In a world where being queer is increasingly accepted, but still often fraught with feelings of fear, shame, and confusion, coming out can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. These coming out stories from LGBTQ people absolutely reflect that, since their stories are often a mixture of funny, sad, brave, and terrifying.
While the way we see celebrities come out can range from pretty bizarre, but effective, to seriously epic and kind of unexpected, the way non-famous people choose to come out to their non-famous families and friends is often more nuanced and full of all of the emotions possible. That is, of course, if they feel safe enough to come out to begin with.
In a world that celebrates (at very least) the idea of coming out of the closet, it can be easy to forget that a lot of people don’t have the luxury of coming out, based on the town they live in, or the family they’re still reliant on, or a variety of other factors. Because that fear can exist on so many different levels, coming out is often seen as an act of bravery, even in the smallest sense. Here are several coming stories from all different walks of life.
“When I came out as bisexual, nobody cared. Every teenage girl my age at that time was claiming to be bisexual, so most people figured I was trying to be cool. I wasn’t. I’m not remotely cool. When I later came out as gay my family was surprised. Not because they didn’t want me to be gay, but because my sister had come out a few years earlier and what are the chances of both us being gay? Nobody else was surprised though. Basically, everyone said they knew already, which made me think, why did nobody tell me?! I only realized I wasn’t interested in men when I finally met a guy I wanted to be interested in, but wasn’t. In a lot of ways I had it easy. Many people don’t have such understanding friends and family and coming out can be traumatic and even dangerous. Still, I feel sad that I went through all my teens and a good chunk of my twenties without feeling able to be who I really was. Still, better late than never, eh?”
“Whenever I’m asked to tell my coming out story I just don’t know what to say. It’s partly because I don’t know which one I’m supposed to tell, and partly because I still don’t feel like I’m done coming out. Do I say I came out and started transitioning five years ago and also proclaimed that I was a lesbian around that same time? Do I talk about all the times I tried to come out growing up? Do I start with telling a doctor I was a girl and them telling me I would grow out of it? Do I talk about telling women I date that I’m a transgender woman and never seeing them again? Do I keep the trans thing secret and just talk about coming out as a lesbian, or as queer, or asexual? Do I talk about the day I realized I couldn’t be myself without embracing masculine and androgynous presentation, so I stopped trying to be the woman society had been telling me I had to be? I’ve come out as so many things for so long and it feels like it never ends. That said, I am so privileged and I recognize that. I don’t have to come out as trans every day. I can choose to, or not to, and that is a privilege. When I came out officially (the many times I did) I did not lose anyone who mattered. I still have close friends and I still have my family, but I have still feared coming out every time I’ve done it. It didn’t matter if it was a Facebook post, or a conversation with a parent, or when I told my best friend, or that awkward moment where I have to explain it to a doctor. I was afraid every time. It was not until this year that I came out to anyone who didn’t know I am both trans woman and a bi/pan/queer woman and I have a feeling that I’m still not done. I have been shunned in some circles when I’ve come out as a trans woman, or when I say I’m not a lesbian, but something else. The thing is, I am still here to talk about it and that’s why I will never stop doing it.”
“By junior year of high school, I had been hooking up with my “best friend,” who was a girl, for about a year. I was pretty much fine with letting people know, but she wasn’t, so our relationship stayed a secret. I didn’t want to betray her trust (we went to a small private school where “secrets” didn’t exist), but I also felt like I was hiding a huge part of myself. One day on the way back from an away basketball game I texted my mom, “I have to tell you something.” She replied instantly, “Are you gay?” I said “kind of.” And she said, “That’s great! Love you always.” And we pretty much never talked about it again. At the time, I was shocked she knew, but in retrospect, I was a sporty hipster who wore flannels and had platonic sleepovers with my dude friends, so maybe it was more obvious than I thought.”
“I was at work and I told a guy who was rapidly becoming one of my best friends, “I…I…I think I like a girl.” When he didn’t respond immediately, I continued, “Like, you know, like, maybe I’m queer.” Filled with doubt, I backtracked, “Or something, or maybe not, or…” He cracked a big grin and said, “I was actually going to tell you that I think I’m gay.” Relief washed over me and I stopped yammering. For the first time, we each looked each other in the eyes and admitted something we had been carrying around inside us for years. My own queer confession was met with the love and admiration from another queer person. I never would have made it out of the closet, or through several train-wreck relationships, were it not for him.”
“I went to Vassar college, which I didn’t know at the time was a bastion for queer people, both women and men. I also did not really know (or accept?) that I was gay upon arrival. On my very first day, I asked the RA, “Where are all the straight boys?” Three days later, at an annual LGBTQ acceptance/awareness assembly called “Gays of Our Lives,” (which I went on to emcee), I felt the earth move beneath me and suddenly realized I was gay. That night I told the girls in my hall I was a lesbian. I came out to my mom during freshman year of college on the day after National Coming Out Day. It happened over the phone, since she was in California and I was in New York. I had just realized that I was a lesbian and was still processing that myself, but every time we talked, she asked me if I had met any boys yet. Towards the end of our call, I told her, “Mom, I have something to tell you. I’m gay.” All I heard was a long, deep breath, and then she said, “Well, you do own a lot of blazers.”
