This is probably a very confusing time for you right now. ‘Who am I?’ ‘How can I fit in?’ ‘Where do I belong?’ These questions and perhaps others might be flowing through your mind at this very moment. We’re here to tell you that you are not alone. Everyday countless young people just like you go through exact same questioning. There is no right or wrong way to going about your sexual discovery—it happens at your own pace. There is also nothing wrong with you. Being LGBTQ is just as normal as being straight. That being said, we know that finding out who you are is not an easy task. You may be struggling with being Black and LGBTQ at the same time or perhaps your faith or culture denies who you are. A whole world of support is opening up for you here and elsewhere, you only need to take the first step.
Many times, parents or other family members may feel ashamed or guilty because their child is LGBTQ. They may place blame on you, on others or on themselves. There is no one to blame in this situation, and it’s not your place to take those things on. You are who you are, and you’ve chosen to share this part of yourself with them because they mean so much to you.
Let them know how much they mean to you, and that this is why you’ve chosen to tell them about this part of yourself. Explain that there is nothing for you or them to feel guilty about. Do things that help to build your sense of esteem. Visit with friends who you feel supported by, or join groups like Supporting Our Youth’s Black Queer Youth group (BQY). Being in environments that acknowledge who you are can really help you to handle some of the negativity at home. Again, give your family the space needed to adjust to the news, and the space you need to build up your own confidence in who you are.
For some youth, there may be a desire to be open about their sexuality outside of the home. On the other hand, some youth may be okay with not disclosing being LGBTQ to outside family or friends. It’s important to remember that you should do what feels right for you. While it’s expected that you give due respect to your parents, your parents must also be able to respect you and your need to be yourself regardless of outside criticism. Let them know what your thoughts are around this, and negotiate how you will go about this as a family.
While being open and out about your sexuality can seem like the right thing to do once you’ve come to terms with being LGBTQ, things like emotional and physical safety have to be considered. Depending on the level of homophobia and transphobia in your home, school, neighbourhood or peer group sometimes it is better to be strategic in when, how, where and with whom you choose to disclose your sexual orientation. Not all LGBTQ people will have the opportunity to choose, and are “outed” by family or peers. Some may already be experiencing violence because others feel they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or transsexual.
Coming Out is now more than ever a youth issue. Studies indicate that many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are aware of their sexual orientation/gender identity by the time they are age 13 years. Chances are that more than a few students at your middle or high school are wrestling right now with how and when to tell their friends and families they are LGBTQ. Whether you are LGBTQ yourself or wondering how to react to a friend who has just come out to you, the following information can help you to manage your coming out experience openly and with sensitivity.
There are many good reasons to come out. It can be a tremendous relief to be open about your identity and to stop investing lots of energy in keeping secrets and worrying about what might happen if others “find out.” Being honest can help to bridge that distance you may have been keeping from friends and family, and can result in closer and more meaningful relationships with loved ones. And when you’re not constantly worried about meeting others’ expectations, you can put all of your energy into being authentic–in how you dress, talk, spend your time, and date.
There are also reasons to wait to come out to others. If you are under 18 and/or financially dependent on others, you may not want to come out if there is a chance you will be kicked out of your home or left to fend for yourself. If you fear harassment, abuse, or loss of emotional support, this too may be reason to put off coming out until you are in a more secure position.
If you are unsure about whether or not to come out, take your time and think things through rather than acting impulsively. Read books or magazines by and for LGBTQ youth. Watch a video about LGBTQ issues, join an online community, or call an LGBTQ hotline. If there is a youth group or trusted adult to whom you can safely and confidentially turn, take advantage of this option. You may also want to keep a daily journal of your reflections, questions, thoughts and fears until you are clear as to the right path for you.
Who should I tell?
Coming out is a life-long process. There will always be new people and new situations in which you will have to decide whether or not to come out. Unfortunately there is no Magic Eight Ball to tell you “outlook good” or “very doubtful”–you will have to rely on your instincts instead. In general, you should come out first to people you really trust and who you expect will be supportive and respect your confidentiality.
