Regardless of who you are, your age, or experience, coming out can be a scary experience. Fears of stigma, discrimination, and rejection often run through the minds of individuals considering this milestone in their journey to acknowledge, accept, and embrace the queer aspects of who they are.  For many, concerns of what this means for their personal relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and others are at the foreground of the possible risks in being vulnerable.

These resources have been gathered from multiple sources to help support individuals with understanding the process of, and guiding those undertaking the decision to coming out to those within their lives. It is our hope that these will help those folks in a smooth, safe, and positive experience to move forward into who they want to be, and be seen as for those in their lives as a fully realized queer individual. 

Telling people about your sexual orientation or gender identity is called coming out. Coming out is not necessarily a one-off event – sexual and gender-diverse people may have to come out many times during their lives. It’s also very individual and people may face different challenges when coming out. Often individuals will want to come out as a process of accepting and embracing their sexual and gender identities, with the hope that others will support them in who they are, as individuals explore and become comfortable with these identities as a facet of their overall identity.

There is no one prescribed way to come out. You may feel comfortable being open about your sexual orientation and gender identity with some people, but not with others. Coming out may be difficult and takes courage. Reactions to someone coming out can range from very positive to less welcoming. Once you have made the decision to tell people, you may want to think about how you tell them.

Whether you’ve come to terms with your sexual orientation or gender identity, or you’re still thinking about it, it can be difficult dealing with that on your own. You may get to a point where you need to talk about it with someone, to get support or simply get it off your chest. People naturally want to be authentic to who they are, and want others within their lives to know who they are, including their sexual and gender identity. Having to hide who you are from other people often means lying and pretending, which can be shaming, and very damaging to your mental health. You’ll need to think about whether hiding is more or less stressful than being open about it while weighing the possible safety risks with who is in your life.

Don’t feel under pressure to come out – take your time. Only you will know when you feel comfortable and ready to do it.

If you decide to come out, but are unsure how others might react, you could consider making contact with a support group first. There are helplines, community groups and agencies across the country who are there to support and advise you.

People will often expect you to come out over and over, and more than once to the same person.

“I’m a transgender woman but before I transitioned I dated many women and was out to my friends as bi but when I broke up with my ex it was like my friends forgot I was bi. I had to come out to many of them again and explain to them that I was still bi and that it hadn’t gone away. Then again when I transitioned I explained to them it wasn’t my sexuality that was changing but my gender — I was still bisexual.” – Laya Monarez

Many people will need to have explained what being bi, pan, queer, trans, fluid, or what other queer terms and identities mean.

“Being queer can mean different things to different people, so be prepared to explain what it means to you. For me, being queer means that my sexuality isn’t fixed and that it can change during different periods of my life. If you identify as queer, this doesn’t suddenly change or shift based on who you date.” – Kaitlin Lawson

Remember that your identity is a journey.

“Labeling yourself may be overwhelming, and it’s important to remember that labels aren’t permanent. Don’t feel that you have to commit to anything forever. Your sexual identity can change over the course of your life. Being fluid is a real thing.” – Anonymous

Bisexual, pan, queer and fluid people face phobia from both the straight and LGBTQ2S+ community.

“I’ve lost count of how many times someone has questioned my bisexuality. I get questions when I’m dating someone, and I get questions when I’m single. That isn’t how it works – my identity as bi is intrinsic to myself. #stillbi” – Madeleine Roberts

It’s OK to be afraid, but know there is a community waiting to support you.

“I knew I was bi at a very young age and the thought of coming out to even my closest friends and family was intimidating. When I immersed myself in the queer community, I met so many supportive and accepting folks, which allowed me to feel more empowered in my own identity. If you don’t know of any bi, pan, queer or fluid people in your area, there are numerous national and local organizations that can help connect you to support groups in your community.” – Chantel Mattiola

We all have unique coming out stories and every journey is different. But we all have the same desire to live openly and authentically. We encourage you to live your truth and know that there are resources available to you when you decide to come out.

You are not alone.

I think I might be queer, but I’m not sure. How do I know?

Some people say they’ve always known that they were “different” in some way. When they eventually realized they were queer, many of the things they had felt growing up seemed to make sense. For others, the realization is triggered by the many changes that accompany adolescence. Some don’t recognize their sexual orientation and/or gender identity until adulthood.

It is important to remember that, just because someone has had a crush on, or has had a sexual experience with someone of the same sex, that does not necessarily mean that they are queer/LGBTQ2S+.

Take your time and don’t put any pressure on yourself. Just know that whoever you turn out to be is okay.

How can I be sure I’m queer if I haven’t had sex?

