After You Master How to Come Out, Use These 3 Strategies for Being Out


How to come out involves informing the people in your life that you do not identify as heterosexual. The assumption for most people is that everyone is heterosexual until proven or informed otherwise. I find it most helpful to assume that everyone is gay. This way I can more efficiently identify those who are heterosexual because they make no bones about letting it be known. Coming out is directed at the people already in your life who have assumed you to heterosexual.

How to be out, on the other hand, is different than how to come out. Being out is the experience of living without censorship of, or hiding your sexual orientation from others. This happens after you’ve done the work of figuring out how to come out to all of your friends and family. Being out is more about stopping something (to stop censoring) than it is about sharing something (“I’m gay”).

When you think about it, to proclaim, “I am gay,” is awkward for reason’s unrelated to your sexual orientation. When this statement is lobbed out into the air, it is difficult to know how to respond. It’s not a question, an instruction, a request or even a helpful tip. It’s random, possibly unsolicited, information. It’s sort of like saying, “I got my hair cut.” It’s as if you are inviting feedback, seeking commentary or soliciting an opinion by stating a fact. How is someone supposed to respond to these kinds of statements? “Uh, duh!?” or, “Congratulations!??” or maybe, “That’s wonderful, how do you like it?” Or, “I thought so.” Awkward.

The following strategies are about how to be out, not how to come out. Once you are out, it’s time to practice the art of being out. These three strategies make being out a natural and straight (hmmm) forward experience:

1.  UNCENSORED SHARING. Talk openly about your life without censoring pronouns, partner relationships, and other orientation-revealing information. Just as heterosexuals do, share stories with your co-worker about your weekend. When you refer to your girlfriend or wife in ways that affirm her relationship to you, this is a natural function of being out. Discuss your everyday life as you ordinarily would. For example, “My girlfriend/wife and I went to a great show this weekend.” If someone is uncomfortable, they are not being invited to share their discomfort with you. You are not putting a statement out there for their commentary. PUBLIC SERVICE (COMMON SENSE) ANNOUNCEMENT: If you have concerns about your safety when being out — always choose safety first.


2. CORRECT MIS-ASSUMPTIONS. “No, actually I don’t have a boyfriend, I have a girlfriend/wife.” Again, this is a natural correction to a wrong assumption. It is no different than saying, “No, I am not married, my boyfriend and I haven’t tied the knot yet.” It’s a natural part of communication to correct someone who has made an erroneous assumption.

3. NON-VERBALS. There are many ways to communicate that you are a lesbian through non-verbals. You can place a picture on your desk of your wedding day. You can put a pride flag or HRC sticker on your car or somewhere in your office. You can wear gay-pride jewelry, apparel, and other accessories that tell a story without having to speak.

Sometimes people do not want to hear what you are telling them. Early in my being out process, I was often experimenting with how to come out. One time that stands out is when I attempted to correct an assumption that I was heterosexual that was shockingly unsuccessful. This happened years ago when gay marriage was but a blip on the radar screen.

I was working at a private psychiatric hospital, and it was the end of a very long workday. I walked my last client out to the lobby, and, as I turned back toward the receptionist to head back to my office, she informed me that I had a personal call waiting. She asked if I wanted the call transferred to my office, or if I wanted to take it there at the front desk. I opted to take the call right there in the lobby. After transferring the call, she picked up her Bible and started reading again — which is how she spent her time between calls.

The call was brief. I talked about what time I’d be home, what I wanted to do for dinner, then I hung up the phone.

The receptionist, with whom I had only had limited and playful communication, turned to me and said, “You’re married, right, Michele?” And I casually replied, “Nope, not married.” So she followed up with, “Well, you’re engaged, aren’t you?” To which I again replied, “No, I’m not engaged either.” Finally, she throws up her hands and says, “Well, why did I think that?” And as casually as I had replied to the questions before, I said, “I’m not sure why because I’m gay.”

To my surprise, she burst into laughter, only pausing long enough to respond with a playful response: “You’re so funny, you’re always joking!” We both smiled, and I headed back to my office.

