To mark the start of LGBTQ+ History Month, seven of the UK's leading LGBTQ+ figures talk about their experiences and how to feel confident in yourself and your sexuality
Knowing how to come out can feel like a minefield, but let’s get one thing clear: there’s no right or wrong way of doing it, and it’ll be different for each and every individual.
Speaking up for the LGBTQ+ community, actress and queer icon Kristen Stewart has opened up about coming to terms with her sexuality in the public eye. She recently revealed how, at the height of her Twilight fame, she felt immense pressure to label herself and her relationships, alongside be a representative for the LGBTQ+ community.
“I was being hounded about labeling myself… and was going out every day knowing I’d be photographed while I was being affectionate with my girlfriend,” she said. “But I didn’t want to talk about it. Yeah, I did feel enormous pressure, but it wasn’t put on me by the [LGBTQ+] community.
“People were seeing those pictures and reading these articles and going, ‘Oh, well, I need to be shown.’ I was a kid, and I felt personally affronted. Now I relish it. I love the idea that anything I do with ease rubs off on somebody who is struggling. That shit’s dope! When I see a little kid clearly feeling themselves in a way that they wouldn’t have when I grew up, it makes me skip.”
So, where do you start if you yourself identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer but feel anxious about coming out to your family and peers? Even if you’re not a world-famous actress, like Kristen, it can be a nerve-wracking and anxiety-filled period of change in your life.
Remember, as Dean McCullough, TV and Radio presenter at Gaydio, puts it, “There is no rule on ‘how to come out’. Your story belongs to you. No matter how you do it or how the person or people react, remember: you are loved, valued and there is always someone there to talk too, if you need help.”
Seven of the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ figures talk about their own experiences coming out, and reveal the lifechanging advice they would’ve told their younger selves, plus they share tips on feeling confident in yourself and your sexuality.
How to come out: 30 top tips from 7 LGBTQ+ leaders
George, drag performer with Queer the Norm (thatsdrag.com)
1. Don’t place blame
If you’ve been hiding your sexuality for a long time, it might feel like you’re lying to the people around you. Know that it’s not your fault, and that it was the world around you that forced you to keep this secret for fear of your own mental health and safety.
2. Protect yourself
Trust that you are doing the right thing, but make sure you are in safe space.
3. Reach out to LGBTQ+ communities
There are communities everywhere, online, in person, and in apps. You can pretty much access them anywhere, so it’s important to reach out where you can. Searching for positive stories about LGBTQIA+ can also help: many have shared theirs on Youtube, for example. This will help you to realise you are no alone, plus identify with the millions of people who have gone through the exact same thing as you and are now embracing themselves.
4. Take comfort in the fact, everyone is different
Know that every single person is a unique individual, no two persons are the same. This means that your sexuality is personal to you, and the only reason why you are having to come out is because people have made assumptions on you for your whole life.
5. Know you will still be loved
Removing negative thoughts like this, where possible, will massively help your self-confidence. By removing the worry that the people around you won’t love you anymore, you remove it as an option. If they don’t, and they change their actions towards you, you know they’re not somebody that you want in your life. When you can, look in the mirror and tell yourself that you love yourself.
6. Practice self-care
Tell yourself that you forgive yourself for hiding yourself for so long, and know that the future is bright, and things will get better.
7. Talk to the experts
One benefit of the Internet is there being so many strong resources available. If you feel like you need to talk to someone before you come out, the LGBT Foundation and LGBT Switchboard have helplines – 0345 3 30 30 30 and 0300 330 0630 – and can also direct you to other organisations who will assist you. They’re set up to support your exact situation.
Sean, entrepreneur and publisher at That Guys House (thatguyshouse.com)
8. Accept that you will never feel ready
Nobody ever feels ready to come out. Accept that you will never feel ready to tell people and that it will be unnerving whenever you do. There is nothing wrong with you and your not ‘unproud’- it is genuinely hard thing to do no matter what.
9. Make peace with being gay in yourself
Before you even think about telling anybody. Make peace within yourself that you are a LGBTQ+ person and that it is absolutely and 100% completely okay.
10. Take your time
Don’t allow anybody else to pressure you into coming out. Do it in your own time and in your own way.
11. Start by telling just one person
This can help ease the anxiety. Decide to just tell one person that you know and trust. You’ll be happy to see somebody react positively to your news. Just make sure to be very clear with who you tell who else they can tell (if anybody). And remember, it’s your news.
12. Make a list of people you love and admire who are gay, lesbian, bi and queer
This is exciting – there are some incredible world leaders, actors, musicians, talk-show-hosts, authors, scientists and sportspeople that are Gay! You will soon realize that you are in good company. If you can find support in another gay, lesbian, bi or queer person, do. They will truly understand what you are going through.
