How to come out and tell people big news about us, our relationships, our genders and our sexualities.
If you’ve done my Teach Yourself Sex Ed course or read this article about Solidarity and privilege, you’ll know that there are strong ‘should stories’ about how we are meant to do our gender, sexuality, or relationships. Some get status and some get stigma. This means that many people have to be quiet about it and let people assume who they are.
So when people talk about ‘coming out’ it really means, ‘correcting people’s assumptions about you’. That’s what this article is about. We’re going to learn about how we might do this from Tom Daley.
Learning from Tom Daley
Remember when Tom Daley told the world that he was in a serious relationship with a guy and he still fancies girls? It was pretty big news at the time. Anyway, watch this and then read on.
This was ages ago and I don’t know if he has made another video about this, but I thought that this was a good video to learn from. Obviously Tom was telling people about his sexuality at the time, but the rest of this article is about all the things we might want to tell people about us.
If we could all stop assuming …
People assume people are straight (or cis, or binary gender, or monogamous). Because of this when people say that they are in a relationship with someone with the same gender as them it becomes big news. As Tom says, “In an ideal world I wouldn’t be doing this video because it shouldn’t matter.” Why does it matter? Would it matter to you if someone you knew told you this news?
Perhaps we can all start to make this less big news by not assuming that everyone is straight (or the same) in the first place. It’s not easy to do because of the culture that many of us live in, so it’s something we have to check all the time.
Also be careful about making assumptions about someone you’ve known for years. How can you allow the people in your life to be close to you and loved for who they are and who they might be? How can we allow us and those around us to change?
Think about all the messages that people who are from a minority gender, sexuality, or relationship model might receive. Pretty bad huh? Do you say the same messages? What do you do to make sure they know you don’t think this? What can you do to make them feel like they can tell you who they are?
Why do you want to tell them?
There can be a huge pressure on people to come out, especially about their sexuality. The way that ‘coming out’ is talked about is as if it’s a rite of passage for Queer folk and something that they should all do. This kind of pressure can make people feel like they have to come out, even if it’s not a great idea for them personally.
So think about why you want to tell people big news about you. Is it because you want their support and help? Because you want to be heard and seen for who you are? So you don’t keep having to tell a different story about who you are all the time (which can be very tiring and hard)? Are the people who you are planning to tell able to give you that? (see below about Trust)
Think of all the reasons why people might come out. Write them down and see how they look to you and then think, which of those are for you and which of those are for others? How much do you need to do this for you, and how much do you want to do this for others? Be careful with yourself if you are wanting to come out because this is what you’re ‘supposed’ to do. Or because you want to show that you are gay/bi/lesbian/queer enough. To be an ally or a role model for others.
This is a really great article about someone’s decision not to come out.
Get it really clear
What Tom told us was: “I met someone and they make me feel so happy and so safe and everything feels great and that someone is a guy.” Note that he didn’t actually use a label. Our sexualities made up of what sex we might (or might not) have, what/who we might fantasise about and how we choose to identify ourselves (work out your sexuality). What Tom is telling us is that he’s got some pretty big time feelings for a guy and that he still fancies girls – he’s not said what his label is so let’s leave that up to him.
Tom probably got what he wanted to say really clear in his head and then he chose his own way of saying it. This is something else we can learn from Tom, think very carefully about what exactly it is you want to say and then say it.
Start with people you *really* trust
Telling people big news about you can be difficult. Tom gave us some ideas on how to make this easier.
He said that he’d previously told a small number of people that he could trust (fewer than 5 he said). These were friends and family that he (I’m assuming) loves and trusts and whom he believed would be happy for him. This is how a lot of people deal with it – they start with small numbers of people, sometimes one or two at a time.
Telling the people you trust the most first can help you to deal with the news yourself but it can also help you with telling everyone else.
This isn’t just a one time thing, it’s a process that can happen over many years. Tom told a small group of people, then he told his wider family, (“I told the rest of my family, let’s just say they have mixed opinions”), then he told everyone in the world (nearly 5 million views on youtube at time of writing). Not everyone can tell the world in one go like this but with a growing amount of confidence and practice this process can get easier. Some people might not like it but Tom can take confidence in that loads of people do and that the most important people are really supportive.
Find out more about trust in relationships
Not everyone will like your news
Not everyone responds well to this kind of news, so it is a risk, especially when you’re telling people that you live with. Sadly some parents/carers are really not very supportive of news like this and you may risk your safety or security. For example many young people who are homeless are made homeless because they are LGBTQ.
Even if you don’t face physical or emotional harm, telling people big news about you can create tensions or arguments and you may feel like you aren’t getting the support you need.
Sometimes people’s first reactions to news aren’t great. Try to be patient. You’ve said what you’ve said and it’s up to them to deal with it, not for you to justify it.
I’ve got a list of support groups at the bottom but in addition to this you can get the support of mates or other people you trust. It can take parents/carers a while to come to terms with this. Remember that their sex and relationships education was probably a lot worse than yours (imagine that!) and were brought up in a different time.
So bear all this in mind when you’re thinking about telling people big news about you, if you’re not very sure that they will be supportive remember that you don’t actually have to tell people right now or at all if you don’t want to. It’s all your choice what and who to tell. It’s not your fault that everyone is making assumptions about you, your relationships, your body, and your identity. So big ups to you what ever you decide.
Where you can get extra support
If you need support and are not sure whether you can rely on friends and family just yet, you could find someone you trust at a school or college (a teacher, a learning mentor, a nurse), a youth worker or other support worker. You can also go to a young people’s clinic or a youth advice centre near you for some advice and also a referral. If you’re coming out as a sexual or gender minority there may be a youth group near you that can support you.
There are loads of places that can help you in person and online.
You can also try
Gendered Intelligence run youth groups and offer support for young trans people and their families
Switchboard Providing free & confidential support & information to lesbian, gay, bisexual & trans communities throughout the UK HELPLINE 0300 330 0630 (DAILY 10AM – 11PM)
IT GETS BETTER a video project which gives support for LGBT young people
Have you had to tell someone big news about you? What worked for you?
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© Justin Hancock, 2022
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.