As I tried out various strategies for revealing the truth about my life and my relationships, I discovered that it was much easier (and often more fun) to stop working so hard to break things down for other people. Over time I just stopped censoring anything (within reason!) that I said about my relationship, my partner, and all of the usual social topics shared with friends, acquaintances, family, and even strangers. If I’m talking about my wife, I say, “my wife” and I use the pronoun “she.” There — I’m out. It’s that easy.

If, for example, I need to hire a service person to fix my toilet, I will indicate that I may not be there, but I reference my wife, saying, “she will be when you arrive.” I don’t pause for permission or acceptance, and I don’t invite comments or feedback about my sexual orientation either. To do so would indicate that it matters to me what the plumber thinks about my relationship status. I don’t. And, that his the key, to genuinely realize that it is of no concern what the plumber thinks about your sexual orientation. He is there to fix a toilet, not to judge my relationship. I will not pretend I have a husband or that I am single so that the plumber feels more comfortable. Sadly, there was a time I would have, though.

I vote we raise the bar. Instead of striving to come out, let’s be more specific about this — let’s set our sights on the never-ending process of being out.

❤️ Michele O’Mara, LCSW, Ph.D. is an expert lesbian relationship coach with a comfortable obsession with all things related to love and relationships between women. She is particularly fascinated by lesbian couples in blended families, issues of infidelity, lesbian sexuality, and recovery from lesbian breakups. She is the author of Just Ask: 1,000 Questions to Grow Your Relationship, which is available in paperback or Kindle on Amazon, as well as an app on Itunes /Google play. Lastly, she and her wife Kristen host Lesbian Couples Retreats in various destinations, and you can learn more about those here.

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6 + 6 =


Sexual Identity Development Process:  Observations by Michele O’Mara, PhD


A distraction develops. Sometimes this occurs in childhood, during puberty, young adulthood, or even after a heterosexual marriage.  This can be repressed, denied, or otherwise delayed, or perhaps right on time, whenever that is. This stage is marked by awareness and an increased focus on one’s attractions and feelings. Sometimes it’s a feeling of difference; sometimes it is a new sensation, awareness, distraction, or other experience that piques one’s interest 


During this period of active exploration, a person moves from simply being curious, to actively gathering info from his or her environment, and seeking out information and connections that relate to being gay 


From the beginning, we are all conditioned to believe we are heterosexual; this is the “norm.” When evidence begins to accumulate that heterosexuality does not fit perfectly, disclaiming heterosexuality is often an easier next step than claiming bisexuality or same-sex attractions.


Clarification usually occurs once a person has had a defining experience. This can be a physical experience, an emotional experience, or a combination of the two. Sometimes a person can fall in love (whether requited or not), or become consumed by a new attraction that serves as confirmation of his or her sexual identity.


This is the stage of sexual identity development where a person decides, yes, I am attracted to at least one person of the same gender. This acceptance may involve telling close friends, family, dating, or committing to a new relationship(s), or it may simply involve a personal shift into a new way of seeing oneself.


Once a person has accepted his or her attraction to at least one person of the same gender, the next step in sexual identity development is to integrate this identity with rest of life (work, family, friends, etc). Some people bridge their identity with the rest of their lives entirely, others are selective about with whom they will share this new information.


Once a person has accepted his or her sexual orientation and integrated their professional, personal, and family lives, there is a gradual lessening of censorship about one’s sexual orientation. Eventually, life is viewed as life. It’s not a gay life, or a lesbian life, or a bisexual life, it’s just a life, without funneling first through a “gay” or “bisexual,” or “pansexual,” etc. lens)


Some people experience an intermittent re-assessment of their sexual orientation and feelings of same-sex attractions. Sexuality is being seen as more fluid, less stable than it was once thought, and people are not as inclined to cling tightly to one specific sexual orientation as much as they are inclined to cling to the truth of who they are and how they feel, whatever that may be.

Coming Out Stages: Cass

It was 1979 and I was 13 when the beautiful new girl in school, with long brown hair and green eyes, approached the locker next to mine. Obviously struggling to satisfy the lock she was trying to open, she turned to me and said, “Hi.” She told me her name and said, “I’m new here.” Out of the blue, my entire body flooded with what felt like a million butterflies all trying to get out at once. 

