If you don't know anything about how to come out in college, you'd have a lot in common with my college-aged self. Back then, I knew I wanted to talk about my queerness, but I didn't have any idea how to go about it. As a result, I don't have a great story about coming out in college. I wish I did, but mine wasn't so smooth. Instead of sitting friends and loved ones down to share my truth, I went the most passive-aggressive route humanly possible: I would just drop increasingly awkward and obvious hints over and over until someone would ask in an exasperated tone if I was queer, at which point I would launch into my freshly learned screed about the sexuality spectrum. By the end of the conversation, no one was especially enlightened, but I counted it. So I guess what I am saying is, if you're in college and you feel like you're ready to come out of the closet, then you can do a better job than I did. Of course, there's no pressure to come out right now if you don't want to, or if you're not ready. But you deserve a better coming out story than mine — especially today! What, haven't you heard? Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day!
Using this special day as a reason to finally take that leap of faith definitely helps, but coming out can still be really hard, especially if, like me, you have no game plan. So, I reached out to the experts for their advice on how to come out in college — and most importantly, how to do it safely. Here's how they suggest you kick off your own personal pride parade.
How to know you’re ready to come out
There's a reason why so many LGBTQ+ folks chose to come out in college, as Dr. Brian Cassmassi, a psychiatrist in West Hollywood, explains. “[It’s] a good time to test the waters with coming out, especially if living away from the family for the first time," Cassmassi tells Elite Daily. "That ‘blank slate’ with new faces at college allows people to reinvent themselves without former peer's past ideas of their identity.” All of that equates to an incurable sense of freedom — and freedom to be yourself. Once that happens, it can become increasingly harder to hide the very important part of yourself that is your sexual identity.
But how do you know if you're sure you’re ready to come out? “It's a personal experience for everyone," Marissa LaRocca, award-winning writer, speaker, and LGBTQ+ activist, tells Elite Daily. "But I'd say you're ready when you have a solid support network of people who accept you for who you are,” adding “if you can connect with the LGBTQ+ community in your college or town for support, even better.”
How to mentally prepare to come out
If you’ve decided it's time to come out, the first step is to make sure that you’re mentally prepared. To help get in the right mindset, Michael Salas, licensed professional counselor and certified sex therapist, suggests the following three things.
“First, give yourself permission to be scared. This is very vulnerable,” Salas tells Elite Daily. But don't let fear hold you back! Salas continues, “Remind yourself why it’s important to come out. You need to be able to show all of who you are. If you can remind yourself of how important this news is to share, you’re more likely to offset some of the pain that can occur.”
I can’t stress this enough — your loved ones deserve to know the full and complete you, just as you deserve to be surrounded by those who love you for all of you who are. Lastly, Salas says, “Remember that you can rely heavily on your supporters. If someone does reject you, there are more who will accept and love you.”
How to do it safely
Taking steps to prepare and protect yourself mentally is essential, as is taking steps to ensure your personal safety. Yes, things are getting better, but safety should always come first. To that end, LaRocca says that you should “make sure you have that support network around you and, if coming out to anyone who may not take the news well … you might want to have one to two supporters on standby who will keep you company, or who you can stay with.”
Salas adds that it’s a good idea to “know your local culture. This can be the culture of your school, or even your town,” when you’re planning how and when to come out. “If the culture is more rigidly opposed to LGBTQ people, you may want to first tell one trustworthy friend,” LaRocca says. “If you’re a little more unsure of the reaction of the other person, you can do it in a public place. That can be intimidating, but people are less likely to act violently in this type of a setting.”
It’s also important to remember you are not alone in this. One of the great things about coming out in college is that there is often a support system and infrastructure that can help make the process a lot less daunting. This is why Dr. Cassmassi says, “Many campuses have LGBT groups, which can provide safe environments.” So, if you’re nervous or worried you won't be safe in coming out, definitely take advantage of any services and support they offer.
Who to come out to
Choosing who to come out to may be really obvious, but for some folks it can be just as confusing and daunting as choosing when or how to come out. If that's the case, Salas says, “Tell who you trust most first. You don’t have to tell everyone at once. Some people in your life may not have even earned the right yet to hear you come out.” Keep in mind it’s not something you have to get “right” the first time, because, as Jor-El Caraballo, co-creator of Viva Wellness and a therapist specializing in LGBTQ+ clients explains, coming out is not just on a one-off event, but an ongoing process. "There will be opportunities to share this part of yourself with others throughout your life. You will likely have to come out to new friends, friends of friends, coworkers, etc. Don’t get caught up in coming out in the perfect way. Just do what works for you.”
As for what to say, LaRocca says the most important thing is to just be yourself. “When coming out, it is important to speak with vulnerability and to come from a place of authenticity,” she says. “Talk about how you feel, and have felt. When talking to family, indicate that your relationship with said family members is important to you, and that you are coming out in hopes that it will strengthen your relationship and bring you closer.”
Why coming out in college is awesome
But enough of all the scary stuff. Let's talk about why coming out is amazing and totally worth it. First of all, Caraballo says you can expect “a sense of relief in sharing a part of yourself with others that has remained hidden for long.” Plus, Caraballo adds it can allow you to become closer to the people you love, saying “opening up in [in college] can lead you to more intimate and fulfilling relationships which may be the foundation for years to come.”
But the best thing of all is that by coming out you’re finally free “to be yourself with friends," says Salas. "That’s a big part of the college experience. If you’re open about this part, you can talk about your relationship successes — and your failures.”
We're all human, and we all have the same desire to be free and accepted for who we really are. For some folks that comes easily, but for others, it takes time. Just know that you are worth it, and that you deserve the right to be open about loving who you love. So, if coming out is something you’re considering — whether you’re in college or not — then go ahead and embrace your truth. And if you're not quite ready yet, thats OK, too! The most important thing is to come out in your own time.