Hey peeps, this week I was approached by a devoted Raising My Rainbow and Queerty reader who has a few questions for us. Cameron is a 19-year-old who runs the Gay-Straight Alliance at his high school in Ontario, Canada. He’s looking for advice on coming out and/or supporting those who are coming out. I’m just as eager as Cameron is to read your answers and advice. You can reply via posting a comment at the end of this blog post or e-mail me discreetly at RaisingMyRainbow@gmail.com and I’ll pass your advice on to Cameron. See Cameron’s e-mail below. Thanks for your help!
“Calling all mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends and of course gays!
Coming out is something that calls on not only one person, but their entire support group. This can include parents, friends and teachers. So, what advice would you give to the support group – the people supporting someone who has made the decision to come out and live their life as who they are. I am a high school student in Ontario, Canada and I run a GSA at my school. We recently discussed support groups at one of our meetings, and I am very interested in the opinions of others in regards to this.
God.. I nearly shat myself when I started reading this. My name is Cameron, I’m 19 and gay.
I found it was easiest to sort of gain momentum. I started out by telling just a few people that I really trusted (It helped that one of those people was the girl who made me realize I’m a lesbian). Once I had a little group of people who already knew and supported me and my decision I found it easier to come out to everyone else. Especially when those few people were with me. An added perk was coming out to my roommate (boarding high school) her response to my “Hey, um… I’m gay.” was a resounding “Oh my god! Me too!”
Kudos to you, Cameron, for being a positive influence and strong leader for your peers! And also to RaisingMyRainbow for helping mobilize Cameron’s cause.
I have one bit of advice for those supporting LGBT youths while coming out: Understand what “coming out” truly means, and why it’s relevant. It is a process we must endure because for the most part, “heterosexual” is our social default – it’s what we’re all assumed to be from birth. We know roughly 10% of all people are not born heterosexual, but still, social status quo and religious doctrine shape our values and identities, more often than not to repress anything considered “abnormal” or “sinful.” Understand this simple, raw truth about coming out. We did not chose our sexuality, we did not chose our upbringing, but there is a choice in whether or not to accept our true selves and love how nature wants us to. When we “come out,” we share our true nature not exclusively with those we love, but to everyone we feel we can trust.
Please also understand what “coming out” is NOT: a cry for attention, a mental-emotional weapon, a plea for help, a trend/fad, or an entitled gift that only certain people can receive.
I am not gay but my younger brother is. The only advice I can give is this:
1. Try to avoid telling only certain people and asking them to keep your secret. If you are going to come out, try and embrace it. In my case, my brother told me but not my parents. It was a year later before he worked up the nerve to tell them. It meant stress for me, lying when talking about certain topics with my family and having to act like I was ashamed. I was anything but; I wanted to be supportive but because I was one of few people who knew, there wasn’t a lot I could do and not a lot of opportunity to talk openly (I had moved away from home and my brother was still in school).
2. Try to approach the person/people you are coming out to at a time and place when you can talk. I was sworn to secrecy and told less than 1 minute before my parents walked into the room…and they were the people I wasn’t supposed to tell. I would have loved to talk to my brother about what was going on in his head, to tell him that I still love and support him, that I was proud he told me….hell even to be able to hug him before the moment was interrupted.
It’s not much, but hopefully it helps. Just keep in mind that it may not be as bad as you think. My father was very homophobic, but after my brother came out he is doing his best to adjust. He still loves my brother and accepts him for who he is…but my brother didn’t know what to expect when he told my dad. I know it is scary, but for your own piece of mind, try to go for it. You may be surprised how people react. And at least you don’t have to live a lie anymore.
although i can understand your point of view, and appreciate your leaving some wiggle room buy saying “TRY” to come out all at once, i don’t think you are going to find that a well received suggestion. what you are addressing there is not the coming out process, but your own discomfort at being put in the middle. i hear you. nevertheless, most counselors recommend first coming out to a close friend or relative in confidence first, with the proviso of course that things could get strange or your confidentiality breached. hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. there is also the issue of coming out at home while you are financially dependent on your parents. this is only an issue where there is strong atmosphere of homophobia or religious conservatism of the anti gay kind.
most parents, even some pretty intolerant sounding, do come around over time, but if there is a serious doubt, it is often best to grit ones teeth and bear it until after HS graduation, at least. at the college level, there are developing a substantial number of financial assistance plans for disowned gay teens, so there are alternatives if needed.
