Coming Out

Human Sexuality: A Complex Continuum

Human sexuality is complex.
Sexual identity consists of the biological sex with which you identity, as well as your sexual orientation, which is who you are emotionally and physically attracted to. Sexual orientation exists on a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the same sex to exclusive attraction to the opposite sex. A person can be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or questioning. All of these sexual orientations are considered normal. It’s also normal to question your sexual orientation.

Someone who identifies as gay or lesbian is emotionally and physically attracted to people of the same sex. 
Someone who is bisexual is emotionally and physically attracted to both men and women, though not necessarily at once, or equally to both sexes.
Someone who identifies as transgender is someone who experiences and/or expresses their gender differently from what most people expect, and includes people who are transsexual, cross-dressers, or gender non-conforming. 

I think I might be gay/bi/transgender/questioning. What should I do?

  • It’s normal to question your sexual attractions. Exploring, or questioning, your sexual identity does not mean that you are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual.
  • Not knowing your sexual identity is ok.
  • Ways that you can explore and learn more about different sexual identities include:
  • Reading LGBT/LGBT-themed books. Rice offers a collection of LGBT-themed literature and movies that you can check out. *
  • Watching movies
  • Theater
  • Art
  • Participating in Rice’s LGBT organization and associated activities
  • Attend a training of the Rice Ally Program 
  • Talking to a counselor or close friend about it
  • Visiting national websites for more information, hotlines, and other people’s stories   

How do I know if I'm ready to come out?

 Coming out  means the process of identifying, accepting, and sharing your sexual orientation or gender identity with others as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person. 

Things you should know about coming out: 

  • Coming out is hard. It takes time, lots of soul-searching, and courage to build up to the point where you want to share your true sexual identity with others.
  • It’s a lifelong process, one that happens again and again, and changes as you do, along with new friends, new jobs, new questions, and/or a new environment.
  • How and when you come out, and who you choose to talk to about it, is up to you. There’s no right or wrong way, or time, to come out.
  • Some of the feelings you may have during this process include confusion, self-doubt, stress, vulnerability, bravery, or empowerment.
  • You’re in charge of the journey of discovering, accepting, and sharing your sexual identity. For most people who come out, it is part of the process of being true to themselves, not hiding who they really are, and being more authentic in their relationships with others.
  • Realize that this journey carries both benefits and risks, and you must take those into account in deciding how you want to approach your own coming process. Most people who come out find that they much it’s much more fulfilling to live openly and honestly with their sexual identity rather than hiding such a fundamental part of who they are.
  • Your sexual identity is a part of you, but it doesn’t have to define you.  
  • If you are struggling with issues of gender and/or sexual identity, don’t hesitate to talk to someone about it. Contact the Counseling Center to set up an appointment. If you don’t feel comfortable talking with a counselor, consider contacting the Rice Ally program and/or talking with someone who’s out in the LGBT community, who may be able to guide you to further resources.  

  Come out to yourself  

  • At the end of the day, you have to be your own best friend. Opening yourself to the possibility of exploring, or questioning, your sexual identity is normal, brave, and honest to yourself.
  • More than that, it’s crucial to your health and wellbeing that you are true and honest with yourself, and give yourself the chance to explore your feelings and attractions.
  • Give yourself time to come out. It’s a journey that’s all your own, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. 
  • It's okay not to know. Sexual identity and gender identity lie on continuums. It can be difficult to know where your identity lies on those continuums. 

Make a coming out plan:   

  • Check for signals from those you want to come out to, especially if you’re unsure what their reaction will be. Mention LGBT-related role models, movies, or other issues in conversation with the other person and gauge his/her reaction. Positive reactions to LGBT issues may be a good sign that they’re open-minded about LGBT issues, and may help you prepare yourself and them for talking about your personal life. The most important thing to remember is to stay true and honest with yourself, regardless of how people react.
  • Don’t assume either way. Some people who may appear to react positively towards LGBT issues and ideals may have a much harder time when it’s one of their close friends as opposed to when’s it’s an abstract concept. Others may seem prejudiced based on off-the-cuff remarks or personal values but are surprisingly open-minded. Be prepared for mixed reactions, but don’t let your own preconceived notions about a person sway your opinion of how they’ll respond.
  • Educate yourself on LGBT issues – so that you are prepared to dispel myths about LGBT stuff and answer questions people might have.
  • Be prepared for mixed or negative reactions – Again, you can never be sure how people will respond, no matter how well you think you know. You may be pleasantly surprised at how much support your friends, family, and peers show. Some of the reactions people may have include: Surprised, honored, uncomfortable, unsure how to react, relieved, angry, anxious, disbelieving, and curious.
  • Know what you want to say – so that you’re not caught off guard, and so you articulate what you want to when you’re ready to tell someone. What and how much you say is entirely up to you. You don’t have to delve into details if you don’t want to. It may  depend on the person and situation. And it’s okay to say that you’re questioning.