“I first came out to my parents around age 16. I remember being a sobbing mess and speaking like I was confessing that I had murdered someone. Now I laugh at how absurd it was. weeping and wailing out “I think I’m gay!!” while my father tried not to lose control of the family SUV at 80 miles an hour. Once that happened, it was nothing to come out again as queer several years later. Everyone just nodded and had a reaction like “Yeah cool. Whatever you want.”
“Coming out was a long and excruciating process, but it was necessary in order to live the life that is the most natural for me. Coming out meant killing my internalized homophobia and heteronormativity, which was a lengthy process that involved becoming OK with (and eventually excited about) having a wife instead of a husband one day. It was learning about privilege and oppression, as well as finding a new community and support network. Coming out was suffering a deep pain that manifested in physical symptoms (insomnia, anger, cold sores), that later enabled me to find immeasurable pleasure in life, queer love, romance, and friendships. Coming out has given me an ability to live, love, and empathize that I did not previously have.”
“I had flirted with a variety of identifications in high school. Then when I was 18, I overheard my mom saying that she was pretty sure I had just been going through a “phase” in my earlier teens. A while after that, we were watching TV and Shakira came on. I immediately stopped talking and my jaw dropped as I stared at her dancing. My mom responded with, “Oh, you’re REALLY gay, aren’t you?” And I said, “It seems so.” After that she was the best ally anyone could ask for.”
“I remember trying to come out to my friend for the first time when I was 13. I was super scared because I didn’t want her to think I was hitting on her, so I tried to be really serious and looked at her and said, “Hannah, I think I’m a lesbian.” She looked back at me and laughed and said, “No, you’re not.” I was obviously taken aback, but she just said, “Laurel, you looooove dudes.” And I remember face-palming and thinking, “Damn, she’s right, I do love dudes.” We laughed and I thanked her for helping me see the light, and that was that. It wasn’t until later in college that I realized that there was a term for people like me and I was bisexual. I think part of the reason it was so hard for me to identify as bi is because there’s still a lot of stigma out there around bisexuality. The belief is that “gold star gays” think you’re just experimenting, and straight people think you’re trying to hide the fact that you’re really gay. I was also told on several occasions that I wasn’t allowed to identify as bi until I’d had a serious same-sex relationship, and I didn’t have a serious relationship with a woman until I was 25. So, until that happened, I identified as “bi-curious,” but I also felt unsure about whether or not I was allowed to assume that label. I think that was also partly because I had a lot of internalized stigma about what it meant to be bi.”
“Spending 11 years in the closet wore on me a lot, as I always felt like I was hiding this horribly embarrassing thing about myself. It also made me feel like a shitty person, because I sort of think in moral absolutes, and I knew I was lying to everyone around me. Coming out at 26 was like a damn rebirth. After the handful of very difficult phone calls, it was like I had come out of a dark tunnel and I just wanted to yell about how honest and happy and free I was. I felt so brave. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful people who love me, not to mention that I live in a mostly safe environment. There are a few people I’m not as close with anymore, but I would not go back in the closet for any person’s affection. Two people closest to me, my sister and my great friend Adam, both knew I was gay years before I really came out. They now tell me I’m like a different person now that I’ve come out because I’m so much happier. Though it is wonderful to hear this affirmation from people outside of myself, it also makes me sad for my closeted self, harboring so much fear and shame for so many years. I owe so much of coming out to people around me: out queers that were visible and proud, and also to the first person I dated, who was incredibly thoughtful and understanding. She put no pressure on me to label myself or us. It felt very different for me to tell my family, “I’m dating a girl,” rather than to say “I am defined by this big scary label that means I’m fundamentally different than you all thought I was.” Before I had these people in my life, I really didn’t think I could openly be a gay person. I think this points to one of the best things about being a queer: which is community.”
“The first time I came out was to myself. I was a terrified 12-year-old girl from a highly religious household, sitting in a dark movie theater, silently panicking as a beautiful actress sauntered across the screen, and I thought, “Damn, she’s fine!” After that, I would go on to be outed by my “best friend” on a secret 6-way call where I unknowingly admitted my deepest secret to every teenaged girl in my church, most of whom would spend the rest of the summer making my life hell. A while later, I worked up the nerve to tell my new best friend on a late night phone call, hoping she wouldn’t disown me as well. She ended up being the only bit of comfort I could hold onto. My mother was the hardest to come out to. She was furious, disappointed, and hurt. But after 10 years of soul-wrenching conversations, she’s finally starting to understand that I wasn’t trying to hurt her, I was just trying to be me. She’s still my biggest fan.”
Original by Lane Moore @hellolanemoore