To Come Out, or Not to Come Out

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Bill at 18, clashing with a recliner.

To come out, or not to come out. That is the question.

I hear from middle school, high school and college students all the time, wanting advice about whether they should come out to their friends and family. It’s such a complicated question without a simple answer, and I try – to the best of my ability – to offer a reasonable response based on their situation.

I generally say something like this:

I think, in the long run, it is best for people who want to be happy to live their lives out in the light. I know that for me, I never enjoyed having deep, dark secrets. I wanted to be able to share my life with those I love. For that reason, yes, I think that coming out is IN GENERAL the right thing to do.

The question is, is it safe to do so? For some, the answer is yes. They have parents on whom they know they can depend, friends they are pretty sure will not abandon them, a support system in place that can help them deal with issues that might come up at school or work or home. Maybe it’s a counselor or a teacher at school, or maybe even church, someone they trust and know has their best interests at heart. For those people, I say: Come out! Come out now! Come out yesterday! The water is fine. I guarantee that by being who you are, you will become a happier person. I guarantee it.

But for those who have concerns about our safety, either due to parents who may not be accepting or understanding of LGBTQ issues, or friends who make homophobic comments, or a school system where bullying isn’t addressed by the administration, I want you to be VERY SURE you have in place a support system before you say something you won’t be able to retract. Once you tell people you’re gay or lesbian or bi or transgendered, that news isn’t going away. And sadly, in some places, that news can still be dangerous.

Remember that your safety is my biggest concern. I want you to be safe, first and foremost. Happiness is a secondary issue.

For those of you in that second group, know that there are people out here in the world who care deeply about your well being. Know that there are groups that will try to help you, hotlines to call. Talk to people who will understand what you are going through, because they went through a similar thing. A lot of us did, you know. And we made it to the other side, and you will too. It just might take a while. So find some good books with LGBTQ characters that help you know that you’re not alone. Settle in for what will sometimes feel like a war. Be a good soldier and stay strong and stay brave. Keep fighting. See if you can find one friend or family member or someone at school who you can trust. It’s important to have an outlet.

And finally, one last word on coming out: Please, young people. Stay away from those who would hurt you. There are predators out there in any society, and so there are in ours. I’m not telling you anything you probably don’t already know, but there are far better and safer places to come of age than in internet chat rooms, especially ones where people cruise for sex. You may think you want that, but take this as a voice from your future self: You don’t want that. You just think you do.

Step away from the chat room.

Thank you.

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