It was at that moment that I knew there was something very, very different about me.

Ironically, that same year psychologist Vivienne Cass unveiled a 6-stage model of sexual identity development for gays and lesbians which would prove to be very handy information for a budding young lesbian like myself. Sadly, however, her research was not on my 8th grade reading list and I was left to figure all of this out by myself.

This six stage model by Cass describes a progression of phases that gay men and women go through as they “come out.” It has been my observation that many people never get past stage four – how about you?

Here are the stages, see what you think.


“Am I gay?” This is where it all begins… with the wondering. Confusion and a general lack of clarity are the most common experiences during this stage. This is a pre-coming out stage and it’s unlikely that you share your feelings with anyone. You are faced with four options: deny, reject, accept, or do more research. If you choose to “accept,” please advance to stage 3. If you choose to “deny” this, skip your turn and stay here until you change your mind. If you choose to “reject,” head on back to heterosexuality. Those choosing “more research,” progress to stage 2!


“Yes, it’s possible, I could be gay.”  This is the “one of these is not like the others” stage (from Seaseme Street). This can be a very lonely, scary place – to not relate to your heterosexual peers, and to not have a network of gays and lesbians in place to normalize what you are feeling. During this stage you’ll find yourself noticing what fits for you, and what doesn’t as it relates to your sexual orientation.  There is a lot of fear, denial, and hope that this is just a passing phase. Once you begin to connect with, or learn about, other gays and lesbians you slowly move into stagethree.


“I’m pretty sure I’m gay.” The isolation of feeling different from your heterosexual peers tends to motivate you to get out (or get online) and meet other gays and lesbians. During this stage you are gaining clarity about your gay sexual orientation, but you are not too happy about it. You continue to censor and hide your feelings from most people, while seeking connections with “safe” (other gays and lesbians) people with whom you can relate.


“Yep, I’m gay alright!” As you begin to find your place among other gays and lesbians, you develop greater comfort in your skin and you find more comfort spending time around others like yourself. As a result, you start to distance yourself from a heterosexual identity, while often trying to maintain the appearance to those around you that everything is the same. This is a complicated place to be, and is often riddled with fear, sadness, and even depression because of the feeling of living in between two worlds. There is a lot of anxiety about what it would mean to step out fully into an openly gay identity. The stress of managing dual identities (passing as heterosexual in some environments, and not others) becomes stressful and overwhelming.


“I am gay and I’m proud of it.” Responses in this stage can range from feelings of anger toward your perceived oppressor (heterosexuals), to greater comfort with being out in all areas of your life, without apology. This stage brings greater confidence about who you are, and while you continue to prefer the company of your gay and lesbian peers, you put less energy into censoring your life from others.


“Being gay is just one important aspect of who I am.”  This final stage, for those who continue to take the necessary risks to be true to themselves, brings the gay or lesbian person full-circle. You can now function as if sexual orientation is not a central variable in life. Here you have integrated your sexual orientation with the rest of your life, you are able to make decisions, interract socially, and function in life without doing so through a filter of your sexual orientation. Your life is no longer about dealing with, concealing, censoring, or advocating for the right to be gay – it is about living, loving, and being with ALL of who you are.

So where do you fall in these stages?

Are you a real lesbian?

Are you a real lesbian?

No one is ever surprised when they learn I am a lesbian. Well, I suppose my grandma did seem a little taken aback, asking, “How did that happen?” Interestingly though, aside from my appearance I am seriously lacking when it comes to a lot of common stereotypes of a lesbian. My friends even tease me, saying my card-carrying status as a lesbian is in danger!

Of course we don’t actually carry lesbian identity cards. That would be silly. The process is really much more efficient than that. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles provides an endorsement that is placed directly on your driver’s license.

Ask your gay and lesbian friends if you can see their driver’s license. Ifthey are really gay (meaning they passed the Gay or Lesbian Endorsement Test at the BMV), there should be a faint rainbow that is visible over his or her photo when held at the right angle, in the right light.

Okay, so that’s not really true.

