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Sexual Health (young people)

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

 

Describes his feelings and fears before coming out. (Actor)

Describes his feelings and fears before coming out. (Actor)

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
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(The accompanying video and audio clips are played by an actor)

Yeah, because I didn't know anything else, I wasn't told anything else and it was left to me to kind of discover this thing that I was. I was scared, I was worried about what I was, I mean I went through kind of all sorts of like, I went through depression because of it, it was like god what the hell am I.

I didn't know how to handle it and I finally just said 'this is who I am and I can't do anything about it' and that's kind of what happened.

How old were you when you had depression?

That was when I was fourteen, fifteen. I was kind of, it was about half, it was about a year just before I actually came out to this, my first friend so it was kind of, yeah it was probably fourteen.

So you went to your doctor for your depression?

Actually no, I went to my drama teacher first, just someone that I knew, someone that could help and they actually put me in contact with family and social health services or something, and I got a counsellor assigned to me for the best part of six months, but I couldn't tell them what it was, I don't know. 

I was kind of scared of what they'd say or what they'd do if I said 'oh yeah, this is because I'm actually gay and I don't know what's going on'. I put it down to not sleeping properly and put it down to always being at school and put it down to stuff happening kind of with friends and things. I never said anything about me being gay because I didn't know what would happen if I did.

You don't have any power over it, you don't have any power over the way people are going to react. You don't know how people are going react, you think the worst and that's how I did and I think that's how a lot of gay people do because they don't know what's going to happen, they don't know how people are going to react and there is so much negative press, or there has been so much negative press. 

It's starting to change thankfully now but there is so much negative press about that you just, you fear that something's going to happen to you, you fear that you're going to get your head kicked in, or if you say 'oh actually I'm gay' you think that half of your friends are going to start beating the crap outta ya.

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

 

Describes his vulnerable situation before coming out.

Describes his vulnerable situation before coming out.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
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No, before I was at University when I was doing my A levels, 'cos I went into my A levels separately from my school. I left school when I was 16, then went onto a College of Further Education between 16 and 18. I was feeling quite isolated and didn't know quite what to do about my feelings etc. 

And actually I met somebody at a a young people's sort of youth training scheme type thing on a sort of youth work, and they sort of they were very predatory towards me I suppose, and they sort of slipped me their phone number and things and I thought it was a bit odd at the time but I thought right I'm going to come out to this person because they are completely anonymous you know and if there's someone I don't have to ever see again if I don't want to. 

When I did tell them, me and them sort of arranged to meet up etc and we had a sort of sexual relationship. Unfortunately he, well he was quite predatory and obviously wanted me to do things that I really didn't want to do things that I obviously I'd had the education at school and therefore, for things to know what was unsafe and what shouldn't be done and everything but they still tried to get me drunk and get me into situations. 

They were... at the time I was 17 and they were 24 and they were trying to get me into compromising situations and try and get me drunk and trying to get me to do things.  

Eventually I stopped talking to them and then really I didn't really sort of have any more sexual experiences until I went off to University where I joined the LGB etc and I also joined the local Youth Group run by a National Charity 'OK'.

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

 

Describes how each member of her family reacted to her news of being gay.

Describes how each member of her family reacted to her news of being gay.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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I thought, well I'll just tell my parents because they knew anyway kind of thing, because I was always a bit of a tomboy and I came across as kind of you know, I would say more of a kind of, playing football dah, dah, dah. 

So I just said... as I came down the stairs and like on my way down stairs I saw my dad, like my step-dad or whatever you want to say, and I was just like 'oh, by the way you know I'm gay don't you' and he was like 'yeah I knew since you was like seven' and I was like 'oh fair enough' and then, so basically I went like from the top stairs of the house downstairs and just told everyone that I passed on my way and like my big brother had already caught me and my girlfriend like kissing so he basically knew.

I saw my sister in my room so I just went 'I'm dating [girlfriend]' and she was like 'really' she was so shocked yeah, and this girl shared a bedroom with me yeah for like a whole year and she didn't know anything was going on between me and her and it was quite funny, and then finally I went downstairs and my mum was like on the exercise bike and I was like 'mum, you know I'm seeing [girlfriend], don't you' and she was just like 'yeah',  she wasn't like, she didn't take it the way I thought she would actually, because obviously she knew already as well because she's like a social worker or whatever so like it was kind of bait anyway. 

But she went upstairs and she got all these like legislation forms of what gay's can and can't do and all like the discrimination that's allowed towards them and I was just like 'oh', like reading through all these things and I was just like 'oh that's nice isn't it really' you know what I'm saying, just told you and you're going to tell me all the bad things about it and there's nothing I can really do about it. But she was like supportive but also I guess she just wanted me to know the bad things but then yeah, she didn't take it as I thought she would kind of thing.

How did you really think she was going to take it?