13. Don’t worry about stereotypes or how you think a gay person should talk act and think
This is not the time to worry about ‘how to be a gay person’ because you already are and you are no matter what TV shows and movies you watch and how you choose to spend your weekend. There is no right or wrong way to be gay.
14. Make sure you have support after you have come out – even just within yourself
It’s important that you are your own ‘safe space’ and that, no matter what, you will love and accept yourself.
Dean McCullough, TV and Radio presenter at Gaydio
15. Don’t rush
There is no rush to tell the world your story. Make sure you feel comfortable and ready to share how you feel because once you say it there is no taking it back which means you really need to trust the person or people you are opening up to.
16. Speak to Switchboard
If you’re struggling to get the actual words out, they can help. I wish I had done this when I was coming out at 15. The very second you say the words ‘I’m gay’ to someone it feels like the weight of the world has been lifted off you. Speaking this out to an impartial, neutral person confidentially over the phone can relieve a lot of the pressure and will prepare you when you want to tell someone closer to you, like a dress rehearsal.
When I was coming out I couldn’t even say the word ‘gay’ or ‘I’m gay’, it took me 5 long years to get that phrase out of my mouth. I hated myself for a long time and hid behind this bravado when deep down inside I just wanted to live in my truth and have my Mum and Dad love the real me. Of course, they already knew, and my mum was just waiting for me to tell her (you’ll hear this a lot).
17. Listen to the Coming Out Stories podcast
It’s exactly what it says on the tin and you’ll gain comfort in knowing how different everyone’s story is and how heartwarming it is when you get a response you perhaps weren’t expecting. It’s inspiring to hear you are not alone and that every coming out story ends well, eventually.
18. Know it gets better
We as a wider LGBTQ+ community are strong and robust and really understanding so if you feel like you’ve messed up or things didn’t go according to plan, it gets better, I promise. A wee suggestion would be to either record a video or write yourself a letter of how it went and how you feel so you can look back and reminisce with your friends, partner or children when you are older.
19. Remember there is always someone to talk too, whether you know them or not
My DM’s are always open (@thedeanlife) should you need someone to talk to, and remember, there are reems and reems of hotlines set up to help people just like you.
Monty and Sebb, LGBTQ+ TikTok Influencers (tiktok.com)
20. Trust yourself
Don’t let anyone else tell you what you are and what you aren’t. Your gender identity or sexuality etc are such a personal topic, it’s your identity and your journey. It’s important to always be yourself, too: coming out isn’t “new” and we aren’t changing. We’re just letting out more parts of ourselves.
21. Go at your own pace
Remember, this is your journey and no one else’s. It’s good to ensure that it’s something you are working towards slowly and steadily or even all at once, if you’re feeling ready to do so.
22. Break it down, if you need too
For us, it was helpful to break our coming out up in to steps. We came out to people one by one and started with friends and then moved onto family, siblings and then parents and then extended family. It’s each to your own and we can’t tell you who to come out to as it’s your journey.
23. Remember, love is love
If people don’t accept your sexuality or gender identity etc, remind yourself of your self-worth. It’s a part of you whether they like it or not. Love is love.
24. If you don’t know what you “are”, don’t rush
It’s okay not to know and it’s okay to avoid labels, don’t feel pressured to be put into a category if you feel the labels are restrictive.
Fat Tony, DJ (@dj_fattony_)
25. Don’t give it too much power
Coming out is a natural thing. Being yourself is a natural thing. Remember that.
26. Use your voice for good
Just be true to yourself. Don’t let your environment define who you are, and don’t be afraid of people’s response before coming out. People fear what they don’t understand. Use your voice for good. Learn…then educate.
Philip Baldwin, leading LGBTQ+ rights activist and Gay Times columnist (@philipcbaldwin)
27. Try to ignore the bullies
I was bullied at school for being gay. At times they made my life a living hell. Know that things will improve, you are better than them and you will find your tribe.
28. Be aware of your mental health
Almost every LGBTQ person I know felt anxious about coming out – this is normal! Again, if things are getting too much for you though and you feel there is no one you can speak to, reach out to a charity. Mind provides mental health advice, signposting and advocacy – 0300 123 3393.
29. Consider volunteering
If you want to build up new friendship networks, try reaching out to national or local LGBTQ charities and see if they have support groups, or even consider volunteering. Almost all Pride festivals were cancelled this year because of the pandemic, although you can read up on the Pride events that went virtual. Volunteering at Pride can be a great way to meet people and I would encourage you to participate in 2021.
30. Learn about the fascinating and diverse LGBTQ+ history
The LGBTQ community has a fascinating and diverse history. Learn about the people who fought for the rights we enjoy today. Let them inspire you. LGBT History Month falls in February and every year I learn something new about our community and myself. Not keen? Why not read books by LGBTQ authors, instead. There is an increasing range of fiction and non-fiction out there.