Coming Out Tips for Gay Men
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and hear from people who have read this.
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How this started
I often meet people who are struggling
a bit with coming out and end up talking about it and helping them. I
found myself saying the same things to people over and over again. Basically
just conveying what I have learned over the years - what I wished I would
have known when I was 12!
Anyway, in June
'99, Attitude Magazine was looking for three sets of gay
sons and their fathers to do an article which looked at
their relationships. My Dad and I agreed to do it. I
decided that I'd like to get some of my tips into the
interview and so I began typing up my thoughts. I just
got carried away and this was the result!
I'm sure some people will feel
my ideas are too opinionated. I have written them in a very black and
white way - partly to get my points across - but partly because I really
do feel quite passionately about them. Of course, I realise that people's
situations are very different and one can't always be so idealistic -
but I reckon that it's a pretty good aiming point. Perhaps something to
Someone recently said to me that
after reading my guide they felt like they had "come out to their
parents all wrong" and needed to correct their position on things.
I was immediately reminded that in fact my coming out to parents was actually
the same. I had to go back and put right my first attempt! I had kinda
"peeped" out my closet at 19 and said all the wrong things to
my parents. It wasn't until I was 28 that I did it anything like properly.
Just remember that it's too easy
to get out of doing the big deed when you're understandably scared. Don't
shy away from it. It'll be the best thing you ever did when you look back
in time. So "feel the fear and do it anyway".
If you need a reason to come out
- make it this. Do it for others ahead of you. You see, I've met so many
straight people now who tell me the same story. They were pretty homophobic
until they actually spent time with someone gay or someone they knew already
and liked came out to them. I'm convinced that it's this process that
breaks down prejudice more than any other and so the future happiness
of generations of gay people quite literally lies in your hands.
I hope my tips
have some sort of universal truth to them. Don't dismiss
the ideas too quickly - that's all to easy to do when
0. You're a star
Yes I mean you......the one considering coming out!!! You're fantastic.
You're brave. You are doing the right thing. I love you already.
You're thinking about doing the most important thing you'll do for yourself
in life most probably. It's about really making friends with yourself.
Connecting mind and body again.
1. Do your homework
The very act of coming out makes a kind of statement which often will
challenge people's strongly held prejudices. Don't worry - you're right
- they're wrong!! But for goodness sake make sure you know the arguments.
Be able to answer confidently and deal with objections in an intelligent
way. Like it or not you will become a "homosexual ambassador"!
Essential reading is definitely some coming out books. It will help you
be a more relaxed and assertive gay man in any case!
I reccommend "A Stranger in the Family" and "Assertively
Gay" both by Terry Sanderson.
(The first one is a great "leave behind" for parents & family.
It'll tell them everything you wanted to say but may have forgotten or
just reiterate what you said already.)
2. Get the point of coming out
It's NOT about admitting guilty secrets.
It's NOT about shame and being sorry.
It's something altogether more positive and has two parts:-
(a) It's about no more lies. It's having a moment of truth in your life
and then making a habit of truth from then on and for evermore. It's about
gaining dignity and getting a life.
(By the way - no cheating - you can lie by omission as well! What you've
NOT been saying also a kinda lie. So it's also about speaking up when
you have previously been mute.)
(b) It's about being a full adult....and that involves enjoying sex and
acknowledging your sexual needs and life as normal and desirable.
I'm going to stick my neck out here - I'm sick and tired of people telling
me that guys who choose not to come out are being completely adult about
it - they are "just living life a different way"...."because
of their job"...their whatever. They aren't. I believe that are just
scared. They're misguided. They're kidding themselves. They just intellectualise
their decision. It stinks and they know it.
Now don't get me wrong here. I would *always* defend a closeted gay man's
right to privacy every step of the way. I'm not for "outing"
people. (Unless they're homophobes themselves - then I have no sympathy.)
Closety gay men have all sorts of ways of justifying their self destructive
behaviour. One irksome and really silly one is that they tell you things
like - "Being gay is only a small part of my life". "It's
only what I do in bed". That's as silly as saying that eating is
a small matter in life. Your sexuality pervades your whole personality
in complex ways. It affects your drives in life. Your relationships. Your
ways of looking at things.
These closety people are also being selfish. They are
leaving us to do all the work. They are not thinking about what they can
do for others who follow. Often, because you have the guts they dream
about, they appear to hate you. It's not helpful. You would think they would
at least be on your side. In my experience closet queens can be
the worst homophobes!
