Students Speaking Out on Coming Out
December 20, 2016
Flushing High School junior Elliot Pray is not afraid of telling people who he is. “Hi! I’m gay,” he’s gone up to people in the halls and declared. Elliot is a pansexual, transgender male, something he does not hide as vice president of FHS’s Gay Straight Alliance, but it wasn’t always that way. “It used to take me months (to tell someone he’s pansexual),” he says, but now, it’s no big deal. Gay Straight Alliance President, Syd Brown agrees; “The more people you come out to, the easier it gets…. it’s not a big thing to me anymore, but it used to be the scariest thing in the world.”
Syd, who identifies as a panromantic, asexual, nonbinary human, first came out to via social media to their friends, and in an email to their mother. Sophomore Bailey Gannon, however, came out as bisexual in a “whole big stereotypical sit-down in the dark, at a sleepover with my best friends,” while it just came up in conversation for Aria Pierson, another bisexual sophomore. Syd says there is no one way to come out; “I think coming out is a super personal experience and whatever works for you works for you,.” depending on environment.
Despite differences in delivery, Elliot, Syd, Bailey, and Aria all came out to their friends, before family. Some family members were more accepting than others, but all said they felt more pressure, when it came to family. “It’s easier to come out to friends… when you come out to family, it feels like they aren’t as replaceable. We share the same last name,” Elliot explains. Bailey agrees; “It’s the people that are supposed to love you unconditionally that could end up hurting you the most if they don’t accept it.”
To avoid hurting LGBTQ teens coming out, members of the Gay Straight Alliance have practical advice. Feel free to ask questions, but do so privately and never ask “Are you sure?” Do not say it is a phase. Be supportive, but “don’t freak out”. And for those who have a hard time comprehending what they have been told “Google is a thing!” reminds Elliot.
And Google may be necessary, with lists of sexual orientations, gender identities, and pronoun uses that were practically unheard of a generation ago (see glossary) . “Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t know the terms. I still don’t,” Aria admits. Syd, however, says complex vocabulary is no excuse for not accepting LGBTQ identifications. “Calculus confuses me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” they say, “Don’t say ‘your identity is invalid because I don’t understand it’. And if you educate yourself and still don’t understand it, just respect it.”
Griffin, a transgender male at Flushing High School (who doesn’t want his full name published), says this respect may take a while though; “Remember they (family and friends) are just acknowledging it (a new gender identity) themselves. Give them time, just as you give yourself time.” Syd agrees and says the process is especially hard when trying to explain gender identity. “It’s a totally different experience, coming out as queer compared to coming out as trans. When I came out as pan, the general consensus was ‘all right,’” but when they came out as nonbinary, others tried to explain the concept of gender to them, rather than accepting Syd’s identification.
Coming out may seem scary, it doesn’t have to be, according to Elliot. “Take your time,” he says, “If you feel safe, and you are ready, just do it.” The “if you feel safe” is key in that sentence. “Only come out if it’s safe for you. It comes down to what environment you’re in; it it’s not safe for you or if you’re uncomfortable, just wait. There’s no pressure,” Syd advises closeted peers, and for those coming out, having trouble coming out, or supporting a friend, the Gay Straight Alliance is always open to new members.
- Asexual: not sexually attracted to anyone
- Bisexual: sexually attracted to both males and females
- LGBTQ: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning
- Nonbinary: does not identify as exclusively male of female and are often referred to as “they”, rather than “he” or “she”
- Panromantic: romantically attracted to all gender identities and biological sexes
- Pansexual: sexually attracted to all gender identifies and biological sexes
- Transgender: gender identity does not match biological sex