Each week Your Other Dad answers questions about navigating life in a very modern world.
This week, two readers wrestled with when to come out — what age to start and how long the process takes.
“Dear Other Dad —
How do I know the right age to come out? Is there an average?”
“Dear Other Dad —
It feels like I keep coming out — to my best friend, my brother, my whole family, and now at school. When do I get to stop telling people?”
Because coming out is so personal, I was surprised to discover that, yes, there is an average age — or several, as I’ll explain. But that’s very different than a “right age.”
In surveys conducted over the past two decades, patterns have emerged as to when someone is mostly likely to come out — but the average is different for each generation. Kids currently quarantining their way through high school come out earlier than did their grandmothers who came out in the bra-burning era.
In one study, Boomers reported not coming out until well into adulthood, with an average age of 37–40. Gen Xers sped the process up dramatically, with the range being from 21 to 25. Multiple studies have shown the age dipping to 17–20 for Millennials. And early Gen Z reports suggest that 14–16 is now most common, dovetailing with the first years of high school.
But take all those answers with a grain of salt.
There are three things to remember: The only “right time” is defined by your specific situation; coming out has multiple meanings; and you may want to come out again down the road.
Let’s start with the idea of a “right” time. As I mentioned in a past column, you don’t owe anybody anything when it comes to personal truth. Your timing and your process should be dictated by your individual circumstances.
Here are three good questions to ask yourself as you determine whether this is your coming out moment:
· Am I safe?
· Do I have support?
· Am I comfortable with myself?
If you can answer a resounding yes to all three, it’s as right a time as there ever will be. But if you answer a firm no to any of these questions, especially the first, slow down a moment. You may want to work on dealing with whatever conditions keep you from answering more positively.
It may well be that your answers are mixed. You might have support, for instance, and be working on comfort, but not yet feel safe. So factor in the various stage of coming out. Coming out to yourself — acknowledging “this is who I am” — is the first step (and for some the hardest). Some people feel like coming more truly starts only once you begin telling others, once “out” means “out loud.”
Even at that point, you might still come out by degree: for instance, telling your closest friends but not your family, or vice versa. Limiting the sphere of those privileged enough to be included may not be the same as being closeted; it may reflect that you have set the healthy boundaries that serve you best.
Ideally, you will find real freedom and fullness of expression in being out in every realm, but you need not get there all at once, and it’s your prerogative to continually adjust your visibility.
What many people don’t realize is that coming out doesn’t mean your identity is fixed forever at that point. You may come out at 16 as gay, something you feel absolutely with your whole body, and then, in your 30’s, discover bisexual feelings you never before knew. You might come out as nonbinary only to eventually discover that you are trans. You might be a lesbian and fall into a deep heteroromantic relationship with someone who is asexual. How could you have predicted something like that?
We humans are simply too diverse in experience to be able to say with any certainty that who we are now will be who we remain. Even so, coming out remains worthwhile; having others understand where you’re at in the moment can be deeply nourishing, even lifesaving.
Short answer? There’s no one “right” time, which means statistical norms will never be very good role models. Come out as often as you need in the way that speaks to your singular individual experience. And hopefully your outcomes will be not “average” but extraordinary.
Send your questions to [email protected] or post in the comments below.
Thanks to Dan Moore.
Previously published on medium
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