Coming out is the single most useful and political thing you could do.
You affect countless people around you....reducing homophobia and increasing
3. No way to "Don't tell"
Don't agree to avoid telling certain people. Out is Out.
This seems to apply especially when coming out to parents. You know -
"Well darling you've told us now but nobody else need know about
it." Or "Grannie and your Auntie Sadie must never know about
If you are being asked this kinda stuff - they aren't getting it. They
are thinking "secrets and shame" and they should be thinking
"let him be be free, honest and get on with an adult life".
Not only does this apply to Grannie and Auntie Sadie - it also applies
in a similar way to......
The Rabbi / Vicar:
You must respect a persons right to hold their religious beliefs. You
don't have to respect their homophobia. The flip side is that they must
respect your right to be seperate from them and they can't restrain you
as an adult or should they be making you feel lesser than them because
you are a non-believer.
Personally I think organised religion is rather mentally unhealthy. I
understand what people get out of it - I used to be knee deep in it myself
- but I reckon there are better ways to achieve a sense of spirituality,
a social environment and support network which don't involve fairy stories
and most importantly are more inclusive and don't operate through guilt.
Younger Brother and Sister:
There's no lower age limit to telling. I mean - would we ask how old a
child has to be before they are told their parent or older brother is
Black? Jewish? Disabled? Of course not. I have two children of my own
and they always knew - certainly by 4 years old. It all about using appropriate
language for their age - especially talking in terms of who you love.
Also helping them understand homophobia and being sensitive to any teasing
that might occur and being there to support them and nip it in the bud.
Children don't see any in-built reasons why people that love each other
shouldn't be of the same sex. It's homophobic adults that teach them these
ideas. Love is love. Attraction is attraction. Kids seem to instinctively
Don't be defeated intellectually with the "you're ramming it down
our throats" thing. What planet are these straight people on?! They
have been "ramming their sexuality down our throats" all of
our lives in every way possible. That's the point.
You must make them see that this is not about "Don't ask don't tell".
It's about living openly......like they do!
4. Equality is a powerful concept and easy to understand
Learn a lesson from Stonewall's (www.stonewall.org.uk) strategy. Equality is a simple idea
for people to understand and it's hard (but how they try) to argue against
it. If they do they show themselves to be prejudiced.
Keep reminding them of the parallels. "But my brother David has his
girlfriends to stay. It's no different Mum."
5. There are some people you have to just tell - just accept it
I know it feels funny to say "Auntie Sadie I have something to
tell you. Something I feel I have been hiding....." But the reality
is that you have lead certain people on (mainly family and friends) for
years. You have to put them right. The thing is - it's a one-off exercise.
Once they're told - it's done. Then you only have new people to deal with.
Much easier and you can develop a natural way to do it. (see later)
6. How to tell new people and when
The guideline I use is that little voice inside telling me "I
know he thinks I am straight and it's become relavent to the conversation
so I can duck and dive or put him right".
You shouldn't be even considering "ducking and diving". It's
a no-brainer now - remember. You are "out"! Just answer honestly.
Also...don't you go letting your work change any of that. It's not worth
it. Never. I once had an potential employer offer me a lucrative senior
job over dinner but tell me "I have no problem knowing you're gay
but the customers must never find out." He missed the point.
I ate his expensive dinner....lovely it was...then I emailed him and explained
why I wouldn't be taking the job!
7. Be who you want to be - but most of all be yourself
The aren't any official ways to be gay. No rules. It's a blank sheet.
My advice is stay who you are. If you want to be a Julian Clary lookalike
and that's your thing - then fine. But if you're the sporty lad next door
- you still can be. Don't spoil yourself by trying to fit in. Find others
who appreciate you for what you are.
8. It's the way you tell it
- Use the "highest motives"
Remind your parents that you are telling them *because* they brought you
up to be an honest person and because you love them and have integrity.
- Don't be a pathetic apology
Read (2) again!
- Show vunerability
Don't be frightened of showing you care. You are worried by their reaction.
You want their support. Crying is allowed. Emotional family scenes are
fine. Do the hugging an weeping and stuff. Holding it in is not playing
a trump card - that it's real. That it means something to you. The memories
of how you were will start them thinking about things from YOUR point
of view. Not just theirs.
- Show maturity
Be emotional sure...but try not to say things you regret. Don't lose the
plot - even if it goes badly. Don't get egg on your face. They are the
ones not being the model parents just now. Earning their respect may be
a long-haul but you will make it harder if you lose it and tell them all
to fuck off.
