. Sure, it gets easier over time, but that doesn’t always mean it will be easy to start. It can take an incredible amount of determination, motivation, and strength to even make that first step into letting people in on an important part of your identity.
As someone who’s been out for over ten years, I can promise you it gets so much easier after that initial moment, but not necessarily because the circumstances around you get better. It’s because you get better.
My coming out story went in a few different directions. When I came out to my dad, it felt more like I was backed into a corner to come out. That may not have been what he was aiming for, but it was the only answer that made sense when he kept asking me why I wasn’t interested in any of the girls he saw come up and hug me when he was picking me up from high school. When I told him, I received what felt like a non-response. It was a quiet car ride, after that. Maybe he was processing. Maybe I was the first gay person he ever met. All I know is I felt too scared to ask how he felt. I’m grateful that he continued to take care of me, and eventually pay for my college tuition, but the feeling of that moment never really left me.
When I came out to my mom, it was in a heated moment after she made a homophobic comment while we were at the store. I called her out, and she took the hint that I called it out because it’s how I identify. I could tell that it came as a shock to her. It probably never occurred to her that her son would be something she was so grossed out by, but I could see the gears turning right after I told her. As if I was looking into her soul through the look on her eyes, I could see the foundations of her engrained thought processes crumbling and starting to build anew. Being gay couldn’t be an awful thing if she had a son who identified, that way.
When I came out to friends, some said they accepted and loved me, and continued to treat me the way they always had. Others straight up stopped talking to me. They never made it apparent that they dipped out of my life because of me being gay, but it wasn’t hard to put two and two together. You get pretty good at reading people when you’re constantly evaluating the pros and cons of telling someone that you’re not straight.
I will say that my coming out was received way more positively than some others, which is evident by 40% of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQIA+. While I definitely had it better than others, some aspects of it weren’t necessarily ideal, and that did affect my mental health, in the long run. There was a lot of evaluation I had to do regarding whether or not the people in my life truly accepted me, a lot of looking inward on how I felt about how they treated my gayness overall, and a lot of emotional awareness to know which connections to invest in, and which ones to cut off. For me, coming out as gay meant saying “this is who I am, and I’m not willing to compromise on that.” Any connections in my life willing to invalidate that, or suggest that I’m wrong for doing so, were not connections that would help me grow into my queerness.
And since making that choice, I have flourished.
Coming out is liberating. You will actually feel like you’re floating the moment you come out, after you shed a light on this part of you that’s only known how to exist in the dark. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easy. Whether or not you get the reaction you receive, there is always more coming out to do. It doesn’t just happen once. Even after you come out, there’s still more work to do that can feel just as difficult as coming out.
But that shouldn’t deter you from coming out, because you deserve to come out. You deserve to attract people who will love and support you for who you’ve always been, not who they hoped you would be. You deserve to live a life without feeling like you constantly have to hide something that is so integral to who you are, that should never have to hide, in the first place.
But you deserve to do it safely, and when it feels right for you.
Just know that wherever you are in that journey into coming out, even if it’s considering not coming out at all, you are valid, you are important, and there’s a queer community full of people who will accept you wholeheartedly. No matter how anyone reacts, and no matter whether or not you even decide to take those steps out of the closet, just know there are people just outside of that door, ready to tell you that you are loved.