Every queer person’s coming out story is different, but most narratives include at least a little bit of nervousness before opening up. Those conversations are rarely easy ― in some instances and places, coming out can be dangerous ― but the discussion with friends and family can be incredibly liberating.
Take it from those who’ve been there. For National Coming Out Day, we asked queer people to share how their lives have changed since coming out and what advice they wish they could impart to their younger, pre-out selves.
Note: Responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.
1. “I would tell the pre-coming out version of myself to not wait for others to validate my identity. I craved constant validation from others to feel pretty, to feel smart, to feel successful, to feel human. Nowadays, I still smile when I feel welcomed and embraced by others, but I smile bigger when I can look at myself and feel that same love and acceptance.” ― Carolina Gutierrez, an entrepreneur from Los Angeles who came out as transgender at 21.
2. “I’d let myself know that things were going to get really hard, extremely quick. I’d want my past self to be prepared to lose a lot of loved ones; however, I’d also want my past self to know how free I feel today. I’m no longer living a life someone else wants me to live. I’m surrounded by new and incredible people who constantly show me nothing but support. I’m able to exist fully and I’m excited to live in the moment. If it weren’t for the darkness I never would have found my light. Oh, and I’d also tell myself some lotto numbers so I could afford a few surgeries.” ― Olivia Noel, a podcast host from Gainesville, Florida, who came out as trans and bi at 19.
3. “I’d say: You can straighten your hair but you can’t straighten your heart. Stop it and be gay already. Also, stop straightening your hair. It is so f****** ugly.” ― Andrew Lowe, a YouTuber from Los Angeles who came out as gay between the ages of 15 to 20.
4. “I would tell myself it’s OK to not have the words. Finding the right label for yourself can take time, and it’s OK to not know right away, or even for years. Eventually, you’ll have all the words you need to define yourself.” ― Ashton Daniel Thorne, a YouTuber from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who came out as a gay, nonbinary trans man at 14.
5. “I’d say the anxiety of coming out never changes, whether you’re sitting down and telling people or coming out with a joke on a Facebook status update as I did. Your sexuality is your personal story and only you can decide who you come out to and how you come out in general. So try your best to come out in the most comfortable way you think you can, but just know that there will always be that anxious feeling to some degree.” ― Mac Kahey, a YouTuber from Los Angeles who came out as gay at 16.
6. “I would tell myself that people can surprise you. You may think someone might not love you and your queerness because they are older, or religious, or whatever, but people contain multitudes. Don’t pre-judge someone for thinking they will pre-judge you. Open your heart and let yourself be surprised by the love you will receive in return.” ― Dana Piccoli, the managing editor at Bella Media who lives in South Carolina and came out as lesbian/queer at 16.
7. “Oh, baby Court. I see you trying so desperately to make sense of your attraction to girls. Masking your feelings by saying you just care so deeply for them. I also see you signing up to be in queer union and introducing yourself as an ally. Everyone knows you’re not really an ally, but everyone wanted to let you come to that conclusion on your own. I hope you know that one day, you’ll see that it never worked out with the men you had crushes on, not just because they were emotionally unavailable. Actually, you were equally as unavailable because deep down you knew you had nothing to lose.
But your restrictions on sex go out the window the second a short-haired blonde walked into the room at a mutual friend’s birthday party. One day you’ll be sitting on one of your best friends’ couch, belly full of pasta, and your mom is going to text you asking why your Twitter bio says, ‘gay film photographer’ and it will be equal parts terrifying and beautiful. One day in the future you’ll get to live your truth and everyday feels brand new. Be gentle with yourself, you’ll get there.” ― Courtney Coles, a photographer from Los Angeles who came out as bisexual first at 13 and ― after going back into the closet at 15 ― a lesbian at 29.
8. “Continue your transition, even when everyone doubts you and say that you are too young and don’t know what you want. Trust your gut. Stay true to you, no matter what your family or friends say. They will come around!” -- Brandy Nitti, a makeup artist from New York who came out as trans at 19.
9. “If I could go back and speak to teenage me, I would tell myself that I am not alone. That many other people out there in the world have the same feelings. That having a strong attraction to women, and also having a powerful drive to be one, doesn’t make us ‘perverted’ or shameful. It means that we are a transgender woman and lesbian. It is possible to be both. I would tell myself to hold on because one day we will have our day in the sun. One day we will come out and find that the most important people in our life will accept and continue to love us. That it is possible to be happy in this life after all.” ― Melody Maia Monet, a YouTuber from Orlando, Florida, who came out as a transgender woman at 39.
10. “If I could go back in time I would hug and tell myself that everything is going to be OK. I would reassure myself that life does get better, even though at times it may seem like it doesn’t. I would also tell myself to stay true to you because you are an amazing individual and you can accomplish anything you work hard for, no matter what your sexual orientation is. We all deserve a fair chance at life.” ― Davonta Cooley, a YouTuber from Atlanta who came out as gay at 23.
11.“If I could go back in time and talk to myself pre-coming out, I would tell myself that everything I am feeling is valid. I would explain to myself that there is a label called bisexual, where you are attracted to more than one gender, and there’s a whole community out there with similar feelings and experiences. I would tell myself that coming out won’t be easy, but it will be freeing.” ― Vaneet Mehta, a producer and writer from London, who came out as bi at 24.
12 “I’d tell myself this: The richness of being gay is not just about sex but the gift of having an identity that’s different from being straight. Letting people know that you are gay can open up a different world. The words, ‘Yes, I am gay!’ takes complete openness, honesty and vulnerability but it has the power to set you free.” ― William Smith, the founder of the site Gay Life After 40, who lives in Chicago and came out as gay at 39.
13. “If I could go back in time and give the pre-coming out Georgia some advice, I’d tell that terrified new college student to keep following her heart. Everything that you think is a hiccup in your journey shapes you into someone who you will grow to be so proud of and love so much. I know you don’t want to hear it, but the cliche is right and all will be well with time. Continue to be your best self and trust your process. You got this! PS: You get a really beautiful girlfriend in the future.” ― Georgia Bridgers, a YouTuber from Cincinnati who came out as bi at 19.
14. “I would tell myself at age 16 that I am queer enough to come out. Back in the late ’90s when I was coming of age, the discourse over LGBTQ rights focused exclusively on the L and the G, with the B being just a footnote and the T being nearly nonexistent, so I felt like I was the wrong kind of queer. It wasn’t until I was 29 that I found a rich history of bisexual activism and felt comfortable enough to come out.” ― Tris Mamone, a freelance writer from Easton, Maryland, who came out as bisexual at 29.
15. “My advice to my younger self would be to understand that the responses from others to my coming out aren’t personal. They would all come around in time, but just as I needed 19 years to accept my sexuality, those people needed some time to accept my truth as well. Regardless of their response, I’d assure my younger self that coming out was the right decision because owning your truth is always the right decision, and there’s no stronger act of self-love than to stand by your truth no matter how much the world tells you not to.” ― Travis Bryant, a YouTuber from Los Angeles who came out as gay at 19.
16. “I would say, ‘Your fears are valid. Your apprehension is justified. Just know that, one day, freedom will look so good on you. The joy of being yourself, despite what other people may think or feel, fits better than any clothes you’ve forced your body into, any situations you wished you could escape from, and every moment you spent afraid to expose your true self to the world. What you’re going through now feels insurmountable but, when you come out on the other side, you’ll be truly amazed at the work of art you’ve become. I promise.’” ― Jenn M. Jackson, an assistant professor at Syracuse University, who lives in Syracuse, New York, and came out as bi/queer as a teenager.