If you do - hey - shit happens - make sure you apologise. But ONLY for
being rude. Being gay isn't something to apologise for.
9. You can't feel good about being gay if you don't feel good about
Sort it out. Stop worry about being a slapper or becoming a sexual
compulsive. A little experience doesn't do anyone any harm and tends to
lead to more mature relationship decisions later on. Just make it safe
and always be honest with the people who are sleeping with.
Don't be frightened of letting yourself go. My motto is "If it's
not dirty you ain't doin it right!". Sex is meant to be erotic. It's
not a sin to feel lustful and horny in my book.
Make sure you feel comfortable with the person you are with. "If
in doubt - leave it out". Don't be pushed into a situation you don't
want. Be assertive. Say no if that's what you want to do.
Don't cheat. If you are in a relationship and promised monogomy...then
do it. If you feel you can't make it work and want an open relationship....then
discuss it and negotiate it. Do what works for you...but don't start lying
again. The whole point of coming out it to drop a lying-habit.
10. Don't fall victim to "Reasons not to tell". (Otherwise
known as the game of "Yes but")
There are always reasons not to come out to parents. I bet here's
some of your possible excuses:-
- I need their money
- I'll get chucked out
- They are too old
- They are too ill
- They are too conservative - they would never understand
- They are religious
- It would upset them
- I'll wait until such and such a time
11. Don't wait until you don't feel scared. You always will.
Look - they're your Mum and Dad and you're about to tell them that
"their little honey" likes dicks. It's gonna feel scary. Whatever.
The point is that it takes courage to come out. You don't need courage
if you aren't a little scared. It's natural to be frightened. You'll gain
strength from feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
12. What you think will happen- might not happen. What you think won't
happen - might happen
In my experience - however certain you are about how a given person
will react - they may surprise you. You might *think* you know your Mum
or Dad but you never can tell. People have more depth and complexity than
we give them credit for.
13. After you have done it - it's only like the first day at school
After you've come out I reckon it's like a first day in a new school.
It's scary and feels new and exciting but part of you wants to hide away
- go back in sometimes even! You'll soon get used to it and don't look
Remember that you actually GAIN strength each time you come out to someone.
You've only just started to sort it out. You need practice at being an
out gay man for some time before it feels natural.
14. Give them time
Whatever their reaction - however bad - it's only a starting point.
They'll get used to it. Give them time. You've had loads.
Things will get better.
15. Get some gay friends
Having gay friends is probably the most important thing a gay man
needs in life. You need people who are like you around you for a million
reasons. No one will understand things from your perspective like someone
else in the same boat.
16. Prepare for the worst ... but remember it normally doesn't happen.
A close friend you can go over to. Stay with? Remember, if you are
a young person who has become homeless because of your sexuality there's
special charity who can help - the Albert Kennedy Trust. Others like Shelter,
etc are very sympathetic too..
17. The earler you do it - the more of your life you get back
Don't waste your life. Do it now. Society has already cheated you
of some dignity - get as much as you can back.
I've met 14 y/olds who have come out these days. Bravo for them.
They are my little heroes. (Did you see the story of the 16 y/old who
is sueing his school for failing to adequately protect him from bullying?
Wow.) They are being gay men for all of their adult lives......just in
the same way as a straight guy sees himself as straight for all of his
18. Realise that (in general) the parent's bond to the child is strong.
It's a big big thing for a parent to reject a child. They may be angry
they may react badly but the odds are on for them coming to terms with
it all and healing the wounds in the longer term......if you want it enough.
Even if you don't reckon you have a good relationship with them - it may
even be the turning point.
19. Try to make them the first ... or at least one of the first people
Don't let them find out through others. It's so rude and hurtful.
You'd kick yourself if they are fine about it and are simply hurt that
they discovered it through others.
20. Don't wimp out. Always remember you are a man - just a gay man
Tell your parents. Don't construct a situation where they ask or find
out by "accident".
Show them that you may be a "poof" but you are still a bloke.......or
as my Mum would say in her best Yiddish....."be a mensch".
(a) The Gay Times left on bedroom floor trick ain't too polite.
(b) Sticking as many pin-ups from "Sugar" on your walls as you
can coupled with and taking ages in the bathroom, etc etc aint a way forward.
[Nobody's stopping you doing this of course - but it ain't a substitute
for a simple conversation.]
(c) Having your Mum or Dad walk in on you and your boyfriend shagging
is not a good way to tell them either.