 Consider the timing in terms of: 

  • Your circumstances – are you under 18, and/or financially dependent on parents who may not be supportive of your coming out?
  • Telling other people: think about who you’re going to tell, and how much/what. Be cognizant of the other things and stressors going on in people’s lives – for instance, maybe right before a massive final exam, or during a period in which you know you’re friend’s under a lot of pressure, is not the most appropriate time.
  • Other people’s priorities, mood, stresses, problems - Be cognizant of the other life stressors they have going on. Realize that your coming out is a profound shift for those who care about you. Just as it took you time to figure out and accept your sexual identity, some of your friends and family may need time to absorb the news. Some people who react a certain way may change over time, as well.  

Coming out to important people in your life:   

  • Come out to your friends – choose who and when you come out to carefully. Keeping in mind the other things noted here, remember not to assume your friend will have a certain reaction. Some of the most seemingly open-minded of your friends may have a hard time with it, while perhaps some people you thought would be prejudiced against it may be very supportive. 
  •  Come out to your family- many people are afraid that their parents will shun or reject them if they come out.  The good news is, most of the time that isn’t the case. You may be surprised by how supportive they are. But some parents may react in ways that hurt. Regardless, your coming out is a profound shift for most parents to absorb, and it may take time – maybe a long time – for a parent to come to terms with who you are. How they feel now may change over time. 
  • Living openly  - coming out to friends, family, and yourself is a huge step. But your sexual identity, and staying true to yourself, is a lifelong journey. You’ll face the issue of coming out again and again – from whether you should come out in your new job or new environment, to new friends. How much and/or whether or not you feel comfortable coming out in any of these situations is up to you. The most important thing is that you stay true to and honest with yourself.     

I’m struggling with sexuality issues. Who should I talk to?

 If you’re struggling with issues of your sexual identity, you are not alone. We are here to help. Our Counseling Center  provides confidential sessions where you can talk about your feelings and struggles in privacy and with the support of our staff. If you’re not comfortable going to the Counseling Center, find a close friend or mentor who’s trustworthy and really open-minded, like a college master or RA, or an LGBT ally or someone who’s openly LGBT. Be honest with them about where you are in questioning or accepting your sexual identity. They may be able to direct you to further resources.  

If you’re not comfortable going to the Counseling Center, find a close friend or mentor who’s trustworthy and really open-minded, like a college master or RA, or an LGBT ally or someone who’s openly LGBT. Be honest with them about where you are in questioning or accepting your sexual identity. They may be able to direct you to further resources.       

Should I come out to my doctor?

Yes. In order to get the most effective health care, you need to be honest with your doctor about your sexual identity. In fact, even though you may feel awkward doing so, your doctor is one of the people who may need to know the most about your true sexual identity in order to ensure that you’re aware of and being treated for issues specific to the LGBT community. 

Why should I come out if I'm more comfortable just hiding it?

  •  Coming out is entirely a personal choice. It’s completely understandable that, in your given circumstances, maybe you’d rather not surprise your friends, family, and the people around you with a revelation about your sexual identity that took you lots of time, searching, and introspection to reach. 
  • Maybe you are afraid that you’ll jeopardize some part of your social group, future, or physical safety by coming out. All of these are valid concerns. 
  • Even though coming out is hard, most people who come out find that it’s much more fulfilling to live openly and honestly than to hide such a fundamental part of who they are.  
  • You are not alone. Rice offers a strong LGBT support network that you can turn to as you journey through your coming out process.

Benefits of coming out: 

  • The fulfillment of living openly and honestly with yourself
  • Staying true to yourself
  • Feeling like others love and appreciate you for who you really are
  • Developing closer, more authentic relationships
  • Breaking down barriers and stereotypes for others, including those who are afraid of coming out
  • Connecting with and reaching out to a strong, vibrant LGBT community
  • Reduces the stress, isolation, and alienation from having to hide your identity 

Risks:  

  • Not everyone may be understanding or accepting. Some people may express shock, confusion, or even hostility.
  • Losing or changing relationships, especially from friends or family who don’t approve
  •  Experiencing harassment or discrimination.
  • Endangering your physical safety
  • May lose financial support from your parents    

References

“A Resource Guide to Coming Out.” Human Rights Campaign Foundation 2011. http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/resource-guide-to-coming-out

“FAQs.” Human Rights Campaign. http://www.hrc.org/issues/coming_out/coming_out_faqs.asp   

It Gets Better Project. http://itgetsbetterproject.org.

"LGBTQ Series."  Planned Parenthood. Sexual Health Series.http://www.plannedparenthood.org/info-for-teens/lgbtq-33812.htm