Coming out as LGBTQ+ is a deeply personal choice and you should never feel pressured to do it. It can be a life-changing experience that affects how you choose to show up in the world from that moment on. 

Whether you’re 16 or 40, coming out can be a challenge and many people delay or choose not to come out at all. And that’s fine too. There are many reasons why some people don’t want to take that step:

  • Cultural or religious reasons
  • Confusion or not being sure about their sexuality or gender identity
  • Afraid of rejection, losing family support and/or disappointing or shaming the family, and even being thrown out of the home
  • Afraid that people’s behaviour might change, being treated differently or losing friends
  • Fear that they will face discrimination or violence
  • Internalised homophobia: i.e., feeling shame or hatred about their sexuality

It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous or even anxious about coming out. Sharing something very deep about yourself can be daunting as you are letting someone into a part of your life that has been kept hidden for a while. And people on the receiving end of that kind of news might not be ready to hear what you have to say (although you might be surprised about how people react in comparison to what you expect).

Most importantly, come out only if it is safe to do so. If you have real concerns that you could face a violent response or be thrown out of your home, you may want to wait. Your safety should be your most important consideration.

If you have decided that coming out is something you want to do, here are some steps to help prepare you:

  1. Make sure you’re ready

Coming out is a personal decision. And it’s completely up to you if and when you decide to do it. Go with your gut. And remember that coming out isn’t an isolated once-off incident, it’s an ongoing process of being open and honest with yourself and others, which usually gets easier over time. That process is different for everyone though. So don’t feel pressured to do it before you’re ready.

  1. Tell someone that you trust

The hope is that eventually telling someone you’re LGBTQ+ will become an easy matter-of-fact statement, but that first time will likely be pretty difficult. It might take you a couple of tries before you can even get out the words. Therefore, tell someone whom you trust and who you know cares about you, like a close friend, an easy-going relative or even someone who’s already identified themselves as LGBTQ+.

  1. Plan it out beforehand

You don’t have to write out exactly what you’re going to say. But having an idea of how you’re going to address the topic isn’t a bad thing. Be straightforward. Avoid the urge to apologise excessively or make excuses. You control the tone of this conversation. People will pick up on your attitude and often try to mirror it. So don’t be down on yourself. Be honest, and if you feel up to it, try sprinkling in a little humour. It can go a long way to ease a tense situation.

  1. Be prepared for the response

Whether in person or in a letter, the person that you’re telling might already know and if they did, this revelation might be a relief for them too because they can stop pretending. But not everyone will react to your news calmly. Don’t freak out if a person’s initial reaction is strong or emotional. Think about how long you’ve known that you’re LGBTQ+ so be open to giving the person you’re telling some time to come to grips with your coming out. Let them ask questions and be prepared to answer them as honestly as possible.

  1. You’re not alone

Make connections within the LGBTQ+ community, even if it’s only online. There are so many great resources out there and so many people who can surround you with love and support. You might have some bad experiences coming out but you’ll eventually find that more and more of these interactions will go well. There’s nothing healthier, and nothing braver than living openly as yourself.

If you’re in the Johannesburg area and would like someone to talk to about coming out, the EMH Mental Health Support Team offers free counselling for gay, bi, and other men who have sex with men. In-person, telephonic, or online.

To make an appointment or for more info, DM us or WhatsApp or call 063 649 5116. Please note: We are only available on weekdays from 8:30 to 16:30. If you contact us outside these hours, we’ll reply as soon as we’re available again.