October 8, 2021
“Wait, you’re not straight?” I still get this question a lot, even from friends who’ve known me for years. When I first began to question my sexual orientation, it was something deeply personal and slightly terrifying. The idea of trying to figure out my sexual identity seemed overwhelming, especially at the age of 12.
Even after I thought I had it figured out, I didn’t come out right away. Coming out can be challenging, even if you know your friends and family will be supportive. It requires you to share some of the most vulnerable parts of yourself with others.
That’s why it’s important to have days like October 11, which is National Coming Out Day.
A Day to Celebrate Coming Out
National Coming Out Day celebrates the courage it takes to be yourself, including your sexual orientation and gender identity. No matter if you’re out or not, this day is meant to empower you. In addition, it also brings visibility to and increases awareness of those who are LGBTQ+.
My coming out wasn’t some grand fanfare where I sat all my friends down to make the announcement. In fact, the only person who knew for years was my sister. It took me a long time to feel comfortable coming out to others around me.
Even up until recently, I struggled when sharing my sexual identity with extended family. Most of them live in places where the culture is drastically different compared to my home in suburban New Jersey. Many times, I felt unsure about how to talk with them about things like sexual orientation. When I finally chose to come out to them, I felt more confident in myself and my ability to communicate with them. To my surprise, most of them were far more accepting than I had anticipated.
It’s Also OK Not to Come Out
Coming out is supposed to be for you. Some people don’t feel safe coming out, due to issues with family or the community they live in. For instance, living in a family that can be more conservative on some issues, I hesitated for a long time before I decided to come out to my mom. I’m relieved that it has been fine.
Others simply don’t feel ready. Either way, it’s totally OK! People who fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella come from a plethora of different backgrounds, and individual experiences vary. Coming out can look different for everyone, and the way you choose to come out should feel comfortable and safe.
Sexual identity is also fluid, and you don’t have to feel pressure to label yourself if you don’t want to. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what labels seemed to fit me best. Bisexual? Pansexual? Over time, however, I’ve realized that I don’t have to identify with any particular label. Identity is personal, and the most important thing is to do what feels right for you.
As a teenager, exploring your sexual orientation and gender identity is totally normal, and you don’t have to have it all figured out right away.
So, if you are struggling to decide what’s right for you, the best advice I can give is not to force anything. Choosing to come out should be done on your own terms, at a time and place that feels right. In addition, there are plenty of incredible resources to help you figure it out, like GLSEN, the Human Rights Campaign and The Trevor Project.
This October 11, take the time to celebrate the strength of LGBTQ+ teens around the country and world. Feel free to wear your pride merch all over town or not—it’s up to you!