Editor’s Note: Due to the sensitivity of this topic, we refer to subjects by their first names only.
LGBTQ+A is an informational question and answer column that aims to provide readers with answers to questions they may have about various queer issues and topics, with answers from people in the LGBTQ+ community. Students interviewed are members of the Gay-Straight Alliance, which meets on Wednesdays in H-3.
In honor of National Coming Out Day on October 11, we asked a few members of GSA to share their personal experiences and thoughts on coming out to friends and family. As these are the stories narrated by the students, we ask all readers to be respectful of the stories shared below.
Manuela: “Well okay it was like seventh grade, and because I had just kind of figured out what was going on within myself, I was pretty anxious because even though you figure it out, it’s still pretty scary. So the first two people I told, one of them was one of my best friend and the other one was my goofy neighbor. We were on a play-structure just talking about stuff— I think someone was sharing secrets, I forget what was really said— but then they asked me for a secret… And I kind of just told them. And then one of them fell down the slide, I forget who it was, but it was a pretty funny overdone theatrical reaction; there was a lot of shock.
Because I feel like in seventh grade, it’s one of those times where not being straight is still really weird and taboo. So anyways it was received with good intent, and all my close friends were really accepting. But there was, and there still is, a lot of curiosity when I tell someone or every time it comes up. I get a bunch of questions like ‘Which do you like better?’ or ‘Really? How does that work, can you tell me about how you feel when you see ___ versus ___?’ It’s mostly innocent curiosities, but it’s still kind of an odd experience. And in my experiences with telling people, there’s also always a lot of ‘Oh wow, I didn’t see that coming at all!’ or like ‘Wait, you’re what?’ It’s different for everyone, and for the most part I feel very lucky to have gotten the responses I did. But there are always questions for me to answer, and always a subtle fear I have that people will treat me differently in an uncomfortable way. But again, I’m super grateful for the large margin of acceptance that I’ve experienced.
Diana: “When I was growing up I remember I went to a very small school— there were about ten girls— and I remember my whole life thinking, ‘One of us is going to be a lesbian statistically’ and I just assumed it wasn’t me because I had always liked boys. And as I grew up I was like, ‘I might like girls, but I like boys,’ and I didn’t really know about bisexuality. I think I first started hearing about it when I was like 12 or 13, so it was a little late. I had a huge crush on this girl the summer after eight grade and I was like, ‘Shit, I am definitely gay.’
So in my freshman year, I started going to GSA as an ambiguous ally, which is the whole point of having ally-ship you know, so people can come there and not have to declare any sort of sexuality. You know, they could be anything while at GSA. So I started going there and I started figuring out I was bisexual. During my freshman year— I don’t remember the first person I told— it wasn’t like a big deal, but I just started coming out to people my second semester and then there was just this point of like the climax where I was just out, and I just assumed everybody knew that I was a bisexual. And if someone didn’t know, I was like, ‘What the fuck, why do you not know this?’ So I came out to my parents a couple of years ago and I don’t remember exactly when, but my mom had always been asking me if I was gay all the time, and I was like, ‘Mom don’t ask me that,’ and then I would be like, ‘Yeah I’m gay,’ so now I’m out. My dad is still coming to terms with it in the sense that he is like, ‘I want to know if my daughter is going to be dating boys or girls,’ and I’m like, ‘Both.’ So yeah, it’s been great.”
Emma: “ I think the first time I came out was actually online. In middle school I had a Tumblr fan account for this band, and a lot of other fans I was seeing online were a part of the LGBT community. Engaging with them helped me learn about the community and explore my own identity. Beforehand, I was really struggling to come to terms with my identity and had kind of been trying to deny that part of myself. Seeing other people embrace their sexuality made me feel safe to embrace mine, so I told some of the people that I met there that I was bisexual. In that sense I think the internet can be a really great resource for anyone questioning their sexuality.
The first time I came out in real life was at the end of eighth grade. It was to my group of closest friends; we were all going to different high schools so we were telling each other secrets about ourselves. I was really nervous because these were people I cared about, so their opinion mattered a lot. They all took it really well- basically they didn’t say anything, they were just like, ‘Oh, cool,’ and one of my friends later told me that she had known for a while anyways.
Coming out is a continuous process, though, and going into M-A I didn’t know anyone, so I had to come out to all my new friends here. I was also still figuring out my identity, and realizing that really I was lesbian instead of bi, so there was that part of it too. In spring of freshman year, I came out to some of my friends at M-A, and they were really surprised but in an almost excited way. Once that initial band-aid was ripped off it got a lot easier for me to come out to other people at school. I was also starting to become a lot more comfortable with my sexuality; sophomore year I started going to GSA which really developed my confidence in myself by giving me a safe space to be with other queer people.
The only person I’ve come out to in my family is my sister, which I did during sophomore year as well. Her main response was, ‘yeah, I know,’ and we didn’t talk about it that much more after it. I felt really relieved afterwards because before it felt like I was hiding such an important part of myself from her.
In general, my experiences with coming out have been overwhelmingly positive. Living in the Bay Area the majority of people you meet are accepting of the LGBTQ community, so it’s not as big a deal, but I still always feel some degree of nervousness coming out just because it’s assumed that you’re straight. It’s also always a bit uncomfortable, no matter how people take it, because there’s always the element of me defining myself as something outside of society’s norms. Once it’s over, though, I always feel a lot closer to people who I’ve come out to. The biggest thing I’ve learned from my experiences coming out is that the key element is that you accept yourself first; having that self-acceptance and courage to tell someone in the first place is half the battle. I would encourage anyone that’s struggling with coming out to try and find those communities and safe spaces like GSA where you can be yourself and learn about other queer people’s experiences, to help you embrace your identity and build your self-confidence.”
Caroline: “Same as Emma, the first time I came out was online to close friends I had made over the internet. Being in an online fan community made me aware of different sexualities at an earlier stage than I would have been had I only learned about it in school, so I will always be really grateful that I explored that avenue of the internet as a middle schooler. Being bisexual used to be something that really scared me to admit to people, as I was really hung up on being someone nobody would have a problem with, but as I grew as a person and as I grew into my sexuality, I realized that it wasn’t something I should ever be ashamed of, it was just something that made me, me.
The first time I came out to someone in real life was first semester of junior year, to a really close friend of mine. I had been out online for at least a year at this point, and I decided it was time to finally tell my friends I saw everyday. Even though I knew she wouldn’t have any issue with it, I was still really nervous to tell her, because coming out changes how someone sees you forever. After I told her, it got way easier to tell the rest of my friends, because once I had broken that first barrier I finally felt free enough to show people who I actually was. I have really been blessed to have such great friends who have accepted me throughout this process.
While coming out is really freeing, it is also something I still feel anxious about sometimes, as people around me are not always as accepting as the community I find myself a part of now. Also, coming out is not just one big ‘boom.’ It happens over and over again once you decide to make it a known fact about yourself. You have to come out to everyone individually and the process takes time, but it is worth it in the end.
I never really planned on telling my parents about my sexuality because I wasn’t sure how they would take the news, as they grew up on the East Coast and as far as I knew they didn’t personally know that many gay people. The only reason I ended up telling them last spring was because I was going to the Pride Parade and I wanted them to know why I was going, in case anything happened to me while I was there. While this was perhaps not the happiest of occasions in which to come out to my parents, it ended up being the last puzzle piece I needed to truly be able to accept myself, sexuality and all.”