Can you imagine if there was such an endorsement? I can see it now – we will all be provided with a government created, computer generated test.

I’m thinking the Lesbian Endorsement Test might look something like this (remember, this would be created by the government):

_____Do you hate men? (clearly the test would be different for gay men)
_____Do you have multiple pets that you call your “children?”
_____Do you have a motorcycle, or a valid license to drive one?
_____Do you have season tickets for a WNBA team of your choice?
_____Are you a vegetarian?
_____Were you considered a tomboy growing up?
_____Do you wear patchouli?
_____Can you find whatever you need at Lowes (your favorite store) without asking?
_____Is your hair uncharacteristically short for a woman?
_____Are you currently on a recreational softball team?

Now anyone with any sense knows that this test is nothing but a pile of stereotypes. Obviously. Clearly this test is not accurate. Because if it were, I would not get my endorsement!

I can only affirm three answers, and with serious qualifications on two. #3 (and if it weren’t for my wife and sons I would have no pets), #6 (and I have pictures to prove it!), #8 (but I’ve barely completed season one). For a long time # 9 applied, but I can’t even claim that one now. So according to this test I am roughly 30% lesbian.

The point is, and I do have one, there is no right way to be gay or lesbian. There’s only a right way to be you. The only right thing is to be real. Be yourself.

Despite my failure to meet the above qualifications for the Lesbian Endorsement Test, as I indicated already, most people I encounter assume I am gay. And I’m good with that. In fact, I find that it’s a good strategy to assume all people are gay unless it is revealed otherwise. I appreciate it when folks get the clue without my having to break it down for them. I want people to know I am a lesbian, and for one reason only, because I am.

Once while shopping for cars with my partner, the salesman asked, “Are you two sisters?” To which I replied, “no, we are partners.” Still not getting it, he said, “Oh, what’s your business?” Without skipping a beat I said, “LOVE.” He didn’t ask us another question.

Those who are heterosexual are quick to talk openly about their boyfriend/husband or girlfriend/wife, and many are so bold they even frame pictures of themselves with their heterosexual significant others, and broadcast their relationship right there on their desk at work! They go on and on about their weekends together, future vacations, and other plans. It’s easy to know who they are. These people can’t stop flaunting their heterosexuality to save themselves! And I love it. They are real in ways that they take for granted. They are real in ways that they don’t even stop to think about. They are real about their lives without even thinking because it is socially sanctioned, and encouraged to the point it’s not even a thought anymore.

Gays and lesbians on the other hand don’t generally feel as comfortable to express their true selves. I find that disappointing. Many of us have been brainwashed to believe that censorship is the key to survival. Perhaps that’s the appeal of Halloween. I was reading an article by David Frum online at the CNN Opinion (11/1/10) where he traces the roots of the modern day appeal of Halloween to the gay culture.

The “masked culture” first developed by the gays
of San Francisco has reached across the
lines of orientation — and now jumped across the boundaries
between nations and languages.

The article goes on to say, “In 1994, University of Florida anthropologist Jerry Kugelmass published a book on the new trend, “Masked Culture,” describing Halloween as an emerging gay “high holiday.”

Halloween is NOT my high-holiday (just another ding on my lesbian endorsement record.) I was never too into costumes growing up, though I did win my kindergarten costume contest. I was an angel. That was the same year I got my tongue stuck to the frozen flag pole on the playground. Irony is priceless, isn’t it?

Halloween is now centered around the joy it brings to my sons. And my wife too – because she, who is never mistaken for – or assumed to be – a lesbian, loves Halloween. Her lesbian endorsement is probably safer than mine will ever be because she also loves animals (more than people, really), she drives a big truck, she has read every Rita Mae Brown book written, she was a Martina Navratalova fan before I even knew who she was, and she had a vegetarian parent which surely puts her closer to vegetarianism.

Many lesbians partner with women who are very different “kinds of lesbians.” Mostly because they are just different kind of people, and we are people first. We have personalities, likes, interests, strengths and challenges that have nothing thing to do with our being gay.

