Sexual Health

Coming out

The process of 'coming out' (when a person accepts their sexuality and gender and shares this with other people) can be a long and sometimes difficult process. Some people become aware quite early during childhood, and may feel lonely or isolated, or could be bullied. Some people feel depressed and seek help, although worry how other people may react to them

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Many people find it difficult to find information about sexuality before they come out. There's a lack of information and even fiction aimed at gay people. This feeling of isolation and lack of information can put people in vulnerable situations

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People we talked to remembered starting to 'come out' first to friends, acquaintances or more distant relatives, like cousins. This helped them to assess other people's reactions and find out who may accept or reject them, although some people could be negative, most people were okay when they found out

People may feel guilty, that they're somehow letting their families down by being gay, or that they were going against family, traditional or cultural values. However, most of the people we interviewed felt a sense of relief once they'd come out, and that it was an important step for them.  

Families are not always surprised to hear the news, with parents saying things like 'yeah, we knew it'. One girl says that her family are accepting and supportive but she is worried about society's reactions to lesbians.

Sometimes family relationships are put under strain because a parent won't accept a person's sexual identity. In extreme situations people can be rejected by their families and thrown out of home. Some men we interviewed had arranged alternative accommodation before coming out to their parents, just in case things went badly.

Young gay people need the support, information and guidance of others. Some schools do provide a supportive atmosphere for gay and lesbian teenagers but others do not. Young teenagers need to decide for themselves whether it is a good idea to come out at school. Several organisations provide confidential advice and information (see our resources section for links).

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(See 'Being gay and lesbian'.)

Last reviewed January 2016.

Last updated August 2012.

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