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Coming out and telling others that you’re attracted to people of the same sex can feel like the most daunting thing in the world, but it can also be unbelievably rewarding to free yourself of your fears. FYI: you don’t have to go it alone. Learn what ‘coming out’ means, what to expect, and how to deal with any negative reactions or harassment.

This can help if:

  • you want to tell people about your sexuality
  • you’re not sure if you should come out
  • you’re worried about how others will react.
Close up of friends hugging

What does ‘coming out’ mean?

When people use the term ‘coming out’, they mean deciding to openly identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or another label or word that describes their sexuality. It also usually involves telling mates, family or work colleagues about your feelings and attractions towards people of the same sex.

It’s different for different people

As people understand and learn more about their attractions, they usually start to feel comfortable with their sexuality. For some, it’s a straightforward process and they don’t mind telling their friends and family that they’re gay or bisexual. But for others, it’s not so easy. Whatever the reason, coming out can sometimes be complicated.

You don’t have to go it alone

To learn about the process of coming out – how to decide when to do it, what to expect, what to say, whom to tell – you can always draw on the experiences of others. In some cities, local organisations run workshops for coming out, and online you can find a bunch of anonymous helplines for any questions you have about sexuality. If you feel you’re ready to come out, a good way to start is to talk to someone you trust, who will be understanding and supportive.

Wait until you feel ready

If you don’t feel ready to tell anyone about your feelings at the moment, that’s okay, too. But if it starts getting to you, or you begin to feel sad about not being able to share what you’re going through, find someone you can talk to. If you’re having a tough time with it all, make sure you look after yourself.

Most people will be fine with it

Different people will react differently based on their own beliefs, expectations and values. Some people will have no problem with your sexuality and will be happy for you. Others might have already suspected and were just waiting for you to tell them, which might come as a bit of a shock to you.

Sometimes people need time to process it

Some people might react negatively at first, and then to change their opinion over time as they get used to the idea. Initially, they may feel worried, confused, angry or even responsible in some way. Even though you’ve given your sexuality a hell of a lot of thought, the news may be a surprise to them, so give them a bit of space and time to process it, like you needed.

Tips for countering negativity

Some people won’t get it straight away. Here are some tips for dealing with any initial negativity.

Try to be patient

You probably really want them to understand and be immediately supportive, but it may take a bit of time.

Don’t take it personally

A negative reaction has a lot more to do with them than with you. Try not to take on their hang-ups, and recognise that they need to work through their own issues on this.

Walk away

If a person becomes rude or offensive, just walk away. Give them time to cool off, and don’t feel responsible for how they react.

If family or friends react badly:

  • find someone else understanding to talk to
  • direct your family member or friend to PFLAG
  • talk to someone who has gone through the experience of coming out.

If you need someone to talk to, contact Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or Lifeline (13 11 14). They can offer support and direct you to relevant help services.

Dealing with harassment

Attitudes about sexuality have been slowly changing for the better and have become more positive in many places, but for some people no amount of information will change their minds.

Some ideas for dealing with harassment are to:

  • talk about it with friends you trust
  • report any abuse to a teacher, counsellor or family member
  • call a support service for advice.

Feeling afraid that someone will give you a hard time can be isolating and upsetting. You don't need to deal with these feelings on your own. Try ReachOut NextStep to learn about support options available for you.

If you want to hear from others who have come out, watch this video from QLife Australia.

What can I do now?

  • Check out the ReachOut Forums to hear from others who have dealt with coming out.
  • Try telling someone you trust who you know won’t judge or criticise you.
  • Learn more about sexuality.