There’s no one way to be queer, but no matter who you are, one of the most personal experiences you’ll have can often be the most nerve-wracking (and sometimes the most dangerous): coming out. Whether you’re out to a few close friends or your whole campus, coming out to your family can be a whole different ball game. Here are a few things to consider if you’re still on the fence about coming out of the closet.
1. Potential safety risks
Ideally, safety wouldn’t be a concern when it comes to coming out. But in a world where being anything other than straight can quite literally get you killed – the FBI found that 19.2 percent of violent hate crimes in 2012 were motivated by sexual orientation– it’s something to think about. Are your parents open to different sexualities, or have they made comments about LGBTQ+ issues that made you squirm? If you feel like you might be in danger at home for being who you are, call a hotline or find someone you can talk to.
Psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula points out that having the support of others around you is crucial in case your family reacts poorly.
“Social networks go beyond just families,” Durvasula says. She suggests finding people to talk to who support you and will help to “soften the challenges this transition can bring.”
2. Your financial situation
Some families may not resort to physical violence, but there are other ways of rejecting your identity. If your parents would, for example, kick you out of the house or stop paying your tuition, it makes the decision a lot harder. A lot of collegiettes are still figuring out how to manage their own money, but every situation is different. You need to decide if coming out is worth being suddenly cut off.
While some people have gotten creative with that problem, such as the University of Pittsburgh student who turned to GoFundMe to crowdfund her education after her homophobic parents cut her off, it’s often difficult to sort out how to finance your education.
If getting cut off is a concern of yours, talk to your school’s financial aid office about your options in the event of losing your family’s financial support. Search for scholarships, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you find yourself suddenly penniless. Be sure to get support from a mental health professional if possible.
3. Your personal comfort
The closet is more comfortable for some people than it is for others. You need to find out for yourself if you’re ready to come out, even if you know your family would accept you. Sexuality is fluid and complicated, so if you need time to figure out what you’re feeling, then maybe coming out isn’t the next step.
Keep in mind that Durvasula says, “it is not unusual for a woman to experience emotions such as depression, apathy, anxiety, distractibility that interferes with academic performance,” when she faces rejection for her identity. It is crucial to have support from a counselor, your peers or LGBTQ+ groups on campus who can help you figure out how you feel and how you might deal with your family’s reaction.
4. Available campus resources
Most colleges and universities have mental health centers with counseling services for free or a small fee. Durvasula suggests taking advantage of campus resources while deciding if you’re ready to come out or not.
“A young woman is highly recommended to use counseling as a place to discuss fears and feelings about coming out to prepare her to do so with her family,” she says. “Oftentimes fear about family response can make a woman defensive out of the gate, and therapy may be able to help her with those dynamics.”
If such services are not available, such as at religious or conservative schools, Durvasula suggests seeking the support of LGBTQ+ student organizations, local support groups or local LGBTQ+ centers that will help guide you through the process. Talking to others about their experiences and having the support of your peers can make all the difference, Durvasula says.
There are plenty of resources for deciding how and when to come out. If you’re ready but you don’t know how to bring it up to your family, try writing a letter to your parents (or whomever you’re coming out to). That will give them time to process the information, and it removes the threat of immediate danger if they aren’t accepting of your identity. You can also bring along a friend you’re already out to for support. Always be prepared for any type of reaction.
Lastly, Durvasula points out that it’s likely you may never feel completely ready to come out – just like you may never be done coming out, either. In a heteronormative culture, coming out is a constant process: when you’re assumed to be straight and cisgender, you will often be faced with wondering if it’s safe to come out to certain people in certain contexts.
With all these things in mind, remember: Coming out can be a personal and difficult journey, and only you will be able to decide when and how you will make it – or if you want to at all. But if coming out is important to you, make sure to take the necessary precautions and assess the risks to have the best coming-out possible. Good look, collegiettes!