Guidelines I found helpful coming out to religious folks in small town conservative Texas…
Today is National Coming Out Day in the United States. Last year, and the year prior, I posted something specific about my coming out story, or why I felt like it was important to be public about my sexuality for visibility sake.
My thoughts on being ‘out’ have evolved over the years after officially coming out at around the age of 23, and I am learning that is very much due to living suppressed for so many years. How was I supposed to know what the ‘real me’ was when I had been consumed with presenting anything but that self every day of my life leading up to coming out?
Luckily, as I have gradually been coming out more publicly over the years on this journey of self discovery, I have become more confident and bold with presenting myself to the outside world. Multiple times along the way I would have answered that “yes, I have come out,” but was still in the closet in one place or another — with certain family members, anything in a church, in aspects of work, or with certain friend groups, etc — but that has changed a lot as well. I would say now that I am a pretty confidently out and proud man. I live with my partner, run an authenticity blog, and don’t edit my sexuality nearly to the extent that I used to. I definitely still make decisions on when to edit daily though as lined out in a previous post on my blog, but things are still great relatively speaking.
Since being more public about my sexuality and starting BraveNewLove I’ve been able to help out with the coming out process of a couple of folks, and have been asked by many straight allies (parents, friends, siblings etc) on ways they can be supportive during this type of thing. I am by no means an expert on coming out, but I did have to be very calculated and careful when I went about it many years ago due to my upbringing in a conservative and religious small town where homosexuality wasn’t discussed outside of condemnation.
With that in mind, I have put together a couple of tips that might help someone who is in some stage of the coming out process, or for LGBTQ+ allies who are curious on ways to show their support.
I believe that the best thing to do when coming out is to start with someone who you highly trust and believe will support you no matter what. This does not have to be a family member, and usually is best if it is someone who is not an integral part of your life. This is the practice round and chances are, it will be an emotional experience speaking the words “I’m gay” for the first couple of times.
This tip applies even after that first person learns that you are LGBTQ+ because you want to continue taking small steps and coming out to folks that fit the criteria above. The idea is that you get used to saying “I’m gay” enough that you build a confidence in that identity and overtime it matches the confidence that you have inside about being LGBTQ+.
If you are at a point where you can’t think of someone that you can take this first step with, I’d encourage you to turn to one of the folks pasting that they are safe people to come out to on social media because even coming out virtually will be a big step into gaining self acceptance and love for who you are.
I’m one of those folks, so please reach out if you are struggling finding someone to come out to.
For allies — if you ever serve this role, I encourage you to let the person who has chosen you know that they are loved and accepted for who they are.
Build a Foundation
After you have had those initial ‘coming out’ conversations, start building a firm foundation of friends and family members who accept you for who you are. These people can be folks you interact with regularly or virtual as long as you start thinking of them as ‘your people.’ This is the concept of your ‘chosen family,’ and many folks who are from conservative or religious backgrounds should definitely work hard on this phase before moving on to the ‘big coming out’ discussions.
I honestly was not sure how my parents would respond and I did not want to be pressured back into the closet so I actually waited until I was financially independent before letting them know. I also had a very strong ‘chosen family’ of friends in my life that I knew I could go back to in case I was rejected.
For allies — please never make someone’s coming out process about you. “Why did you wait this long to tell me? Why did you come out to them first?” etc. You should definitely have the space to have any feelings and reactions, but not at the expense of the person who has faced systematic and discrimination from society — to the point where even having to come out is a form of discrimination — for years. I’d recommend checking in with another ally about that experience so that you can process through it.
The ‘big coming out’ discussions
After you have started small and have some experience with how you like to go about the conversation, and have built up a group of friends and family as your ‘chosen family,’ you’ll know when you are ready to have the ‘big coming out’ discussions with the folks that are either important to your life or you feel might be less accepting.
This is almost always the parents or other family members who are parental in some nature. I can’t stress enough that you should never rush into this, and I really do believe taking your time in the previous two phases will be better for your mental health and self worth than barreling into conversations that might be hurtful.
I purposely didn’t make this one a separate phase because some folks never get to this step and that is honestly fine — you need to take your time and honor yourself first. I would certainly wish that someone come out to themselves and have a supportive ‘chosen’ family and never fully come out to their parents over going directly to their parents, experiencing hurt and trauma, then have to pick up the pieces the rest of their life.
This tip applies for folks who feel like they are only experiencing moderate acceptance from parents or family members. One thing that can happen is that folks just don’t ask about that part of your life anymore because it bothers them or makes them uncomfortable. Then overtime, they shut out that part of your identity.
This can also be problematic for the person coming out, especially if they don’t have a supportive ‘chosen family,’ because they are not receiving validation for their full authentic self. That is why regular check-ins even as simple as “Just wanted to let you know that I am still gay,” are better than nothing.
Allies — this is a great time when you can proactively check in with the LGBTQ+ folks in your life who need it. Remind them that you accept all aspects of them in whatever way is organic to you.
Hold Space for Evolving Views
The final tip is to basically have patience and hold space for folks to come around. It is likely that you had many years to get comfortable with the idea of being gay and have processed through much of that internally. Similarly, it will take time for folks around you to get used to the idea — especially if they had grand plans for your future as parents sometimes do.
Try to offer grace when folks slip up in good faith and have courage to speak your truth to help correct them. You can also establish healthy boundaries to help ensure that everyone successfully holds space for one another.
For example, I have set a pretty firm boundary that I will not have a religious theology discussion about whether homosexuality is a sin anymore. I have found that if we get to that level, the person is somewhat interested in ‘proving me wrong’ or not open to my views on religious theology in general — because they are intense, and have a tendency shake people. More importantly though, I’ve decided that my worth as a human shouldn’t have to be validated by any religious text.
You might identify similar boundaries over the years, and if so, please make them known to those in your life that they pertain to.
Allies — if you feel like you have personal work to do to get to total unconditional acceptance of the LGBTQ+ person in your life, please make an effort to do that work. There are support groups online, books, podcast, blogs (hello!) and Youtube videos that can all be good resources to help you during this time, but if any of those resources are framed that being gay is a choice, that you can ‘pray the gay away,’ or that you can ‘love the sinner, hate the sin,’ you are wasting your money. That type of framing incorporates societal bigotry and oppression into a pseudo message of acceptance, and the simple fact is that bigotry has no place in acceptance that is fueled by love and rooted in grace.
Hopefully these are good guidelines that will help someone. They most certainly aren’t ‘steps’ and you might be working on multiple at any given time. I think of them more like phases honestly, and they are certainly not time bound at all because our journey for self acceptance should all be taken at our own pace.
Again, if you are struggling to find someone who you feel comfortable coming out to, please know that I am open and ready to meet you where you are at. BraveNewLove is all about creating space for folks to live authentically and my hope is that anyone in the community would be happy to serve that role as well.
On that note, if you are in the BraveNewLove community and willing to serve as a safe person to come out to, let us know by commenting below or on one of the social posts about National Coming Out Day. Let’s create a groundswell of support to honor the BraveNewLove of the LGTBQ+ folks around us in this world.
If you’re an ally, or ally in training, thank you for reading through all of this. Your support and voice is so important to continued improvement of the LGBTQ+ experience.
If you’re an LGBTQ+ person at any stage of the coming out process. Know that you are a masterpiece, and no mistakes where made in your formation. Know that you are loved and deserve respect and acceptance just as you are.
I run an authenticity blog called BraveNewLove that is committed to creating space for folks to live authentically through discussion of life, wellness, and faith. If any aspect of this post resonated with you, I’d be honored if you checked out some more of my writing or joined the newsletter to be part of the BraveNewLove Community.