On identifying as LGBTQ and coming out
If you think you may identify as LGBTQ, it’s important to remember that whatever you’re thinking and feeling is OK. Many other young people are going through (or have been through) exactly the same thing as you.
You may have a lot of questions about being LGBTQ such as:
- What will my life look like?
- What will happen when I come out?
- Will my parents/caregivers be OK with it?
- How will my friends treat me?
- Where can I find other people like me?
How to know if you identify as LGBTQ
Some young people are aware of their sexual orientation and gender identity for a long time. Others may not be sure. Having feelings, dreams or experiences with someone of the same sex is common. Many young people like someone of the same sex (e.g. you may appreciate their body or have a “friend crush”). You may also have sexual dreams or feelings about someone that is the same sex. This may be the beginning of you figuring out that you identify as LGBTQ, but it may also be part of the process of realizing that you’re straight. Either way, these feelings are part of finding out who you are, and it may take some time to figure it all out.
If you’re worried about feeling or being treated “different”
Lots of young people who are questioning their sexual orientation and/or gender identity experience feeling “different,” excluded or isolated in their families or communities. Meeting other LGBTQ young people is a good way to start recognizing that there are many other people going through the same thing as you. It’s also important to remember that differences are what make people human — everyone has different things they like to do in their spare time, eat and wear — sexual orientation and gender identity are just two more ways that you may be unique.
If you’re looking to meet other LGBTQ young people, you can check to see if your school has a gay-straight alliance (GSA) or call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 for help finding LGBTQ peer groups in your area.
You’re more than your sexual orientation and gender identity
Your gender identity and sexual orientation are only two parts of who you are. Try to list all of the other qualities that make you who you are. Maybe you’re LGBTQ and…
- a family member
- a friend
- an athlete
- excellent at math
- a magician
- a writer
- a musician
- a chef
Make your list as long as you want. If you’re having trouble with your list, try asking people who care about you and know you well what they would put on your list.
Figuring it out
The more pressure you put on yourself to figure out your sexual orientation and gender identity, the more stressed out you may feel. Both your sexual orientation and gender identity may change at some point (or many points) in your life. Try not to rush yourself to find a label that fits, especially if you don’t feel ready.
If you need support, you can always call a Kids Help Phone counsellor at 1-800-668-6868.
Coming out is the process of telling others about your sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Many people start by coming out to their family or a few friends first. Coming out is a process and you may need to come out more than once.
Are you ready to come out?
Coming out will be different for everyone and there’s no “right time.” Coming out can involve more than telling others about your sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It can also involve changes to your physical appearance so that your body more accurately reflects your identity. Coming out can be difficult, so don’t be hard on yourself if you’re not ready. It’s a personal journey and you get to decide when to do it — if ever.
It’s important to come out for you, when you’re ready, and not because you feel pressure from anyone. Some LGBTQ young people have questioned their sexual orientation and/or gender identity while others have been certain of it since childhood. It’s important to feel safe with someone, and know they’ll be supportive of you, before you discuss your sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
What to say
First, figure out where you want to come out to the person — at home, in a park, at a mall or in a quiet spot. Choose a place that puts you at ease and where you can talk. Next, decide how you want to approach the conversation.
Here are some conversation starters:
- “I need to tell you something and I hope you’ll try to understand.”
- “I have something I want to share with you. I’m trusting you to keep this between us.”
- “I have something to tell you that’s hard for me to talk about.”
- “I want to talk to you about something important for me, but I’m afraid.”
If none of these work for you, that’s OK. You’ll know what to say when the time comes. Just speak from your heart and trust your intuition. It may help you to try bouncing some ideas off of a Kids Help Phone counsellor at 1-800-668-6868.
How people might react
It’s common to worry about how people will react. A lot of people are not aware of variations in sexual orientation and gender identity and may be afraid of what they don’t understand. Fear is often what motivates people to bully, abuse, ridicule, humiliate and shame. Fear is never an excuse for treating someone badly.
If you think your family or friends may be interested in learning more, you may want to refer them to PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) for information and help. And remember, if your family members or friends are between the ages of five and 20, they can contact Kids Help Phone to speak with a professional counsellor.
Being prepared for all reactions
Unfortunately, not everyone will understand when you explain what’s going on for you.
Think of how you’ll handle it if people don’t understand or if they don’t want to talk about it. Will you leave the room? Call a friend? Take a walk? Having an exit strategy is a good idea in case things get intense. It’s important to make your safety a priority.
Your safety is important. If you’re thinking about coming out, it’s crucial to learn about ways to stay safe so you’re prepared in case you face certain challenges. It may help to have:
- someone to talk to who’s not directly involved such as a friend, neighbour, teacher or a Kids Help Phone counsellor (1-800-668-6868)
- somewhere to stay if you have to leave home
If people don’t respond to you in the ways you would like, try giving it some time. While you’re waiting, you can think about getting some emotional support. A Kids Help Phone counsellor can help you locate LGBTQ resources in your community. You can also use Resources Around Me to search for services in your area. Try to remember it may have taken you a long time to come to terms with your sexual orientation and/or gender identity, so others may need a bit of space to take it in, too.
More info on LGBTQ:
- LGBTQ: What does it mean?
- On identifying as LGBTQ and coming out
- Stephen’s story on coming out
- 6 inspiring transgender icons
- Counsellor tips: What to expect at your first Pride
- How to be a supportive ally to the LGBTQ community
- Kids Help Phone’s favourite LGBTQ moments of the year
- Can’t make it to Pride? You can still be an ally.