Help with coming out

By admin
09 February 2015

Eighteen-year-old Spud star Troye Sivan’s recent coming-out video got mostly positive responses – but it isn’t always so easy for everyone. Clinical psychologist Natalie Robbs gives advice on this life-changing journey.

Case study

Cape Town-based journalist Christiaan Boonzaier (27) came out when he was 19 and says the most challenging part of it was that he knew he was “going to hurt a lot of people – especially close friends and family who thought they knew me but who really didn’t”.

Now in a long-term relationship, he admits the hardest part was telling his parents. “I knew they had dreams about my wedding and grandchildren – dreams they nurtured for two decades and which I was going to shatter in two seconds.”

How to tell your parents and friends

When you’re ready to reveal your sexual orientation choose an appropriate time or situation to do so – and try not to beat about the bush or make excuses, Robbs advises. “Just be open, honest and direct in a non-confrontational way. Remember, coming out is a process so don’t rush it. Give people time to get used to the idea.”

How to cope with negative reactions

The unfortunate reality confronting people of differing sexual orientations is the prejudice they experience, often from family and friends but also from strangers.

- Make sure you’ll be safe when disclosing your sexual orientation to others. Many people have been threatened or even thrown out of their homes afterwards. Negative reactions are usually due to ignorance and deeply rooted belief systems, which are unlikely to change overnight.

- Find a counsellor or psychologist you can talk things over with. There may even be one at your school. Many community clinics and local hospitals also provide inexpensive therapeutic and support services.

- Sometimes having a psychologist or counsellor mediate a family session can alleviate anxieties, fears and misunderstandings.

- Keep in mind you may have taken a while to come to terms with your sexuality before coming out, so it’s understandable that others may also need some time to understand and accept the news.

Christiaan on how he dealt with negative reactions

Don’t be disappointed if your parents are disappointed. They need time to process it. In my case they raised me for 19 years and then realised they didn’t really know me. It’s a big shock, but one that time will heal.

Make peace with the fact that not everyone will be comfortable with your sexuality. Sometimes you’ll have to cut ties with friends – or even family members – who just can’t deal with it. They might just need time to come to terms with it, so give that to them.

Christiaan’s tips for teens struggling to come out of the closet

Don’t rush it. It’s the biggest cliché on earth, but you’ll know when the time is right to tell your loved ones.

Start with the people you’re closest to – your confidants. They’re the ones who almost always know that you’re gay; they’re just waiting for you to trust them enough to tell them.

Don’t be selfish. You’ve probably had years and years to come to grips with your sexuality. Don’t expect your loved ones to just deal with it in a couple of minutes.

Take it slow. It’s probably not the best idea to introduce your parents to your boyfriend or girlfriend immediately after telling them you’re gay.

Come out on your own terms. Tell your parents somewhere where you’re comfortable. You should also decide whether you want to tell both at the same time or one by one.

What to do if a gay friend confides in you

“Coming out is a scary process, and if a friend has confided in you it’s because they trust you and feel safe telling you,” Robbs says. “The most important thing you can do is to listen to them and be supportive.” If you see a friend is struggling or having to deal with rejection at home, suggest they contact a community clinic or local hospital that offers psychological services.

What do you do if a sibling comes out?

“Coming out is difficult for everyone, not just the person disclosing his or her sexual orientation, and it’s normal to feel some shock at the news,” Robbs says. “But once it’s worn off, try to talk to your brother or sister. You don’t necessarily need to accept their choices right away, but you can still be a part of their life.”

Also, try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine how hard it must be for them. Remember, they’re likely to experience rejection and loss as a result of their sexual orientation so knowing you care and are still there will probably mean the world to them.

For more help contact:

- Triangle Project – a service for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth: 021-686-1475 or

- The Inner Circle – counselling and programmes for LGBTI people and their families in the Islamic faith: 021-761-0037/4434

- Gender DynamiX – an African-based organisation focusing on the transgender community: 021-633-5287

- Childline: 0800-055-555

- loveLife Sexual Health Line: 0800-121-900

- The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG): 011-262-6396

By Faiza Mallick

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