Erin Oliveri started to realize she was a lesbian when she was about 13. “We’d be playing kissing games at parties and I didn’t want to kiss any of the guys,” she says.
For the next few years, she struggled with figuring out her sexual identity. Growing up on Staten Island -- a short ferry ride away from Manhattan but light years apart in terms of attitudes toward homosexuality -- she went to a small, Catholic, all-girls’ high school where everyone knew everyone. “It wasn’t the most welcoming environment. I was very worried about telling people,” says Erin, who’s now 23 and works in public relations in New York.
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Coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual ,or transgender can be tough at any age, but teens have a lot more to think about. Is it safe to come out at school? Will your mom or dad reject you? Will you be kicked out of the house?
Erin knew her family loved her, but she decided to come out in baby steps. “I came out first to a friend from a different school when I was about 15. I definitely knew she was gay,” she recalls. “Then, one of my good friends just kind of knew, and she was really open and almost asked me, so I knew she’d welcome it.”
Next, she told her older sister. “She was the cool one who’d let me hang out with her friends,” Erin says. “I knew she’d be OK with it, and I thought maybe she’d give me some pointers and help me figure out how our parents would react.”
That was the biggie. Erin’s parents are conservative, and always preached against things like sex before marriage. So when at 17, she decided to tell her dad during an Outback Steakhouse lunch after one of her soccer games, Erin was almost shaking with anxiety.
“I said, ‘Dad, I’ve really been wanting to tell you about something. I didn’t want to say anything until I was sure because I didn’t want you to think it was just a phase,’” she recalls. “I looked down at this point and he knew what was coming next. I led off with, ‘I have a girlfriend, and I’m gay.’ I looked up and he had tears in his eyes, and he said, ‘Yeah, we know.’ He looked sad, but he said, ‘You’re Erin, we always love you. It doesn’t matter.’”
Erin instinctively took a wise approach in many ways, says Colleen Logan, PhD, coordinator of Walden University's Master's degree program in marriage, couple, and family counseling. Logan specializes in gay, lesbian, and transgender issues. “Everyone’s coming-out experience is different, but there are a few common things that can make the process of coming out easier for teens.”
So if you’ve spent the past few months or years figuring out that you’re gay, bisexual, or transgender, you may want to tell someone else. You want to be true to who you are. How can you do that safely and with support?