I wish that coming out were one grand, singular event that frees you in an instant and opens up minds and possibilities with the mere realness, honesty, and vulnerability of the words, “I’m gay.” Like maybe people might think, “Wow! How brave, how bold, how admirable she is!’ And quite possibly, for some, the key turns and clicks and the magic unlocks in that exact way. However, the reality of the coming out experience for many is that the weight is not simply one giant boulder to be lifted in a grand gesture, but rather it is a thousand singular bricks to be hoisted one by one by one again and again. These clay blocks are piled on from the moment someone realizes they are different, and it doesn’t stop there. The heaviness of the load grows with the burden of secrecy, of concealing an essential part of who you are as a human being. Your heart, your core, your soul hidden then exposed and revealed repeatedly. The initial announcement comes as a sledgehammer, busting into the bricks that have been laid. There is now a person or people who know you. It is a feeling of warmth, of freedom, of truth.
The initial relief is quickly countered by the realization that it is not a one-time deal. I have been out for over a decade and I still “come out” on a regular basis: to new friends, employers, teammates, old classmates, even strangers at the store when they see me holding my girlfriend’s hand. Every time someone finds out I am gay and they accept me, a brick comes off of the heavy pile I carry. When someone rejects me, the weight feels heavier.
So, how do we begin the process of removing these bricks, one by one, in a way that makes us feel accepted and loved? It starts with identifying who is going to make you feel the most safe, and after years of coming out, here is what I have come to realize about identifying who those people might be.
Your inner circle is not your only source
It may not be someone who you consider a best friend. The girl I first came out to was a teammate and friend, but not necessarily someone I confided in. It was an opportunity that came up and I trusted my instinct to tell her. It can even be people who don’t know you at all. I have oftentimes felt most safe in new places with people who I may never see again. There’s a freedom there to be authentic in ways that may not otherwise feel comfortable to you in your daily life.
They may not respond as you hope, and that’s okay
If it is your inner circle, it might take some work, time, and compromise on your part to feel completely okay with their response. Some people really want that safe person to be someone specific; a parent or close friend or even a crush. We want the people we love to truly know us, and that’s okay. If you do have your heart set on telling someone in particular, be prepared to accept their initial reaction and work with them to come to a point that makes each of your feelings matter — because they do. As long as there is no malicious intent by them, let people be honest back. We cannot desire authenticity for ourselves but expect others to not want that as well.
Don’t forget the obvious places
If you’re not sure where to even begin, start by thinking of who around you makes you most happy. Who do you feel most like yourself with? Who has seen you at your worst and at your best? Who tells you they love you? If you still aren’t sure, think about people you know who have someone in their life who is out and who they accept. When someone mentions to me that they have an LGBTQ relative, friend, or someone else, I immediately feel relief knowing that they will likely accept me as well.
You might just be surprised
Safe people and allies can be found everywhere, and they can potentially be anyone. I’ve found safe people in churches, on sports teams, in conservative areas of the country, at work, and in school. I’ve met ones who are young and ones who are old. They come from both sides of the political spectrum. I’ve met allies of all ethnicities, economic status, and life experience. I’ve had people take me by surprise by how quickly and easily they accept me.
There is no perfect formula
I “came out” for the first time in 7th grade to one person. She kept my secret as I knew she would. It was another seven years before I told anyone else. Another five before I was out at work and in public. That was my process in order to comfortably introduce my true self to the world. Some people do it all at once — a post on social media or some other announcement. Some people never tell more than that one person. If you are still trying to figure out who you can come out to, don’t worry about how everyone else does it. The right moment with the right person or group will arrive, and you will start taking those bricks off your shoulders.