For many people, coming out to parents or other close family members can be an intense experience (in a positive or negative way). For this reason, you may want to consider “practicing” on others who you trust before talking to your family, or getting the advice of LGBTQ people who can share what it was like to come out to family members. Coming out to family can be a source of great support or great angst–your decision about which family member to come out to when is a very personal decision that you should consider thoughtfully.
If you are thinking about coming out to a teacher, guidance counselor, nurse or other “official,”” you may want to check into your school’s confidentiality policy first–in some cases these professionals may be obligated to share your information with others. If you are considering coming out to friends, choose carefully–your best friends may not all be the best at keeping secrets. Whether it’s because they just can’t help spreading gossip or need support themselves in dealing with your news, not everyone is as guarded as we’d like them to be.
I’m ready! When and how should I come out?
There is no definitive roadmap for how and when to come out, but there is lots of advice from those who have come out before you. Because coming out can be quite an emotional experience, some recommend writing a carefully worded letter that captures just what you want to say and gives the recipient time to absorb the news before meeting with you in person. Most people, however, do their coming out face-to-face. If this is your preferred approach, it is best to do a little planning ahead. It is usually easiest to come out privately to one person at a time (rather than to a group, say, at Thanksgiving dinner) and to avoid bringing a friend or lover to help you deliver the news. Choose a time and day when neither of you are tired or stressed, and when there is ample time to process and discuss things. Though it may help you to plan and rehearse exactly what you want to say in advance, try to avoid giving a speech and to make it more of a two-way conversation. Most importantly, don’t ever come out because others are pressuring you to do so, when you aren’t sober, out of anger, or as a weapon to hurt someone else. Coming out can be a wonderful experience, but only when you are comfortable with your own identity and ready to share yourself with others.
What kind of reaction should I expect?
Since coming out is first and foremost something that you are doing for yourself, don’t let worries about potential reactions veer you from your course (unless you fear for your safety or security). If possible, choose people to tell who you expect will give you the support and encouragement you desire. For most of us, there will be a time when we need to come out to someone who may be less than compassionate. Many people will say things out of shock or discomfort that they may not mean or realize is hurtful. It is important to remember how long it took you to come to terms with your own identity, and to be patient with others who may need time to come around. Some of those people may be distant or detached at first, so prepare yourself to deal with possible silence. Others may challenge you with difficult statements or questions, so you may want to think about how to respond to issues such as religion, your sexual activity and HIV/health status, and your willingness to get reparative therapy. Whatever comes up, take solace in the fact that most people will grow to be accepting over time and that it is not your responsibility to change the few who will never open their minds. For those who are willing to learn more, suggest books, websites, or local groups (such as PFLAG). This will not only help them to educate themselves, but will take the pressure off of you to have all of the answers. And while you’re at it, find some resources and support for yourself—coming out can be emotionally taxing and you don’t have to go it alone.
Homophobic violence and abuse of any kind is not okay, and if you are feeling unsafe in any environment, it is important to discuss this with someone that you can trust. If you are being bullied at school, think about informing your teachers or the office about it. The Toronto Police and the LGBTQ Police Consultative Committee have launched a campaign called RHVP or Report Homophobic Violence, Period. This campaign encourages young people to report to authorities experiences of violence of harassment in school.
Visit www.torontopolice.on.ca/rhvp/ for more information on how to report homophobic bullying, or contact the 519 Community Center’s Anti-Violence Program. Unfortunately when the bullying and violence is happening at home, knowing who to talk to can be hard. Talk to someone you trust.
As African and Caribbean people, violence by family can be seen as being about discipline (and about love). Remember you don not have to stay in an environment that is abusive. You do have options. There are people and places that understand and can help you get through this challenging time. Keep yourself safe, and remember that violence by family or friends may be about their own misdirected fears. It’s not your fault. Check out the list of resources for other places you can call or go to get support and assistance if you are experiencing violence related to being LGBTQ.