Identifying yourself as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) and disclosing this to other people is often referred to as 'coming out'.
Many people find that coming out is a positive experience. However, coming to terms with confusion about identity can have both positive and negative effects on many aspects of a person's life, including social relationships, school or work, and self-esteem.1 Coming out can be a difficult time; many LGBT people fear negative reactions, rejection and upsetting people they are close to. In many parts of the world strong cultural attitudes and discriminatory laws make coming out even harder.
Despite the obstacles faced by LGBT people, every day more people around the world make the decision to come out, and many organisations are working to provide support and campaign for the rights of people who are able to come out and live their lives openly as LGBT.
Coming out is something that can take place at any point in life. Coming to terms with sexual feelings can take a long time, and many people don't come out until later in life. For some, it may not be until they are older that they become aware of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender feelings.
Coming out is not a single action, it is a process of coming to terms with being LGBT and disclosing this to others.
In the first stage of coming out generally a person begins to feel 'different' to other people of the same sex. Sometimes they recognise that they are not very interested in people of the opposite sex but more often they feel they are not really interested in things which are supposed to be appropriate for their sex. Most people report just feeling unusual when they compare themselves to other people of their sex. Commonly this happens before or in early adolescence when friendships and relationships between the sexes begin to change.
The final stage in the process of coming out involves becoming openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and recognising that it is an important aspect of, 'who I am', and, 'how I want to live my life'. People develop a sense of contentment with being LGBT, and see it as a valid way of life. The experience of being in a relationship or falling in love often helps people to feel more confident, fulfilled and able to combat the social stigma that they may suffer.
Some transgender people choose to undergo medical treatment so that their bodies reflect their gender identity. However many choose not to pursue medical options, instead expressing their gender identity through how they dress and present themselves, and how they ask others to refer to them.
In this final stage of coming out, many people begin to feel proud of their sexuality or gender identity. The expression of this pride in being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is a powerful force in challenging stigma and prejudiced attitudes, and provides positive role models to others less sure about coming out.