If someone offers you advice about how to be a lesbian, I suggest you thank them kindly for their words of advice and promptly erase them all from your short term memory. Then pick up a blank journal and write on the top of the first page – “Who I am, what I think, how I feel, what I love, and what I believe.” Fill it with your truth. Whatever that is. Start by taking your mask off at home. Then begin to live those pages out in the world. Keep filling them as you age, change, and grow.

I feel so grateful to spend so many hours each week with people sharing themselves honestly and openly, without their masks. It is my favorite thing about being a therapist, and I can’t help but like each and every one of the people with whom I work – because they are real.

People who know us best are able to because of one thing: we are real with them! When we are real, people can know us. When people know us, they can feel close to us. When people feel close to us, they like us. When they like us, we feel comfortable to be real. What a perfect circle.

So that’s why I say – get real. However that looks for you. Lose your masks, create your own brand of gay or lesbian. Just be yourself.

Coming Out Books for Married, Single, Men and Women

Coming Out Books for Married, Single, Men and Women

Coming Out Books for Men and Women, Married and Single

Books are a helpful resource when you feel overwhelmed and unsure of what steps to take next.  The following list of books is a place to start as you consider your journey toward coming out.

MEN Coming Out Books for Heterosexual Relationship

Coming Out: A Handbook for Men by Orland Outlandcoming out books 

Just Tell The Truth: Questions Families Ask when Gay Married Men Come Out by Terry L. Norman, Terry L. Norman

Coming Out Every Day : A Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning Man’s Guide by Ph.D. Bret K. Johnson 

The Truth Shall Set You Free: A Memoir by Sally Lowe Whitehead

WOMEN Coming Out Books for Heterosexual Relationships

Living Two Lives:  Married to a Man and In Love with a Woman by Joanne Fleisher

Early Embraces: True-Life Stories of Women Describing Their First Lesbian Experience by Lindsey Elder (Editor)

From Wedded Wife to Lesbian Life: Stories of Transformation
by Deborah Abbott (Editor), Ellen Farmer (Editor)

Non-Gay Spouses of Gays and Lesbians

The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight Spouses and Families, Revised and Expanded Edition
by Amity Pierce Buxton

Just Tell The Truth: Questions Families Ask when Gay Married Men Come Out by Terry L. Norman, Terry L. Norman

 When Husbands Come Out of the Closet by J. Gochros 

The Truth Shall Set You Free: A Memoir by Sally Lowe Whitehead 

Coming Out Books: General

A Woman Like That : Lesbian and Bisexual Writers Tell Their Coming Out Stories by Joan Larkin

Coming Out: A Handbook for Men by Orland Outland 

 Coming Out Every Day : A Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning Man’s Guidby Ph.D. Bret K. Johnson

Coming Out to Parents: A Two-Way Survival Guide for Lesbians and Gay Men and Their Parents by Mary V. Borhek

Is It a Choice?: Answers to 300 of the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Gay and Lesbian People by Eric Marcus

Outing Yourself: How to Come Out as Lesbian or Gay to Your Family, Friends, and Coworkers by Michelangelo Signorile

General Resources on Being Gay and Coming Out Books

Is It a Choice?: Answers to 300 of the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Gay and Lesbian People by Eric Marcus 

Straight Parents, Gay Children: Inspiring Families to Live Honestly and With Greater Understanding by Robert A. Bernstein

Beyond Acceptance: Parents of Lesbians and Gays Talk About Their Experiences by Carolyn Welch GriffinMarian J. WirthArthur G. Wirth,Brian McNaught


The Church and the Homosexual by John J. McNeill

Openly Gay, Openly Christian: How the Bible Really Is Gay Friendly by Samuel, Rev. Kader (Paperback)

New Testament and Homosexuality by Robin Scroggs

Coming Out in Heterosexual Relationships

Coming out is a challenging, process, whether you are 15, 21, or 50. The first step toward “coming out” is self-awareness or recognition of having feelings of attraction for persons of the same sex. This awareness may lead to confusion, attempts to deny or repress feelings of attraction, anxiety about unwanted feelings, or even attempts to “pass” as heterosexual. It is no secret that in our society there are a lot of societal stigmas, and negative feelings about being gay. As a result, some people delay, deny, avoid, and reject having any awareness of feelings of attractions for persons of the same sex. Sometimes these attractions are repressed deeply enough to be out of one’s conscious awareness.