When I first came out to my best friend (straight guy) I figured he would be supportive but wasn’t sure. Turns out we wound up talking for over 2hours, I did most of the talking and he just sat there and listened with the occasional question. Sometimes the best support is just being a good friend who is willing to listen. I know having someone to talk to helped me process what I was feeling, and his continued acceptance has made our friendship that much stronger.
Support doesn’t have to be anything more than letting someone know you will still be friends with them and will listen to them when they need to talk.
i have to say this, other responses notwithstanding, i don’t really understand the question. it seems pretty general if not downright hazy. perhaps cameron would consent to being really specific about the nature of the input he is looking for. i try very hard not to give advice, but i often when asked share experience. i have my 25 year chip on how to communicate with teens without being pompous.
Hello! What I meant by this question is what advice would you give to the people supporting someone who is coming out. It’s still a broad question, so I’ll be a bit more specific. I run a GSA at my school and I am out to my family and friends, but I know that some people aren’t, and are still struggling with this. We talked about Support Groups, and I wanted to find a way to ask others if they have anything to add. I have very limited life experiences because of my age, and I think that this is something that others could have a greater insight about. Coming out is a hard decision for someone to make, and I’m wondering what is it that their friends or families could do to really support them and help them move forward in their lives.
i think the best way i know to be supportive is to share you own experience and what has made YOU feel stronger. the reason i stay away from giving advice is that no matter how obvious a solution may seem, one size does not fit all. if when someone tells me his or her intentions my experience tells me that this may not be productive or may lead to pain i look for some experience of mine that may be similar and share what i did and how it worked out. that way i have communicated without being judgmental. stick with what you have experienced or you have witnessed others go through, and if you don’t have a parallel, say so. its also really great to have a mentor you trust, so you can refer the situation or problem upstream so to speak.
if your gsa doesn’t have one already, assemble a list of sites or organizations you know to be supportive and accessible, like pflag, the trevor project, or even AA or alanon for people having trouble with drugs or with loved ones that have a problem.
that’s a good start.
Sometimes, the support is just being seen by the people who need to see it. It’s easier to bully someone who’s walking alone than with others (or even just one other person); it’s easier to “not hear” a hurtful comment when someone else comes by with a friendly word.
First I just want to point out, from the kid’s email he’s not coming out. Maybe he is LGBT, but he doesn’t explicitly state this in the email, and it doesn’t sound like he’s worried about his own coming out experience.
Second, good for you Cameron for being in charge of your school’s GSA! 🙂
My only advice for being there as a support for people considering the coming out process is to not push them. Like Greg said, usually this is something the person has been mulling over in their head for a long time. It may sound oblique, but really all you need to do is “support” them. Running your GSA already makes you and your group an incredible built-in support. Make sure your GSA is visible within your school (posters, events, have a float in your homecoming parade, etc.), and be vocal around the school (i.e. call out people for using “gay” as a slur, even if they’re not directly targeting an individual). People will know you are there and open-minded, so they will come to you when they are ready. Once the person has come out, do not feel as though you have to be their only support. There are many issues involved in the coming out process that a high school group may not be able to address sufficiently. Have a good list of resources. Does your GSA have a teacher sponsor as well? If so, ask that teacher for resources – phone numbers of help lines, pamphlets on PFLAG, online groups you could refer people to.
Yes, I’m not exactly worried about coming out, that bride has been crossed.
Thank you for your input!
I’m from Ontario too, but a few years out of high school (okay it’s going on four now haha). My boyfriend is trying end the ban on GSA’s in the Catholic board for our region. (shameless promotion of his petition here – http://stopthehate.ca/ )
Do you have any tips for us on how to help the students in our area start up GSAs?
If you do not feel that you are ready to come out, then you do not need to come out. You can do it on your own time. For years I didn’t know how I would ever be able to tell my parents that I was gay. Every time I was alone with them every other thought in my mind was, “Do I tell them now? Will they still love me?” One day, I woke up and I realized that that was the day I was going to tell them. That I didn’t care what they did, that I had to tell them. They have been so unbelievably supportive of me ever since. Sometimes it’s not a matter of them being okay with you, it’s a matter of you being okay with them knowing. And it’s all right if you’re not ready.
But also, make sure a few people know and that you can talk with them about it. Some close friends, a sibling, an aunt or uncle. Going on internet forums often helped me talk about being gay in a much more confident way than I was able to in real life at the time.
And finally, there is always help. Everywhere you turn. Whether it’s a school counselor, a relative, a friend, a local organization, you can find help if worse comes to worse.
