Feel good by contributing – help others to gain clarity on their sexual health. Note: TBD Health Inc. is not a non-profit.
By Aurora Smith
“Hey Dad, can I talk to you for a second?”
My hands were shaking. It was the day of my high school graduation, and I’d just learned something that scared me to the bone.
Now I had no choice.
My father followed me into my room and closed the door. He turned to me and — clearly reading my face correctly — offered, “Are you in legal trouble, pregnant, or gay?”
At first, I sighed with relief; I didn’t have to say it out loud. “The last one.”
The next few hours were a blur of anxiety and downright terror. A day that should have been filled with joy had me looking over my shoulder for my girlfriend’s father. I was sure he’d charge up to my family and make a huge scene in front of everyone.
After all, he just found out his daughter was my girlfriend by reading her diary. We were outed long before we intended to tell a soul.
That’s why I needed to tell my father that I was gay, even though I wasn’t ready. I needed someone to know what was going on, in case her father decided to try and out me to my family.
He didn’t, but the damage was done.
In an ideal world, every member of the LGBT+ community gets to decide for themselves when, where, and to whom they’ll come out (if anyone). Ideally, it’s a joyous moment filled with acceptance and empowerment.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. So as we approach National Coming Out Day, it’s important to talk about what to do if you’re outed.
When it happened to me, I was freshly 18 years old and had no one to trust but my logical, science-minded father. I was terrified my religious mother and brother would disown me. I hadn’t told any of my friends that my girlfriend and I were more than just best friends.
Now, at 33 (and firmly bisexual), I wish I’d had a guide like this back then. I truly hope no one needs it, but it’s here just the same.
Before we dig in, a small disclaimer: This is a very general list and is not meant to be exhaustive. Everyone’s queer journey will be different, and I can’t give the same advice to a 45-year-old business executive who gets outed to her team that I would to a 15-year-old who gets outed in a group chat.
That said, hopefully some tips in this list will help you, whether you’ve just been outed or are preparing for the possibility.
Speaking of preparing, if you’re afraid of being outed, your emotions are valid. One way to help stave off the anxiety is to do a little prep work.
If your family is the “they’ll disown me if they find out” type, try and get together some essential survival pieces. Pack a “go” bag with clothes and a few of your favorite items for emotional support. Stash some cash and/or a prepaid debit card.
Also do some research into safe places to go. If you’re a teen, look for LGBT-friendly safe houses or community centers. Or if you’re already out to a friend, see if their parents will let you stay in case of an emergency.
If you’re an adult, you might have more options, but making sure you have enough money for a hotel for a few days can be a good idea.
Also important for adults is to do research into the laws and legal protections you have in your area. A lot of states have laws in place that say you can’t get fired based on your sexual orientation, but it’s best to be prepared.
Having a support network is key. Perhaps your best friend is a vault of discretion but your sibling would out you to your parents the first chance they got. Or perhaps your coworkers are solid but you’re not sure about your friend group.
Whoever you trust, build connection with them so you have someone to help you if you do eventually get outed. Take comfort from knowing you’re not alone.
And if you need help finding support, here are a few resources to get you started:
You can also Google “LGBT+ support groups near me” for local options.
Say the worst has happened and you’re outed before you’re ready. The first step is to honor your emotions. This can be a very scary time, and it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. Don’t push feelings away or ignore them.
Whether you journal, punch a pillow, take a long walk, or have a therapist, take the time to process what can feel like a betrayal. It will help you think more clearly.
Then, rely on your support network and (if necessary) find a safe place to stay while emotions calm down.
It’s important to note you don’t have to say anything at all. You don’t have to explain yourself or your identity to anyone if you don’t want to. In a situation where choice has been taken from you, it can be empowering to remember you can still control your narrative.
Similarly, you can’t control how others react but you can always control your own reactions. Now, I’m not saying to stifle your feelings and be a bastion of blasé-ity (see above). But what I am saying is some folks will look to you for guidance on how they should be feeling.
Are you ashamed? Angry? Taking it in stride? If you’re able to show confidence (even if you’re faking it at first), it can show others your identity is your own.
Being outed may feel like the end of the world, but remember, it’s temporary. Someday you’ll be in accepting circles with love and support, and being outed will be a distant (if prickly) memory, like it is for me.
Being a member of the LGBT+ community is something to be proud of (hey, we have parades for this don’t we?) so hold your head up high, you magnificent creature. You’ve got this.
More About the Author Aurora Smith (she/her) is a bisexual health and fitness freelance writer with a passion for helping others and an obsession with Halloween.