On October 11th, we celebrate National Coming Out Day! On this day, we lend a little extra support to people who identify as LGBTQIA+. “Coming out of the closet” or choosing to be transparent about one’s sexual or gender identity is a big deal.

For some people, coming out to friends, parents, and others is one of the most daunting challenges of their lives. For most people, however, coming out isn’t limited to one singular moment. It happens again and again, with extended family, teachers, and neighbors.

If you want to come out but aren’t sure how to go about it, here are some coming out tips:

Prepare what you want to say beforehand and practice so you feel totally comfortable. Speak from the heart and disclose as much or as little about yourself as you’d like.

While you will likely face questions, know that you don’t have to answer anything you don’t want to. You can share what feels comfortable to you about your sexual orientation or gender but don’t owe anyone explanations about topics that feel too personal or invasive.

Don’t feel that you have to come out to everyone you know at once. You may want to come out to someone you’re close to and trust first, and from there be selective about who you come out to. If you aren’t out to everyone, let those you do come out to know that this is private information they shouldn’t share until you tell them they can.

If you’re nervous about coming to others after the first time or the first few times, consider asking someone who’s been especially supportive to join you when you come out.

Choose the format for coming out that suits your comfort level. You can come out in person, but you can also choose to come out via phone, video call, email, or letter. If you express yourself better in writing, you may want to write or email an important person in your life, then follow that up with a phone call or in-person visit, depending on their reaction.

Come out in a setting where you feel at ease. For instance, if you’re coming out to your family and your childhood home doesn’t feel safe to you, perhaps you’ll want to choose a restaurant or park or other space that’s more neutral and less fraught.

Make coming out fun by hosting a party. If you’re a social person and want to celebrate your new identity with friends and family, you can host a coming out party. A woman held a “funeral” for her straight self after coming out as bisexual, using the concept as a way to come out to all her friends at once.

Don’t want to have to come out repeatedly to everyone you know? Come out on social media on your terms. For those who’ve had someone recently come out to them or may be in that position in the future, how should you react if someone you know opens up to you about their sexual or gender identity? Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t minimize the importance of the information that is being shared with you. Saying, “I knew it all along” or “I don’t care who you’re attracted to” can feel dismissive.
  • Do recognize the forethought and courage that enabled your friend to come out to you. Acknowledge that it must have been difficult for them to confide in you, and remind them that they are safe with you.
  • Don’t interrupt. You may be tempted to ask questions or offer advice, but it’s important that you listen with intention.
  • Do give them time and space to share their thoughts fully before you interject. Someone has put careful thought into exactly what they want to say to you, and they really want you to hear it.
  • Don’t feel pressured to respond immediately if you’re not sure what to say.
  • Do take your time by pausing, reflecting, and even asking for a moment to think about what you’ve just been told.
  • Don’t ask who they’re attracted to. They may or may not be dating someone, and they’ll share that information when they’re ready. For now, they’re working on sharing important information about their sexual or gender identity with others.
  • Do plan to support them if and when they choose to enter into a relationship with someone.
  • Don’t ask if they’re sure about their sexual or gender identity.
  • Do recognize that some people spend years getting to know themselves and their sexual preferences and gender identity. A great deal of consideration has likely led to this moment.
  • Don’t forget to check in on this person’s well-being.
  • Do consider that the process of coming out could have been emotionally draining for them, and remind them that what they’re doing is both brave and healthy. Ask how they’re feeling today, and continue to vocalize your support for them regularly.
  • Don’t skip the technical details.
  • Do ask if your friend identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or something else. Further, ask what pronouns you should use when referring to your friend. By using the appropriate language when speaking to or about your loved one, you are helping to validate their identity. 
  • Don’t assume that everyone knows. 
  • Do ask your friend who they’ve come out to and, more importantly, whether or not it’s okay to discuss the matter with others. It’s possible that your friend is ready for the whole world to know about their sexual or gender identity. It’s also possible that they don’t want anyone else to know.
  • Don’t feel like you need to have all the answers.   
  • Do offer to help your friend find resources designed to aid the LGBTQIA+ community. Organizations like the ACLU are packed with helpful information for people who have recently come out. By connecting with other LGBTQIA+ people and supportive allies, your friend may feel less isolated.

Supporting a loved one through the process of coming out is important work. By treating one person with compassion and respect, you’re making the world a safer and more understanding place for LGBTQIA+ people. Reassure your loved one that you care about them unconditionally, and continue to include them in activities and plans. Be patient with yourself as you get to know a truer version of your friend. Let love win! See your how to be an ally blog post for more tips on how you can support those you care about in the LGBTQIA+ community.