3 Ways You Know You’re Ready to Come Out

You know you identify as LGBTQ+, whether you’re bisexual, lesbian, asexual, transgender or genderqueer—and you’ve come to terms with it yourself.

The question now is, “How will I know when it’s time to come out?” The truth is, there’s no one specific, concrete answer to this question. It really is a personal and complicated issue that you have to work out for yourself. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, and it really does depend on the person or people you’re thinking of coming out to, as well. We do, however, have some tips for getting started.

1. Are you getting uncomfortable not telling people?

What’s the easiest way to decide that you’re ready to come out? When not telling people starts to feel like lying or makes you feel sad. When you’re still just figuring out your own identity, it doesn’t feel like you’re keeping a huge secret, but just taking time to soul search. But if you’ve known for certain for a while, it can start to get uncomfortable.

“The guilt of hiding something so big from my parents who are such a big part of my life really started to eat away at me,” says Kayla Layaoen, a freshman at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Kayla felt particularly guilty when her parents would joke that she or one of her friends was gay.

You have to take time to ask yourself, “Is it bothering me more to hide who I am than it would to tell this person the truth?” If the answer is yes, you may be ready to come out.

Alyse Knorr, an editor for The Parents Project, says, “I knew that I was ready to start coming out to people because when they were like ‘Are you dating any guys?’ I knew I'd have to lie to them again.” Knorr started to feel as though she was hiding something important from the people in her life. With that in mind, Knorr he stresses that you’re in no obligation to come out just because you’re starting to feel this way. It really is an individual process, and people feel comfortable with the idea of coming out at different times.

If you’re starting to feel really upset about keeping the truth from someone, you may want to take the time to ask yourself if now is a good time to come out to them.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Coming Out in Your 20s 

2. Have you talked about your identity with a support group, trusted ally or counselor?

The best thing to have on your side besides your own intuition and self-confidence is at least one person you trust who knows about your gender identity or sexual orientation. You can find this person at a counseling center, especially if you’re living on or near a college campus, or at a nearby LGBTQ+ support group or Queer Straight Alliance.

Alyse Knorr suggests reaching out to a counselor that you trust, or if you’d prefer to talk to peers, seeking out the existence of a campus support group. If one doesn’t exist already, you could even start one! You could talk to the members of your school’s Queer Straight Alliance (or Gay Straight Alliance, as they’re sometimes called) or the Office of Diversity on campus to get started.

You can also find this ally among your own family and friends. Lucy Hallowell, a writer for AfterEllen, says, “Having a single ally is a big deal and can make you feel so much less alone. You probably already know which friends or family members are going to embrace you regardless of your sexuality and those who may be more difficult.”

If you know one of your friends or family members is already a part of the LGBTQ+ community, you might consider reaching out to them for help and support. Or, you might know someone who is likely to be a strong ally despite not being a part of the community—someone who has spoken out about their stance before.

This person can help you make decisions about coming out to others, and can help you practice or walk through different scenarios. It’s always a good idea to have at least one supportive person to talk to while you’re making these difficult decisions.

3. Does the idea of coming out make you feel happy?

As uncomfortable as the actual act of telling someone about your identity—especially if they don’t react well—can be, after the fact, you may feel relieved and even happy that you’re letting people know the real you. “I reached the point of realizing that coming out was the only way I was going to feel better," Hallowell says.

If you tell one person or a few people and you find that it makes you happy, even when it’s difficult, you’re probably doing what’s best for you. Coming out is a complicated process, because not everyone you come out to will react the same way. But if your overall response is relief and happiness that you’re being honest, then you’re probably ready, even for the more difficult coming out moments. 

“When I started telling people, it felt very comfortable,” Knorr says. She also admits that it can feel both comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time, because it means sharing something about yourself that not everyone understands or accepts. “You have to learn to be comfortable with those contradictions, and the fact that it's different for everyone.”

Overall, if you feel happier after telling people, even when they may not accept or understand you right away, then you’re doing what’s best for yourself and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The most important thing, of course, is knowing yourself and not basing your coming out on outside pressure. “It doesn't matter if it seems like everyone in pop culture or your peers or just 'everyone' around you is coming out,” says Marissa Campbell, a junior at Framingham State University. “You have to do it on your terms.”

You’re the person who knows you best. Don’t come out because a significant other is pushing you to. Don’t come out because everyone in your friend group has come out. Don’t come out because you feel like you “have to.” You are under no obligation to tell anyone anything—it’s your life, and your identity. When you feel like you’re ready, you can start coming out to people, but until then, it’s absolutely nobody’s business.