You Need Help: I Just Came Out, and I Feel Weird

Q:

I recently came out to my family and friends last week and ever since I’ve been feeling weird and confused about it. Is this normal? You always hear about how people feel free and weightless after they come out but I’m feeling the exact opposite.


A:

Coming out can be very weird and confusing! It’s common to hear stories about coming out instantly making people happy and confident, but in reality, it’s rarely that simple. There’s also the other side of the spectrum: stories about coming out that place folks in danger or lead to the end of a relationship with a friend or family member. The sort of in-betweeness that you’re feeling—not wholly good, not wholly bad—sometimes gets lost in coming out narratives.

I understand why queer spaces push the general narrative that coming out is this wonderful, freeing experience, but I also think it’s an incomplete and unfair look at how coming out really works. Coming out, as with most things in life, looks different for different people.

I think because of backlash against the idea that being gay is a choice, it sometimes gets lost that coming out IS a choice (or, at least, should be—many people are outed against their will). It’s a huge choice, and it also can seismically change the way we see ourselves and the way we’re seen by others. And that can be scary! Which is why I think a lot of the messaging avoids it. But I think we’re all doing ourselves a disservice by looking at coming out without any kind of nuance.

It would be lovely if coming out were not such a big deal, but in reality, we live in a patriarchal, heteronormative society where coming out is rarely straightforward. Even when it goes well, it’s still a shift. Coming out the first time means coming out over and over. Coming out isn’t a magic trick that makes us suddenly understand ourselves completely. And it doesn’t mean everyone else suddenly understands us perfectly either.

Even if your friends and family have been supportive, it’s still normal to feel this funk you’re in. Coming out requires vulnerability. It requires self-awareness. For me, it was both easier and harder than I ever imagined, and I know that doesn’t really make perfect sense, but it’s true!

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It sounds like you’re used to hearing stories about people feeling free after they come out, so I suspect that’s contributing to the way you’re feeling. It becomes this self-fulfilling prophecy: Because you expect to feel different and better, when you don’t, you come down hard on yourself. I don’t think there’s any way to determine how we will feel about coming out until we’ve done it. Because again: Everyone is different!

But the whole “expectation vs. reality” thing and/or the whole “major life shift” thing might not be the only reasons you’re feeling this funk. So I encourage you to try to interrogate within to figure out what it could be stemming from. But while you’re doing that work, please hold in your heart the idea that there’s nothing wrong with what you’re feeling. It’s even okay if you can’t quite pinpoint the source. Coming out can be hard—sometimes for reasons that aren’t super obvious. And I think recognizing that can help you to work through the feelings.

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a writer and critic currently living in Miami. Her fiction is upcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern. Her pop culture writing can also be found at The A.V. Club and The Hollywood Reporter, and she wrote the webseries Sidetrack. You can catch her on Twitter and Instagram.

Kayla has written 242 articles for us.

7 Comments

  1. Changing the way people see you is easy, coming out feels weird because the other person will never see you the way they did before, and you both know it.

    The alternative to coming out is forfeiting any chance of anyone finding and loving the truest version of you,including yourself.

  2. When I came out completely (vs just to a few friends) I felt a lot of relief, like I didn’t have to hide part of myself. However, I also felt weird because people’s opinion of me definitely changed and that felt awful. But tbh at the end of the day there’s nothing I could/can do about other people’s opinions or views of me. I want to be true to myself, not them.

  3. I 100% empathize. I panicked immediately after I came out. It was like I had whiplash and suddenly wanted to take it back because admitting openly that I was gay was scary mostly because I did not know what a freely gay version of myself looked like. Even after I came out to myself I could barely look at my reflection in the mirror. Then I felt like because I didn’t feel relieved that I wasn’t queer or that I wasn’t coming out the “right” way.

    You’re doing great. Even when it doesn’t feel like it and however you are feeling is valid and normal.

  4. When I came out it was first to people that didn’t know me as well and that was great, they didn’t know me before and I could develop a friendship with them where my queerness was a given.

    It gave me the confidence to come out to my family and older friends and that resulted in more of a mixture of emotions. Some of the reactions I got were perfect others less so…

    Its nice to hear that other people have found the whole process confusing and not totally perfect.It’s something that has been on my mind recently too.

    I guess the best thing though is now you are ‘out’ that does come with a freedom in its own right to be the person you are completely and make connections going forward where you can be upfront about every aspect of yourself.

  5. I recently came out as nonbinary to a lot of the important people in my life, and I def still feel weird about it. It was my most stressful coming out, and the one that seems to have the most lingering discomfort and stressors. I feel like I’m always on edge, worried that someone will misgender me when they know better, or will make a joke that’s in poor taste. Before I came out I didn’t have to worry about that, bc no one knew any better. Of course in some ways, coming out as nonbinary was freeing, as coming out always is, but even though the very definition of nonbinary means that I should be more free of labels and constraints than I was before, I sometimes feel the opposite, bc I can feel everyone’s judgements and expectations more sharply now, and they hurt more. I expect it will get easier, but for now, I still feel in an uncomfortable place, and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

  6. I felt similar, when I came out to my mum. She was supportive, but I panicked and felt like I was letting her down and was quite unhappy, and we then kind-of pretended it never happened. I’ve not really had the courage to come out to anyone else and just avoid the topic, when it comes up. I think, in my case, it has to do with generally not being good at and feeling uncomfortable with talking about my feelings.
    But, anyway, I understand how you feel.

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