Sexuality and coming out

In its broadest sense, the term ‘sexuality’ describes the whole way a person expresses themselves as a sexual being. It describes how important sexual expression is in a person’s life; how they choose to express that sexuality and any preference they may have towards the type of sexual partner they choose. Sexuality can also be defined as a person’s sexual orientation.

Sexuality may be experienced and expressed in a variety of ways; including thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, practices, roles, and relationships.

There is a huge variety of sexual expression: the way we choose to behave sexually is usually both individual and complex; it rarely falls into neat categories or lends itself to simple labelling. The term ‘sexuality’ often refers to the gender(s) of the chosen sexual partner(s). While this may be a restrictive definition, it can give people who do not feel they share the major assumptions of the dominant heterosexual mainstream the voice, pride and sense of validation that comes from discovering an identity and a shared experience with others.

About Coming Out:

Coming Out to Yourself

Before you can come out to anyone else, you may need to come out to yourself. There is no hard and fast rule about when or how this happens. Some people are certain of their sexuality from a very young age; for others it can happen much later in life. Accepting the conclusion that one is gay, lesbian or bisexual is hopefully easier nowadays for many, than it has been in the past, due to shifts in attitudes, legal changes and greater visibility of people identifying as LGBT (please see separate information sheet on trans issues). Unfortunately many people still experience discrimination and prejudice based on their sexuality and therefore the decision to come out to yourself can still be a very scary one and can be a period of upheaval and uncertainty, particularly if attitudes within your family or wider community are more homophobic/less willing to embrace differing sexualities.

Coming Out to Others

Families often have detailed plans for their children and can be very upset when it becomes clear that not all their hopes are going to be realised. Similarly friends and other groups may have their own very definite opinions or prejudices. It is important that you come out to people who will validate and celebrate your sexuality especially if there are other people who you feel may not be so accepting. You may also want to talk over the situation in detail first:

  • Look for sympathetic people to come out to first.
  • Follow your own timetable – it’s your life and your sexuality.
  • Don’t feel you have to tell people until you are ready.
  • Don’t assume people are homophobic just because they make insensitive jokes. Often people haven’t really thought the issue through, and don’t do so until someone close to them comes out.
  • Sadly the opposite can also be true. Just because people claim to be politically correct doesn’t mean that they cannot be quite fixed and judgmental in their view of people who identify as LGBT
  • Not everyone has to know. Many people — such as Department Staff — will consider that your sexuality is your own business. You don’t have to share it with them unless you particularly want to.
  • Don’t be too put off by an initial bad reaction. Many people react badly when they are faced with something that has shocked them and they may just need a little time to adjust to the idea.
  • Choose your medium. If you are worried that someone will be very hostile, writing might give them time to assimilate the news better.
  • Try not to take responsibility for other people’s reactions to you. None of us has control over our sexual orientation so we don’t need to apologise for it.

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