In this state of denial (which can be either conscious or unconscious), men and women sometimes pursue heterosexual relationships. Some men and women experience many years of heterosexual relationships that sometimes include marriage and children. Sometimes, though, these men and women, for various reasons, begin to develop a greater self-awareness. This awareness may be triggered by various things such as: An undeniable attraction to someone of the same sex; a function of maturity and greater self-exploration; or from a sense of emptiness or longing which stems from having emotional needs that have not be met by their heterosexual relationships because of their same-sex attractions.

If you are someone in this position, and you are starting to explore, or allow yourself to become aware of attractions you have long denied, this can be a painful experience. Coming out to yourself and others is complicated when you experience this in the context of a committed heterosexual relationship. It is important, however, to know that you are not the only one experiencing this. There are many others like you. The following suggestions offer you some guidance about how to embark on this journey toward a greater understanding of your feelings and your authentic sexual orientation.
1. Identify a supportive friend, or person with whom you can begin to identify and share your conflicting feelings.

2. Start a journal. Document what you are feeling and find a way to express these. Containing conflicting feelings can be overwhelming and confusing. Take your time. Pay close attention to your feelings and expect to feel very sad and confused for some time. That is normal.

3. Find a gay-friendly counselor with whom you can process your feelings.

4. Acknowledge to your partner that you’re struggling with some confusing feelings. If your are in a relationship, acknowledge to him or her that you are struggling to understand some things about yourself that are confusing and that they are about you, not her. Explain that when you feel ready, you will share what you are experiencing with her. Reassure him in ways that feel honest to you such as: “you have done nothing wrong,” ”this is not about you,” “I need to understand myself better before I can explain to you what I am feeling and that’s why I am going to a therapist – to get help doing that.” ”I would like you to be a part of my process, but I need to understand what my process is before I can include you in it.”

5. Identify your potential losses (former identity as heterosexual and all that accompanies that) and allow yourself to feel sad about these potential losses.

6. Explore with your therapist what it means to you to be gay. Growing up we either learn incorrect information about homosexuality, no information, or accurate information. It is essential to recognize the messages you grew up with that may not be accurate or true. These incorrect messages can negatively affect how you feel about yourself.

7. Recognize feelings of shame and find ways to let it go. One of the most painful parts of what you are going through is the intense amount of shame that often overshadows how you feel about yourself. Shame is the feeling that you are a “bad” person, or that you have done something very wrong. Shame is a common emotion felt by people in this situation and it can revolve around a lot of things, such as:

* Feeling a sense of self-betrayal, for not allowing yourself to explore your orientation more directly, sooner

* A feeling of betraying others and feeling like you’ve “led a lie” or misled loved ones.

* Feeling like you’ve wasted years by not being honest with yourself or others.

* Simply thinking that being gay is a bad, sinful or wrong thing.

If you can identify your shame (if you are aware of this feeling) and let it go (by talking about this with your therapist, journal writing, etc.) you can also get rid of some of the denial, fear, disgust, etc… that may keep you from being honest with yourself in this process.

8. Be honest with yourself. (Often we become confused to protect ourselves from our own truths…one of the things that gay and lesbian people tend to do is distrust our own feelings because we are socialized to believe that what we feel is “wrong,” “bad,” or “not real.”)

9. Journal write what you are feeling. Writing is an excellent way to clarify and sort through conflicting feelings.

10. Read books on being gay, coming out, and related issues.

11. Find other gay/lesbian-identified people with whom you can connect. This is an important part of decreasing the sense of aloneness and isolation that you may be feeling.

12. Maintain balance in your life (such as eating, sleeping, working, time with kids/family/friends, etc). Coming out to yourself and others is an emotionally draining process. The sense of loss during this process can be overwhelming and leave you with a very lonely, scared feeling. Be sure to tend to the other important areas of your life so that you can retreat from this process to a place that is comfortable and familiar to you if you begin to feel overwhelmed.