It is possible to know you’re queer even if you’re a virgin or haven’t had a queer physical relationship. Being queer isn’t just about sex; it is about emotion. Just like straight people, queer individuals fall in love and have long-lasting, meaningful relationships. Physical attraction is just one indicator of sexual orientation.

How can I be queer?

“I don’t fit the stereotypes.” It is a common misconception that all queer individuals are described by very specific characteristics. Though there are some people who fit these stereotypes, there are many who don’t. The important thing is that you be yourself.

Should I worry about HIV and AIDS?

Everyone should be informed about HIV and AIDS, not just queer individuals. It’s not your sexual orientation that puts you at risk for HIV infection, it’s your behavior. HIV is transmitted in three main ways:

(1) Through unprotected sex with an infected person; (2) Through sharing needles or syringes with an infected person; and (3) The virus can be passed from an infected woman to her baby during pregnancy. Be sure to educate yourself regarding not only HIV/AIDS, but also other sexually transmitted Infections (STIs).

Should I “come out”?

Deciding whether to come out is a very personal decision and one that should not be made too quickly. You should only come out if you want to and if you are ready. Coming out is a big decision because, although you hope that your friends and family will support you, it is possible that they won’t. There are many issues to consider before making the decision to come out. You should never come out in anger or frustration, but instead because you love the person you are telling and want to become closer to them. If you are financially dependent on your parents, you may want to wait to come out to them. It is possible that they may react poorly and try to force you out of the house. People come out when they feel ready and remember that it is not your obligation to “come out” to anyone.

I want to come out but I’m in a “straight passing” relationship. Is this okay? What should I do?

It’s important to know that your queer identity is yours and valid no matter who your partner(s) are. Recognizing you have the capacity to be romantically and/or sexually attracted to those of the same sex is valid, and does mean you are unfaithful or flawed. If you are ready to come out while in a “straight passing” relationship, you may want to tell your partner about your identity. Having your partner understand you’re the same person who loves and accepts them, but that you’re simply recognizing your queer identity as a part of your past, present, and future is awesome.

Occasionally, people may challenge your queer identity with things like “you’re in a relationship with a man, why does it matter if you like women?” or “you’re only claiming to be queer to be special.” and these assumptions are wrong. Recognize that your queer identity expands far past the surface level of who you may be romantically/sexually engaging with at the present moment. Coming out is not all about publicly pursuing more partners or drawing attention to your sexuality, but instead, it’s about accepting yourself for who you are. Coming out is choosing to share a piece of you with the rest of the world, and doing so while in any relationship is still valid. You can still love your partner and better understand and express your identity.

What will my friends say?

Most people worry about how their friends will react when they come out. Your friends might be surprised, have lots of questions, not know what to say or may have even guessed already. At first, choose a friend you trust and who you think will be supportive. Think about how you’ll answer some of the things they might ask like, ‘how do you know?’.

If a friend reacts badly, remember they might just need some time to absorb what you’ve told them. Although you can’t predict what people will say or do, when you tell a close friend that you trust, the chances are they’ll be pleased you’ve shared something so personal with them.

How do I tell my family?

There’s no right or wrong way or time to come our to your family. However, it’s a good idea to take time to think about what you want to say. Coming out when you’re arguing or angry isn’t a good idea. Some people tell their family face to face while others prefer to write a letter or send an email. Your family might be shocked, worried or find it difficult to accept at first. Remember, their first reaction isn’t necessarily how they’ll feel forever, they might just need a bit of time to process what you’ve told them.

Coming out at work

People perform better when they can be themselves. This means it’s is in your employer’s best interest to support you to be open and honest about who you are when at work. Some employers have Queer/LGBTQ2S+ staff networks which you can join for support and to meet other people.

In Canada, there is specific legislation that does not permit discrimination and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender reassignment (gender identity) in employment and vocational training. This includes direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimization, and you are protected throughout the entire employment relationship, from recruitment to dismissal. Discrimination applies to terms and conditions, pay, promotions, transfers, training and dismissal.

Below are a number of resources to help provide support and guidance to a number of different identities within the queer community. This is by far not an exhaustive list, and we encourage you to search for more resources that resonate with who you are and what your circumstances are as a queer individual.

Remember that your journey is your own, and that these supports are not provided to pressure anyone to do anything they don’t feel comfortable or safe doing. Your well being as a person comes first, and only you know what that means for you.

Coming Out: A Handbook for young LGBTQ+ People

A Resource Guide to Coming Out by UWM

Coming out as Transgender by UWM

Coming out Out as Asexual by Queenie