I don't know, I just thought she would probably be more like my dad, just say 'I already knew' kind of thing so but then like the day after I told her, but then actually they, we went out to dinner anyway kind of thing, because we were going to go out anyway and they kind of was like 'oh let's have a coming out dinner' kind of thing, because we were going out anyway so it didn't really matter and my girlfriend came along as well so that was like quite funny.
 

Explains that telling friends about being gay implies a confirmation of his sexual identity.

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Explains that telling friends about being gay implies a confirmation of his sexual identity.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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Until I went to university, I met new friends and some of them proved extremely understanding unlike my school friends that I knew, they would reject me if I told them I was gay. Then I finally took the step and told my best friend and she was quite surprised, apparently, she saw in a dream that I was gay but she didn't believe it. 

But the most difficult thing about telling other people at first, is not how they would react, but the fact that this was a kind of a confirmation, that I was seriously gay. I had to accept myself and the most important part in telling the others was that I had to accept this and I had to take responsibility for whom I was.  

Yes, and my friends' reactions at university were more like, well he's gay, how interesting, rather than how bad for him or wow, we'll have to come to terms with that now, but some of my friends really had no trouble at all with coming to terms with my being gay.  

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.

 

Describes how she told her mum that she was gay and her mothers' reaction. (Actor)

Describes how she told her mum that she was gay and her mothers' reaction. (Actor)

Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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(The accompanying video and audio clips are played by an actor)

So the early stages of this current relationship?

No it was longer than a year ago, it was like the middle of one. It was aye, so I went home with the intention of telling my mum and I got her a wee drink and I got myself one and then I got her another one.

Uh huh.

And I, what we were, I don't know what we were talking about, maybe there was a gay character on the telly or something, it was something like that and we got into conversation about it. And mum was like 'So are you gay then?' and I was like 'Yeah I am.'  And she said 'Oh I'm so relieved, I thought you were gonna tell me you were a drug addict, I knew you were gonna tell me something.'  She thought I was gonna tell her I was a drug addict. She must have known that I was building up to tell her something and just thought the worst.

And then how was she, how did she react ?

We had that conversation and she' I was like 'But you're not a wee bit upset because it means you're not gonna have any grandchildren, I'm not gonna get married,' she was like 'Och you needn't do that, that's fine,' you know, blah, blah, blah. 

She was, so I said 'OK, OK,' so we both went to bed and that was all fine and dandy.  And the next morning I was you know, 'are you still alright' because I was expecting her to be a bit upset you know.  

You know like her expectations would have changed and she was like 'No I'm fine, I'm fine.'  So I thought, I went back, I came back here, then a week or so later she sent me a wee letter saying that she was happy for me. So that was nice.
 

Argues that lesbian and gay people are treated differently in society.

Argues that lesbian and gay people are treated differently in society.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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It's like even at this stage, even though I've been out for like three years and I've know for eight years, it's still like 'oh shit, who's going to say what' it's just like 'oh no' but no other than that and actually when I was younger I had a lot of hassle on the streets when I was dating um coz she cut her hair at one point so we both had short hair so it was made really obvious that we were both girls kind of thing. 

 

'Coz I think before people used to think she was a girl and I was a boy like from far away but then we used get shouted at and running down the street and what not, but lately I haven't had any hassle and if anyone said anything to me now I'd just brush it off. 

 

I think the worse thing is when obviously someone kind of attacks you like verbally or physically or whatever like whilst you're with your partner, 'coz in that sense it's just like you've got to protect them but you also don't want to make it any more dangerous kind of thing, coz my first instinct would be to tell them to piss off basically but obviously you don't want to instigate it any further.

 

Have you had any experience of being hassled or attacked?

 

Yeah, coz I, just like men, like huge groups of men like down the streets or whatever, saying 'wa hey dykes, come and suck my cock' and I'm just like, that makes no sense, you've just, obviously you've managed to pick up that I'm gay so why on earth would I come and you know. So anyway that was quite funny and yeah just generally just people down the streets.

 

I think like not so much lately which is quite surprising since I moved to [town] because I thought it would be really bad, but I was walking down the street the other day and I was just getting, like people were staring at me and staring at me and I was just like, like literally, and even my girlfriend was picking up on it, that they was really, really staring and I wasn't like dressed any differently and I was just like 'have I a bogey down my nose or something' but that was quite strange. 

 

But I think it's just that like, if people are staring and stuff like that but I think it's quite funny like if I go out with, if I'm dressed in a way that I feel comfortable then I don't really care kind of thing, I can shrug it off. I don't really care anyway, if people have got something to say, they can say it.

 

Do you think that lesbians maybe have more hassle than gay men?

 

I think it's a different kind of hassle. I have this argument with my gay male friends all the time because it's like gay males get hassle in the sense that people generally have a huge dislike for them kind of thing, especially men, women aren't so bad with gay men but obviously men will more than likely physically abuse them kind of thing, they'll hit them or they'll like proper have a go at them. 

