Coming Out to Yourself

Young people can have very different experiences of coming out. Here is a link NHS Choices, which shows three British gay teenagers talking about coming out.

And here is a link to two young Canadian singers, Tegan and Sara, talking about coming to terms with being lesbian.

When I asked a young person for feedback on the Coming Out section of this website he pointed out there wasn't anything about coming out to yourself. In response I created this page.

Many young people have said it reflects their own experience and helped them understand what they were going through. It might not be how you are feeling but if it is then I hope that by realising lots of other young LGBTs have gone through something similar - and come out at the other end - it will make your journey a bit easier.

Understanding why your initial feelings might be confusing.

The messages we hear about gay people are that we are sick, perverted, sinners, not normal.

When we are young we constantly see, hear and experience homophobic bullying at school, from use of the term 'gay' to put things or people down, to name-calling, harassment to physical and sometimes even sexual abuse.

This is usually happening at the same time that some of us are becoming aware that we are gay.

My research with young people accessing GALYIC (Gay and Lesbian Youth in Calderdale which I ran for twelve years) found that most of our members first thought they were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender at around 11/12 years, and that they first told someone when they were about 14/15 years old.

It is important to note that not everyone comes out when they are young; some people wait until they are much older before coming out and some people never come out.

We might have already known that we were 'different' from a much earlier age, maybe round about 3, 4 or 5 years old, especially those girls who are tomboys and those boys who are feminine.

It is around puberty that we start to understand why we are different = it is because we fancy people of the same sex - we are gay!

If we still believe that gay people are sick, not normal, outsiders, not one of the crowd, against our culture or beliefs and we begin to realise that we fancy someone of the same sex, it is perfectly normal to wish that we were not gay.

Take a look at this video of me reading a letter from a young lesbian who had big problems coming to terms with being lesbian: young lesbian letter.

We don't want people to think we are 'one of them' so we keep quiet about it or try and pass as straight or worse still, are homophobic. Take a look at this interview with the Welsh rugby player, Gareth Thomas, on the Ellen Show.

Here is a video of a young black lesbian talking which is part of the black womyn project.

Isolation

There is little information at school about homosexuality - only 18% of GALYIC members said they had access to positive information about homosexuality at school. The main message we pick up from school is that being gay is wrong.

It might be that we have also picked up messages from our families - perhaps when there has been something on telly about gays or lesbians, something nasty has been said. Or maybe homosexuality has just never been mentioned at home.

We might also have heard our friends, and sometimes our best friends, putting gay people down; this can hurt us terribly.

All of these messages (or, in some cases, silence) pile on top of each other. We often think we are the only gay person in our class, in our village, in our family. We can feel very isolated, very alone and feel we have no-one we can turn to for support.

Being isolated and without support when we are beginning to realise that we are gay can make us highly vulnerable to low self-esteem, mental health problems and substance misuse.

We might choose to sleep with the opposite sex to prove, either to ourselves or to others, that we are not gay.

We might join the crowd and start gay-bashing people we think are gay, so that others won't think that we are gay.

We might start to drink a lot or do drugs and put ourselves into risky situations where we might get attacked or raped.

Or we might start self-harming as a way of letting the pain out.

These are all things that have happened to young gay people when they have not had access to accurate information, support from adults, support from other young people or support from their families.

You Are Not Alone!

Between 5 and 10% of the population are LGBT. Scientific evidence strongly suggests that we are pre-disposed to being gay, in other words we are born gay. We certainly do not choose to be gay, look at this short video, Science and Homosexuality.

It is likely that there are other family members that are also gay, although we might not know about them.

There will certainly be another gay person in your class at school: for every 100 people, between 5 and 10 will be gay.

Take a look at this presentation of famous LGBTs past and present. If you have never heard of them, google their name.

Here is a link to an American website which gives both written and video stories from LGBT people from across the USA. And here is a link to some famous classical musicians.

In some places there are more gay people than in others; this is because many LGBT people move to places like London, Manchester, Leeds or Brighton because there are large gay communities there. There is a large lesbian and gay community in the Upper Valley, in Hebden Bridge and Todmorden.

It's really, really, important that you access support: you don't have to be alone on this journey.

It can be terrifying to pick up the phone and ring a gay organisation for the first time. We know, many of us have done it. You might find it easier to text or send an email. The Links section gives you access to LGBT youth groups in Yorkshire and you can find out about other places by searching the Turing Network .

Or you can talk to another young LGBT person on-line. CyberMentors is about young people helping and supporting each other online. It is a safe, social networking site (similar to Facebook) for young people and you can talk to an LGBT young person.

