Coming out is a process usually associated with people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, and people in various sexual subcultures including BDSM, age play, and poly communities also sometimes speak of it for themselves. But in truth, we all come out every time we tell people something about ourselves they did not know before, especially if we find doing so to be a challenge.
Coming out is really nothing more or less than a process of telling the truth about yourself – first to yourself, and then to others. But saying it is “nothing more” obscures the genuine and often realistic worries people may have about doing it.
Although the phrase “coming out” sounds proud and self-affirming, people often encounter difficulties putting the words into action. Some of those difficulties are social in nature, as when other people cannot or will not accept the person coming out for who she is.
Sometimes the challenges are highly personal, as when family, friends, lovers, colleagues, or other close associates accept the person coming out to them, but want him to keep his status secret from others, or to stay “in the closet.” And sometimes those who are closest to the person coming out discover through that person’s disclosure that they have questions of their own.
Sometimes, of course, people coming out have issues with themselves, including shame for being who they are, fear of being bashed or ostracized, resentment for having felt the need to be closeted, guilt for disappointing others, anger from keeping their feelings suppressed for many years, and internalized fears of their own predilections, such as homophobia or transphobia, that even gay and trans people can readily absorb from the culture they live in.
Coming out, as I said above, is a process of telling the truth about yourself. But it need not be a truth about your sexual interests or your gender identity. People come out into new religions, new political positions, and new lifestyles throughout their lives, just in the course of living and growing. While many times coming out is cause for an individual's celebration, often it also presents its own set of difficult, painful, and confusing challenges. Each coming out process requires its own set of individual strategies for coping with the dangerous opportunity to grow into a more complete and fulfilled human being.