Have the guts to tell them properly - they changed your nappies didn't
21. Do them together if possible
Hard one this. It's best if you tell them together if at all possible.
That way there's no competition between them. But I can see that there
may be times when a person is much closer to one parent or simply won't
see the other for ages and it needs to be done one at a time.
Fine - as long as you don't agree to "not tell the other".
22. After you've told them - use the more sympathetic one to get the
other to be more positive
Let Mum or Dad - whoever is more ok about it all fight some of your
battles with the other.
For example - I knew that my Mum was in charge. It was obvious that if
my Dad wouldn't play ball she would withdraw sex, washing, ironing and
cooking. Impossible odds for my Dad!! Sorted.
23. Use the media
Watching films like "Beautiful Thing" and "Get Real"
with your parents will really help your case. Get them on video.....essential
I'd say. They are funny, great films and very entertaining.
Take them to plays. Point out stuff on T.V. Buy them books. Point out
Web Sites, articles in the papers....whetever.
TV, Radio, Books, Plays, Films, Web, Papers, Magazines
You may find that they really love it. My Mum will often read my Pink
Paper for example.
24. Use your friends
In the nicest possible way of course...
...pick a gay friend or two that your Mother & Father would like and
get them over. Let your parents spend low pressure time with them. If
you can organise it - go shopping with Mum, go out to dinner, whatever.
Get them used to people who they like who are also gay.
Famous ones are especially useful here! (Apologies to any who may be reading.
I love you really. Honest I do!) But let's face it - they somehow add
credibility to the whole affair. That's why it helps people so much when
they do come out themselves!!!
Anway - now repeat the exercise with the more unusual ones who will be
harder for your parents to accept. Don't sanitise the thing for them -
just get them used to gay people starting with the easy ones.
25. Get involved with doing something more for others
Join Stonewall. Volunteer to work on switchboard. Become a THT "buddy".
Write an article for the School Magazine (and argue with them when they
won't publish!). Help a friend come out. Whatever it is ... helping others
is a positive thing to do, makes us feel good and actually helps us connect
with ourselves somehow.
26. HIV and AIDS
Don't freak. It isn't easy to get HIV. Just know the score and stick
to the current advice. In short - you can have a healthy, horny - and
busy - sex life without being at substantial risk from HIV.
Read the current literature from THT and local Health Authority initiatives.
Find your local GUM / Sexual Health Clinic and get regular sexual health
checks (inc HIV if U feel better having it) Also - get the jabs you can
get for for Hep A / B etc.
27. You have to come out again and again - all your life
You will be coming out to people over and over again. Eventually you
get practiced at it. It's becomes more like just "correcting something
they didn't get right about you" and not the big event with deep
Every time gets easier.
Of course you don't want to become one of those people who shake your
hand for the first time and practically say "Hi. I am Peter and I
am Gay". However, you will probably find yourself correcting someone's
idea that you are straight pretty quickly but quite naturally.
I don't worry about timing. It just happens.
e.g. Today I was asked by a neighbour what I did this weekend. I told
him I'd been to Leeds to see the Mr Gay UK competition. (He asked. I answered.)
At dinner with a customer...."So Trevor, you married." I'd probably
say "No...but I'd love to be if only I could find the right guy.
Make it normal. Be direct. Make it seem an ordinary fact which you have
no problem with and that isn't a secret. Public information in fact.
28. Use the "G" word
How may times have you heard someone say "Well when he told me
he was - I was so surprised" or "I knew I was at about 14".
Was what? Can't they say GAY for goodness sake. It's the same people who
look around the room to see who might overhear as well.
The more you say Gay the easier it will be.
Remember Out means Out!
A LITTLE SUMMARY
What it takes:-
(1) A decision to be "out" - not 1/2 out, not "Out to some"
but completely out.
(2) Courage. Not waiting until you aren't scared - cos u will ALWAYS be.
Believe me. Anyway -you don't need courage if U aren't scared. Being brave
is about tackling something you *are* frightened to do but know is good
for you. [1st day at school]
(3) Some gay friends and good times spent together.
(4) Books, films and information. e.g. The books "A stranger in the
family", "Assertively Gay" - Terry Sanderson. The films
"Get Real" and "Beautiful Thing". Get some knowledge,
understanding and do some thinking about gay politics and to the damage
done to our personalities because of how we are made to feel as gay teens
and young adults.
(5) Some self-respect
Trevor's home page.