You might not believe it now, when you are reading this, but once you have attended an LGBT youth group for a while and have made a new circle of gay friends, you will wonder why you hadn't picked up the phone before.

What I found running GALYIC was that, after a few weeks, new members go from being quiet, shy, possibly depressed (and sometimes suicidal) young people to being excited, glad to be alive, doing things that other young people do like having a good time.

Here is a video GALYIC made a while ago for the NHS called Sixteen.

Developmental Tasks

In order to get rid of the bad messages and feel good about ourselves, we have specific tasks to complete.

  • The first one is to develop a positive identity. It is really important that we have access to proper information, and positive role models, to replace the bad messages with good ones. It helps a lot if we can meet other young people who have been through similar experiences but are out and proud about who they are. Take a look at this film about coming out in high school.

  • The second task is to tell other people: coming out to others is important; the more positive experiences of coming out we have, the more we feel confident about who we are.

    If we don't feel good about who we are it is likely that others will feel the same way.

    It is important to know who will accept us and who will have problems accepting us. Negative responses to us coming out can feed into our self-hatred and it is best to try and avoid this.

    It is also important to know that it isn't always safe to come out.

    It's really best to get help in coming out, like contacting an LGBT youth group.

  • The third task is learning how to cope with discrimination and rejection and for many of us, how to deal with homophobic bullying. Again, an LGBT youth group can help with this. It is really important that we talk about these things rather than trying to deal with them on our own.

  • The fourth, and for many, huge task is coming out to parents and family.

    It isn't always appropriate to tell parents when we are young: if we know our parents will be accepting fine, but not all parents respond positively - sometimes it is better to wait until we are older and more independent.

    However, if we feel we must tell our parents, being able to access support can be crucial, especially support from people who understand what we are going through and also understand how parents are feeling. Read the next section about coming out to your parents before you make any decision.

  • The fifth task is finding a partner and then, like other young people, developing positive relationships and all that this entails.

    If we remain isolated and without appropriate support these tasks could go badly wrong and feed into our feelings of low self-worth and make us even more vulnerable.

    Have a look at the GALYIC 'concertina' which was written by members and gives simple advice on coming out.

    Here is a link to rucomingout an international website which shares coming out stories from around the world. And here is a link to LGBT people who work at NASA in the USA.

    Here is a link to one of the most inspirational coming out stories I have ever seen. It is Ellen Page, a Canadian actress who starred in Juno amongst other films.

    Trans Young People

    Our sexual identities are made up of several components:
    • physical sex appearance: girls - vagina, boys - penis; intersex -individuals born with biological features that are simultaneously perceived as male and female;
    • gender identity: inner sense of knowing that we are boys/men, girls/women. Like sexual orientation, this can be seen as a line with transpeople at one end with those who are macho men and feminine women at the other end but with many more in between;
    • gender role: how we behave in society;
    • sexual orientation: homosexual (lesbian, or gay), bisexual or heterosexual.
    Transpeople believe that they are born into the wrong gender (having the physical sexual appearance of one gender but a gender identity as the opposite gender). Transpeople can be either lesbian, gay, bisexual or heterosexual. Thus the process of coming out for transpeople can be more complicated.

    If you think you might be transgender, have a look at the booklet 'A guide for trans young people.' The idea for this booklet came from members of GALYIC; we got some funding from the Department of Health and commissioned a national trans youth organisation to work with young trans people to produce it. Some of our members helped to write it!

    You should also connect with Mermaids. And there are pages on the NHS Choices website about trans issues which you will find helpful.

    There is also a series of videos on the Gender Shift website about growing up trans.

    Impact of GALYIC on Members

    Twenty-five members took part in interviews to find out how their involvement with GALYIC has helped them,

    • 100% said it had helped them develop a positive LGBT identity;
    • 96% said it had improved their confidence;
    • 92% said they felt less isolated as a young LGBT person;
    • 81% said it had helped to reduce their depression;
    • 83% said they felt less suicidal;
    • 79% said they self-harmed less; and
    • 75% said it had helped to reduce their phobia.
    When asked what they got from GALYIC, members said:

    "Someone to talk to if I need to, somewhere different to go other than pub" "Support, advice, acceptance, understanding" "Social space, meet other like-minded people, support, workshops, self-esteem" "Be able to come out of self more, find ways to meet people like me" "Somewhere I can say what I feel. Help others. Feel useful but also get support" "Place to go and meet people my age. Not have to worry about what people think. Chill out" "Friends, not judged, chance to be more open more than I normally am - I normally suppress me" "Meet other people. By seeing other people happy hope it will make me happy" "To be myself and to explore and talk about my sexuality"