The past year has been like no other. The pandemic arrived last March, and across the country – with the exception of a few states – everything changed. Schools switched to virtual. Rather than the two weeks we initially anticipated, most stayed virtual all year. Businesses closed and restaurants stopped in-person dining. Movie theaters paused, concerts stopped, and the way we socialize changed in a radical way.
Those are the big-picture, society-level changes that happened.
But those aren’t the only changes that happened over the past year.
Teens at home learned, grew, and changed. Some took up new hobbies, like playing music, drawing, or working out. Some spent the year playing video games or making and sharing ridiculous memes with their friends.
And some teens did something completely different.
They found a new identity.
They found their true identity.
Find might not be the right word. Perhaps we should say accepted or discovered or remembered or realized.
Whatever way we say it, what we mean is this: during the pandemic, some teens formed a new sense of self that does not conform to majority sexual or gender norms. They identified as a member of the LGBTQIA + community.
For those teens, we have a message: we’re proud of you. Not just because it’s Pride Month. We see you and accept you for who you are, as-is, right now. Congratulations on having the courage to accept the true, real you.
Now you have a new challenge ahead: coming out. If you want to, of course. The decision is yours. But let’s say you’ve decided you want to be open and live your truth. You realized who you are in relative isolation.
The question now is how to share your new self with your friends, classmates at school, and the rest of the world.
Tips on Coming Out: LGBTQIA+ Teens
First, we should reiterate that you’re not required to come out to anyone.
Your identity is yours – and you get to decide who gets to know the true you.
But we covered that already. The list we’re about to share is for those of you who know you want to come out and might need some advice about how to do it. Since there is no right way or wrong way to come out, we asked friends, searched for helpful resources online, and combined the best of what we found and what we know in the list you see below. Hint: one of the most helpful resources we found was this TED blog here – complete with a video.
Before we offer this list, we have to tell you something, in case we forgot: we’re proud of you, we believe in you, and we support you one hundred percent.
Now, on to the list.
Five Tips for Coming Out: LGBTQIA+ Teens
1. Identify Your Support System
This is very important. You need to find a group of people, or just one person, that’s sympathetic, understanding, and you know will offer you love and unconditional support no matter what. For some teens, their family is their go-to support system. For others, it’s their friends. The reason you need a compassionate, sympathetic community of friends, peers, or family is because, unfortunately, some people you come out to will not understand the new you. If that happens – and you experience disapproval – then you need to balance that out with the opposite: total approval. That’s why we’re making this tip #1. Coming out is not always easy, and the love of your family or chosen people can make the hard parts fade, compared to the joy and freedom of living, breathing, and existing as the true you.
2. Trial Run A: Come Out to Yourself
This is one we didn’t think of – but we think it’s a great idea. It’s like doing an affirmation – except it’s you, fully confident in who you are, saying the simple sentence “I am…[gay, bi, lesbian, trans, questioning, non-binary, aromantic, asexual…].” Here’s how you do it: find some time alone, stand in front of a mirror, and come out – to you. You can use the sentence we suggest or say it in any way you like. This is an important step: you need to be able to look yourself in the eye and speak your truth. When you’re comfortable saying it to yourself, you’re more likely to be comfortable saying it to someone else. Which brings us to tip #2.
3. Trial Run B: A Guaranteed Sympathetic Listener
This one may make you laugh. However, we talked to several people about it, and they all agree it’s a great idea. They understood immediately. For your guaranteed sympathetic listener for your second trial run, come out to something that will never judge you: practice coming out to a pet or a houseplant. Really. Your dog, your cat, and your goldfish do not care. Tell your puppy you’re gay, and they’ll be like, “Awesome, yay you, let’s go for a walk!” Tell your cat you’re nonbinary, and they’ll be like, “Snack, please,” as they nuzzle your leg. They don’t care. You were you before you said “I’m gay” and you’re you after you say “I’m gay” and that’s all they care about: you being you. And they love you for exactly who you are.
4. The Real Thing: Come Out to A Trusted Friend
At this point, you’re good at sharing your new self with yourself and with a guaranteed sympathetic listener. Now you need to take the leap of faith, and share your identity with someone you know is safe, reliable, and trustworthy. That person is probably someone in the support network you identified in tip #1. It’s important that you arrange situations that ensure your emotional, psychological, and physical sense of security and wellbeing. Pick your person, and tell them about your gender identity or your sexuality. If they’re part of your chosen support system, what you’ll likely receive is a big, warm hug. And what you’re likely to hear is “I love you.”
5. The Next Real Thing: Come Out to Someone Who’s Not In Your Support System
This might take some thought and planning. Correction: this should take some thought and planning. When you choose the person you want to come out to, try to find out where they stand on LGBTQIA+ rights. One way to do this is to bring up a famous person who identifies as LGBTQIA+ and ask them what they think of them. Or, you can show them the pride sticker on your notebook and ask them what they think about it. If they have a negative reaction, that’s not your person: find someone else.
The most important thing in this whole process is your emotional, psychological, and physical wellbeing.
In fact, the experts in the TED article we link to above believe that safety comes first, even if that means waiting to come out. There’s one last piece of this tip: let your support network know you’re about to come out to someone “outside the circle.” It’s an unfortunate truth that sometimes, those conversations don’t go the way you want them to, and someone you thought would understand might not. In that case, you need to have your people ready. You’ll need someone to talk to, someone to hug, and someone who helps get you grounded – but that’s just in case. If it goes well, then that’s amazing: you have an ally, and you may have a true friend in someone you thought was only an acquaintance.
There’s something we haven’t mentioned yet in this article: the role of family. Family acceptance is crucial in the coming out process. Since we wrote this article for teens who developed a new sense of self during the pandemic, we’re assuming your family already knows, understands, and supports you.
These tips are for taking your new identity out into the world.
Start Now to Be Ready for Fall Semester
For you, as a teenager, it’s likely that a big part of the world is school.
That’s why taking these steps now, before you return to school, is a good idea.
That way, you’ll accomplish three things.
First, you’ll have practice coming out. Because although you may not know it now, coming out is not a one-time thing. The chances are you’ll have to do it more than once, as you make new friends, take new jobs, and pick up new hobbies over the course of your life.
Second, being deliberate and intentional about the process now will lay the groundwork for the years to come. You may go through all the steps above in a week, or it may take you much, much longer. You may not be ready to come out – that’s why you work on tips 1-3. For some people, the process takes years. There’s no rush, and the only one who gets to decide when you’re ready is you.
Third, if you go through this process before school, that means that when you get to school, you’ll have a core group of people who already know the situation. They can help buffer any toxic energy or negative feedback you receive once you’re back in the school community and culture. If there’s a crew of solid friends who know, have your back, and support you for being who you are, then that decreases the chance your new identity will cause a stir and monopolize school gossip.
Being Yourself at School and With Classmates
Going through these steps now will reaffirm your identity, and give you time to practice being comfortable with your identity in public. You’ll have practice embodying your new sense of self and your new identity in the world. You’ll look and feel comfortable. Like a boss. You’ll know how to talk the talk and walk the walk. You can walk into school the first day knowing who you are, and knowing you have a group of friends behind you.
You’ll walk into that school as the real, genuine, true you, full of confidence, ready to handle whatever comes your way: that’s a powerful gift that will last forever.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.