Rachael Davis talks us through the challenges and rewards of coming out later in life, with useful tips and guidance on how to navigate this important moment
Whether you realised you’re part of the LGBTQIA+ community later in life, or if you always knew but chose not to come out for whatever reason, coming out as an adult can present its own challenges. Every queer person has the right to choose if and when they decide to share their sexuality or identity with another person, and you should never feel any pressure to tell anyone if you don’t want to.
However, if you are keen to share that part of yourself with the people in your life as an adult, but aren’t sure how to go about it, then look no further. Here are a few tips to help calm any nerves you might have and empower you to go on living your best queer life.
Prepare For Surprise
You might have been slowly learning more about your own queer identity for months and even years, but for those around you, it might come as a bit of a surprise if you’ve been living an apparently cis or hetero lifestyle up until this point. When you first tell people, they may express surprise or shock, which can be hard for you to hear.
It’s not on you to answer any of their questions that you don’t feel comfortable with, so don’t feel pressured to address their emotions immediately. If you expect that it may come as a shock to some people in your life, think about bringing someone who you trust along with you to intercede on your behalf.
Remember that their surprise will fade and what people say initially may change, perhaps even faster than you might think. How they feel at the beginning might not last forever, but some people do need time to process what you’re telling them. If you need to, don’t be afraid to give them some space to do their own processing.
Set The Scene
As an adult, sometimes our time with loved ones can be restricted. As teenagers, we often live with our families, spend all day with our friends at school, and so on. If you have moved out, then choosing the ‘perfect moment’ can start to become trickier.
There’s no right or wrong way to come out, so if this supposedly ideal moment never seems to present itself, go ahead and make one of your own. Come out over text, via social media, on Zoom, or in person. No one’s coming out story is the same, so don’t think you need to have emotional face-to-face meetings as we see in movies if you don’t want to. It’s your identity, so it’s up to you if, how, and when you come out. It’s your choice, and no one else’s.
Stagger Your Conversations
The beauty of coming out as an adult is that there’s likely a lot less crossover between your social circles. Your close friends probably won’t be coming for sleepovers at your parent’s house, and we often have circles of friends who rarely actually meet.
That means you can stagger telling different groups of people if you want to. Remember that coming out can be emotionally draining; for many people, it’s a big step and takes a lot of bravery. Feel free to spread out that emotional labour by coming out to different people at different times. You can also ask them to keep the information to themselves until you’re ready – once again, your identity, your choice.
Know Your Rights
You have no obligation to tell your employer or your colleagues that you’re LGBTQIA+ but, for many people, living authentically in the workplace is an important step. If you do want to come out at work, find out whether there’s an LGBTQIA+ support group within your company that can offer you guidance or just some friendly queer colleagues to get to know.
Just in case you need it, it’s also helpful to be aware of your rights. In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 protects you from discrimination and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender reassignment (gender identity) in employment. This begins from the moment you start interviewing for a role all the way through to dismissal. Hopefully, you won’t need it, but there is a legal basis for you to defend yourself in the workplace should you have to.
No One’s Story Is The Same
Ultimately, the way you come out is yours to choose. The suggestions above are merely that: suggestions. Remember that, even as an adult, there’s still no time limit on when you come out. Whether you’re 25, 45, 85, or never decide to come out at all, your queer identity is equally valid.
If you need some extra support as an LGBTQIA+ person or are looking for further advice on coming out, MindOut is a dedicated mental health charity specifically for queer people. Stonewall is another fantastic LGBTQIA+ organisation ready to offer support and resources should you need it. Their ‘What’s In My Area’ tool is also useful for finding specific support near you for a range of issues, from trans healthcare to legal advice.