What to Say When Your Child Asks:
“Why Do People Have to Come Out?”

by Beth Reis, Safe Schools Coalition, Seattle, Washington

As LGBT parents, the time will come when our children will ask us: Why DO people come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender?

Some people don’t have any choice. Somehow they’ve been recognizable as LGBT since they were infants. Their most natural, honest gender expression differed enough from their culture’s stereotypes that they were “out” before they knew themselves.

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But other gay, lesbian, bi, (and some trans) people are not particularly different from heterosexual non-transfolk in their gender expression or, at least, they fall somewhere within an acceptable range of “normal” gender roles for their culture at their time in history. And they may decide to come out. Why? For all kinds of reasons:

  • Because it feels phony to pretend to be someone you’re not and nobody can get really close to you when you’re pretending.
  • Because you can’t tell whether the people who love you are just loving your mask or the real person behind it. So it’s lonely.
  • Because it isn’t fair that other people can have boyfriends or girlfriends and you can’t or that other people can walk and talk and sit the way they like while you may have to watch every move you make.
  • Because watching every move you make can be exhausting; it can sap emotional energy that could otherwise go into being better at your job, or a better parent or person.
  • Because you may feel as if you’re betraying your people by not standing with someone who’s harassed or discriminated against for being lesbian, gay, bi or trans.
  • Because it may mean preventing yourself from hanging out with people who have this important thing in common with you, if you’re worried that people will see you with them.
  • Because the opposite of coming out is actively hiding, an act of fear or shame. And at some point, as your fear and shame diminish and your confidence and self-respect grow with maturity, it just makes sense to stop hiding.
  • Because your health care providers and counselors can provide you the best of care when they know your whole biological, emotional, social self.
  • Because, as the Human Rights Campaign says, it’s “a powerful thing you can do” for the movement. Public opinion polls indicate that people who realize that they know someone LGBT are more likely to support laws and policies of equality. You can correct people’s stereotypes, assuage their fears and open their hearts.
  • Because it’s a powerful thing you can do in support of those who aren’t ready to be open yet, letting yourself be a role model, demonstrating that there are healthy, happy, “normal” LGBT people in the world… even people of your particular race, age, disabilities, etc.
  • Because nobody should have to pretend to be someone else in order to get an education, hold a job, get respectful health care, or be loved by their family.

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