When I came out to my parents, I allowed them to grieve their “ideas” of my perfect future. I allowed the anger and silence. I was steadfast on the respect for all involved. When my parents came around and for me I was very fortunate, it was only a couple of days, we spoke about how and when I came to my own acceptance. I was honest about everything but no graphic. I assured them that for the first time in my life was actually living and they noticed that as well. I slowly told friends, ones that I knew would offer support first and then others. I lost some and gained some and you know what, I am OK with that. Once you are out, remember, you don’t need to HAVE to be out to everyone, all the time. Know your surroundings and audience and make judgements from there. There are crazies everywhere and pride will do you no good when you are dead. I am sorry if that may sound scary, but it is a scary world out there (sometimes). The best advice is to surround yourself with people who care about you, all of you. There are alot of them out there.
One of my relatives actually approached me LAST NIGHT asking for advice on how to help her daughter and support her, even though she has a girlfriend. I gave her the best advice I could muster, and I hope it helps you too, Cameron. Maybe this is directed most to parents.
“as i don’t have any kids, i can’t understand what you must be feeling. i also do not know anything about the situation you have with your daughter.
however, i do know how i grew up to be who i am. i know many who argue that this life i have is a choice, i however would disagree. while it’s sometimes fun to do things to annoy my parents, you know just as well as i do that i would not choose to live a life they would not approve of.
ever since i knew what it felt like to be attracted to other people, it’s always been boys. my dad used to catch me looking at gay porn on the computer when i was in the 6th grade! but (on a non sexual level) i can remember being in the 3rd grade, in Illinois, and thinking that this new boy in my class was attractive (not sexually, but in a i-like-the-way-he-looks-more-than-other-people kind of way). i think that means i’ve always been the way i am, just as i’m sure your daughter has too.
Your daughter is still your little girl, even if she attracted to other women. she hasn’t changed. she still loves the same foods, the same movies, has the same favorite color, and still knows and loves her mother too. she’ll need you to be there for her, through whatever she has to deal with. it’s no different than if she were dating a boy–if her relationship ends, she’ll need you there to hold her…or to celebrate if her relationship lasts.
but I can promise YOU ARE NOT ALONE. every parent of a gay child is the same situation. they’re all worrying for the safety and well-bring of their child(ren), and they’re looking for help and advice too. there are plenty of resources EVERYWHERE for you to seek help from, both online and off. PFLAG is the first one that comes to mind, but if you live near a big city (and maybe even if you don’t), there is probably an LGBT support center nearby. Google it and head on over. I GUARANTEE all the queens there would LOVE to help you however they can, and you don’t even need your daughter present at the time.
best of luck!”
The circumstances and variables involved with the coming out process are as infinite as the people who are going through it. There is no standard piece of advice or course of action that is made to wear. Having said that, there are safe havens where people can go to explore options and discuss what makes the process unique to him or her. GLCCs should have trained staff who are sympathetic and empathetic. PFLAG, as noted in a previous comment, is also a good starting place. There may even be colleges that are willing to partner with high school groups. In my experience, avoid drugs and alcohol to cope because it is only going to make things worse. And if the person is going to be sexually active, be safe and don’t let anyone tell them anything different. And they should remember, this is only the beginning of the journey that can be filled with so many happy and positive things.
My advise to those supporting someone who is coming out is to remember that the person who is coming out to you ISN’T changing; they are just letting you know who they have always been. The only thing that changes is the depth of the relationship you have with this person. Now they can be as open and honest to you as you’ll have them be. I think a lot of people make the mistake in thinking that when someone comes out they just change overnight, but in reality it’s only your perception of that person that changes. Change can be hard to deal with, but it might help to think more deeply about what’s really changing.
There will always be people who disagree with your decision, people who will say mean things, and people who just won’t understand. That’s why you have to know that, no matter what, being who you are is never wrong. As the straight friend of several out gay teens, I can tell you that there is always at least one person in your life who will support you no matter what. Always keep your head up. Never let them bring you down. And never, EVER let them make you feel bad about who you are. That’s the number one rule.
i can see your support and love, and it’s wonderful to read about it. But i need to nit-pick, as I’m sure your LGBT friends would too. I don’t know how you personally feel, but most LGBT people that I know prefer to not use the words “decision” or “choice” when describing their sexual orientation, as I’m sure you wouldn’t either to describe yourself.
Not hatin’, just saying. Have a great day!
No offence taken, But I meant the choice to come out, not the choice to be gay. Should’ve been a little clearer I guess 🙂
PFLAG is always a good resource to go to. I went to them in high school and they had some great reading materials. Also surprisingly enough the Dept of health and social services can have some great books on gay adoption which i found really sweet. the Itgetsbetter project and the Trevor project are also really good resources