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National Coming Out Day: Before You Leave the Closet...

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Today is National Coming Out Day, and while plenty of people and organizations will encourage you to join the fabulous and come out, it's not a decision to be taken lightly, nor is it a requirement of you right away. Trust me, I'm in full support of more people coming out of the closet if they're ready, but if you're considering coming out, it's essential to do so after plenty of evaluation and self-reflection.

Coming out is a deeply personal experience, so how and when you do it is your decision alone to make. As you make your plan, consider these five points.

1. Is it safe?

You might be bursting to tell your secret to the world, but the absolute most important thing to ask yourself first is, "Is this safe for me to do?" Much of the answer to this question is built on your support system, which I mention in more detail shortly. The realities of some situations can be harsh, and while I'm in no way attempting to scare or discourage you, it's important to remember that some people won't react as positively as others. In fact, some situations can be dangerous at home or in school. That is why it's important to accept and love yourself first, because that may have to be enough for a while. If your living situation would be unsafe if you came out, then coming out might be better to wait until the circumstances improve, when you have a backup plan and a support system to rely on. Your safety is more important than anything.

2. Have a support system.

A support system can be a teacher, a friend, a co-worker, a sibling, anyone. Anyone who will stand by you and love you unconditionally and listen to you with an open mind is a support system. While it's great to be optimistic about your family's reactions to you opening up and being wonderful you, it's more important that you be prepared should things not turn out the way you want them to. Before coming out to someone whose reaction you might be unsure of, try coming out to someone you're more certain will have a positive response, and then keep their number handy should you need someone to speak to after such an important conversation. Should you absolutely feel that coming out is your only option and you do not have a reliable support system, you can always call the Trevor Project at 1-800-488-7386. They love you without even meeting you, and they are there waiting to listen 24/7.

3. Make a plan.

There is no one perfect way to come out. You'll see blog posts and articles all over the Internet with tips like "don't come out during an argument" or "make sure you're 100-percent certain of your sexuality or gender identity before you come out." While some of that can be sound, safe advice, it's important to remember that nobody but you will understand your situation fully. Plan out what you want to say and the feelings and emotions you want to communicate. Anticipate questions you might be asked on the spot so that you can feel confident and comfortable answering them. Most of all, prepare yourself emotionally for questions or statements that might surprise you. Prepare to be unprepared, if you will, and be ready to have a conversation. You're beautiful and wonderful, and nobody on Earth can come close to replacing you. Just as you are unique and special, so are your situations with your parents, friends, co-workers, etc., and only you can determine the best course of action for each.

4. Consider the outcome(s).

There are several ways this can turn out. Whoever you're telling may surprise you with their overwhelming acceptance, or they may respond with disapproval. Many parents build an image for themselves of their children's lives and futures. They have hopes and dreams for you, and they may have some stigmatized views of LGBT lifestyles. If you think your parents (or whoever else it is you're coming out to) will respond with religious condemnation, for example, prepare some basic responses and arguments that can set the way for a comprehensive and affirmative conversation down the line. Coming out is very rarely a one-time event. It's a process that involves helping both sides understand one another's emotions and struggles. When we speak to each other with open minds, we pave the way for a more accepting and educated society. However, some people never fully accept that their loved one is LGBT, and while we can live full, happy lives with this being the case, it's an outcome that we must be prepared for.

5. Love yourself.

This is easier for some than for others. In fact, this can be the most difficult of all, and it may take some time, but my hope for your "coming-outcome" is that you look at yourself and say, "That was a brave thing to do, and I'm going to be all right." Coming out and ultimately accepting yourself for the beautiful human being that you are is one of the bravest things a person can do. With more individuals coming out at an earlier age, we're getting closer to a society of love and acceptance. You may need your support system to remind you how amazing you are from time to time, and that's OK. At the end of the day, after the arguments, the laughter, the crying and the hugging, you're still you. And that's awesome.

For more information on safely coming out, check out the Trevor Project's new guide.