Our survey and interviews provided valuable insights about the coming out experiences of college and high school students, and how these stories function in the LGBTQ+ community.
While many factors contribute to one’s overall experience, we noticed that family and upbringing were recurring themes in many of our interviews. Shaylyn and Sofie, for instance, had supportive home lives, and this made the reactions of those outside of their families seem much less important to them.
Michael, on the other hand, was aware of blatant homophobia at home and in his community – and wasn’t able to fully embrace his identity until he was in a more affirming space. This had a lasting impact on him, as he hesitated to come out even to people he trusted.
Michael and Charles both mentioned that coming from conservative families made it difficult for them to even identify themselves as part of the LGBTQ+ community, because they hadn’t been exposed to those types of identities and weren’t aware that they were even options. Both touched on the idea of having to come out to themselves first, a part of the experience that isn’t often talked about but is important nonetheless.
Additionally, an important point was raised by Alex’s interview with Luca: being out doesn’t necessarily need to include a stereotypical coming out statement.
Environment was another factor that greatly affected people’s stories. Some people, such as Sofie, Shaylyn, and Michael, came from very conservative areas and faced homophobia after they came out, or didn’t feel safe to come out at all. Chloe’s hometown was more moderate, and she expressed that this probably helped her experience be easier than it could have been.
While coming out tends to be portrayed as very dramatic and trauma-inducing in media, the stories we collected reveal much more nuanced experiences, with both positive and negative aspects. We want to emphasize how coming out can be beneficial; however, we cannot ignore the more painful or upsetting aspects of people’s stories. With that being said, there were a number of ways coming out positively impacted our interviewees. Many were able to express themselves more freely, such as Chloe cutting her hair and Charles painting his nails. Both seemed excited to be able to make these decisions about their appearances.
Being out also allows people to participate in the community and access affirming spaces. Sharing coming out stories is an important part of the culture — Chloe’s Alliance group uses them as a bonding activity, and Chloe has even used her own story to help other people feel comfortable sharing.
We hope our project opens people’s eyes to the complexity and individuality of coming out experiences. We also hope that queer individuals at any stage of out-ness can relate to these stories and find comfort.