 

Whereas I think the main thing that women obviously face is just generally being ignored or being seen as a male sexual fantasy kind of thing and saying 'oh can we join in', like not being seen as like your sexual orientation is like a valid choice kind of thing or a valid way to live and I think.

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.

 

Explains that his mother still has trouble with him being gay.

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Explains that his mother still has trouble with him being gay.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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Well, a great shock. She was, at first she thought it was some kind of a silly joke and then she realized that it was not a joke, and then she started crying and then she really didn't know what to do because it had never occurred to her, never having been educated about homosexuality, it never occurred to her that anyone in her close surroundings could be gay. 

And she asked me whether anybody had corrupted me and by that she meant whether I have had sex with an older man which would have been the reason for me to be gay. I told her that I hadn't and then she speculated about what may have gone wrong in my life, that I had too many gay teachers, but I told her I had none that it is nothing to do with that and then, well she was just shocked. She was also shocked that I had a secret from her for so long.  

But actually now her attitude to my coming out has become very ambivalent so now she says that it makes no difference at all that I came out, that it makes no difference to our relationship and once or twice she said something like 'it didn't make her happy that I came out' so one of things that I still have trouble explaining to her is that this, it might not be pleasant to be gay or to have a gay person in the family but one has to accepted all the same.

That I have something important to tell her and that she will be really surprised by this and that probably at first she would be unhappy but, the fact is that I have been in love with boys and not with girls during the last few years. That was how I put it to her.  Because the label homosexual or gay - which is a swear word in [country] wouldn't do.

My stepfather, he didn't find it a problem at all, he found it only a problem because he thought it would be very hard to make my mother come to terms with this. As indeed it did.

'..,well when I came out to my parents their conclusion was that I should go to a psychologist to check that I was all right and I was not mistakenly gay.  
 

Describes the situation he found himself in after he was kicked out of his home by his stepfather...

Describes the situation he found himself in after he was kicked out of his home by his stepfather...

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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Well, I've sort of always known I've been gay from, from being young I've always liked men and stuff, and like fancied boys at school and stuff like that. I first told my sister in '95 that I was gay and I suffered a lot of depression because I didn't know how to handle the fact that I was gay or that I liked men. 

 

'Cos living in [city] it's not the normal thing to be gay really, it's like family orientated and stuff, so I, I went through a depression stage of coping with my sexuality.  

 

So I told my sister in '95 and then in '98 I came out to my mum and the rest of my family that I was gay. My mum was OK with it actually. I was surprised! 

 

Why were you surprised?

 

Because I thought she was gonna like reject me or something like that. 

 

'Cos you know, there's always like sniggering remarks about gay people in the family, you see someone gay on telly it's like 'ooh gay man, ooh' you know, and stuff like that.  

 

So everyone in the family was like that, so I was a bit nervous about coming out. But everyone was fine actually, I was quite surprised. My step-dad didn't really like it that much and he kicked me out of the house that I was living in with my family, so I was homeless for a while because of it - for three years.

 

Well I was on the streets for a week and then I was approached by an organization that told me about the hostel that I was going, that they could be into, so they put me into the hostel for a week.

 

OK.  And how long did you live in the hostel?

 

Three years I was in there.

 

OK.  And during that time what did you do with yourself?

 

I had to give up my job and I had to give up my college course that I was on because I needed to be on benefits to be in a hostel otherwise they wouldn't let me in. So I had to give up my life basically to be in the hostel. 

 

But I found myself doing lots of voluntary work with like youth organizations and stuff within the area to keep my mind occupied and stuff. And it was basically recuperating and finding out what my rights were and you know, what I can do, so it was a lot of, a lot of thinking about my life and stuff like that.

 

I had a gay youth worker that was helping me, like chatting to me basically, but there's not much he could do really, so it was about finding out myself really, I had no one really to look up to or you know idolize because I wasn't out within myself, I wasn't like 'camp' as people say.  

 

And there was no one, I can look on telly and say yeah they've gone through it, there was nothing like that at that time. That I could see, so I had to cope by myself.

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).

 

Explains why he trusted one of his teachers to talk to about being gay. (Actor)

Explains why he trusted one of his teachers to talk to about being gay. (Actor)

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
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(The accompanying video and audio clips are played by an actor)

Yeah definitely, you've got to, I found a teacher who I knew would kind of support me with whatever, I knew that I could talk to her about anything and I frequently do, and I hope kind of once I've left school that I'll still keep in contact her because she helped me a hell of a lot. 

And sometimes it's funny because like I've always talked to her about any decision that I'm going to make and a couple of weeks ago I made the decision on my own and I came in and like, I've made the decision on my own, I didn't need you and it's not that kind of that kind of friendship, relationship, and it's not a teacher/student thing, at that point you're talking on a almost friendship level and when it gets to talking about being gay, you've got to be on a friendship level, if you're talking on a teacher/student relationship it isn't going to work, you've got to be on good terms with the person you're going to talk to.
(See 'Being gay and lesbian'.)

Last reviewed January 2016.

Last updated August 2012.

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