Coming Out and Coming In

Coming Out

Coming out is the process of an individual acknowledging and embracing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It is also the process and act of voluntarily sharing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity with others. 

The coming out process may be liberating for some individuals and for others, it can be anxiety producing. Many people feel a weight lifted off their shoulders when they come out, and others worried that they will face alienation and discrimination from their families, friends, and communities. A lot of LGBTTQ* folks think about whom they will come out (or not come out) to, when and how they might come out, and why they want to come out - especially when it comes to dealing with friends, family, teachers, religious and community leaders, or those who are important in their lives.

Please know there is no right or wrong way to come out, just like there is no right or wrong time to come out. Every coming out experience is different and is influenced by social, cultural, and legal conditions as well as components of their identity (like geographical location, access to education, socio-economic status, health and well-being, ability, citizenship/status, age, degree of social support, ethno-racial background, or the political climate).

Who, when, and why a person comes out, or does not comes out, an individual choice. In some cases, individuals may choose not to come out to certain people, at certain times, or in certain contexts. This is totally okay. Heterosexist and cissexist beliefs and assumptions may direct some LGBTTQ* not to come out for safety reasons. For others, heterosexist and cissexist beliefs may direct people to come out multiple times in their lifetime.

For more information about coming out, please check out the following links:

The Gender Equity Resource Center at University of California (Berkley) – Coming Out (2014)

ShoutOut Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia and Heterosexism (2009)

Rainbow Resource Centre – Coming Out brochure (2012)


Coming In

Dr. Alex Wilson is Neyonawak Inniwak from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and an Associate Professor and the Academic Director of the Aboriginal Education Research Centre at the University of Saskatchewan. In her work with individuals who identify as Two Spirit, she explores the cultural difference between “Coming In” and “Coming Out”:

Two-spirit identity is one that reflects Aboriginal peoples’ process of “coming in” to an empowered identity that integrates their sexuality, culture, gender and all other aspects of who they understand and know themselves to be. As the two-spirit people who participated in this research make clear, their understanding of sexuality is inseparable from their culture and socio-historical position. For two spirit people, who typically live with sustained racism, homophobia and sexism, the process of “coming in” to their identity is likely to be very different from the conventional “coming out” story circulated in mainstream Canadian (glbt) culture.

Wilson explains the difference between mainstream “Coming Out” and “Coming In” as such:

In these narratives, “coming out” is typically a declaration of an independent identity: an glbt person musters their courage and, anticipating conflict, announces their sexuality to a friend or family member—at the risk of being met with anger, resistance, violence or flat-out rejection or abandonment. In the narratives of two-spirit people, however, “coming in” is not a declaration or an announcement. Rather, it is an affirmation of interdependent identity: an Aboriginal person who is glbt comes to understand their relationship to and place and value in their own family, community, culture, history and present-day world. “Coming in” is not a declaration or an announcement; it is simply presenting oneself and being fully present as an Aboriginal person who is glbt.

Wilson, Alex (2009). N’tacimowin inna na: Our Coming in stories.  In Montour, P & Maguire, P. (Eds.) First Voices: An Aboriginal Women’s Reader. Toronto: Inanna Publications. file:///C:/Users/user/Downloads/22131-22564-1-PB.pdf

For more information and work by Dr. Alex Wilson, please visit:

How do I respond if someone invites me into knowing about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity?

  • Affirm, validate, and normalize their identity and experience
  • Provide affirming support and accurate information