Tips to Overcome “Coming Out” Anxiety From Someone Who Did

Sadie Schaecher
Sadie Schaecher

Three years ago, I came out as a lesbian. Spoiler alert — that is no longer the label I identify with. And that’s okay. But for a long time, I didn’t think it was okay. And that fear of “misidentifying,” of coming out and then changing my mind, of just being what I perceived as wrong, kept me isolated, and my mental health suffered because of it. As a teenager, I kept my true feelings hidden for so long out of fear that I only had one shot to “come out,” and that if I prescribed to the wrong label my true identity would never be seen as legitimate. It was only once I recognized how unfair this was to myself that I was able to overcome my anxiety about coming out and live each day fully and freely, knowing that nothing was stopping me from evolving how I described my identity if I needed to.

I had all the classic 14-year-old steps leading up to my coming out: making that one friend who swore to be my “platonic” soulmate, finding the LGBTQ+ section in my local library, deleting my history after searching up the fated “Am I Gay?” quiz, and finally, realizing that I did in fact want to date women. 

This brings us to the part in the story where I would come out: all sparkles and rainbows, maybe even with a choreographed dance to the sweet, sweet tunes of Diana Ross. Alas, I did not. Being a teenager facing the confession of my newfound sexuality to the world, I had a myriad of worries:

  • Would my family be okay with it?
  • How does one communicate with other lesbians? “Yes, I am one of you. Please approach me.”?
  • How do I balance masculine and feminine influences in my clothing to feel comfortable?
  • Will I forever have to feel awkward walking past the bra section in Target?

And yet, despite all these concerns, the thing that kept me cozied up in the closet for so long was a simple four words. 

“What if I’m wrong?”

It kept me up at night and distracted me from math class upon math class; this possibility plagued every potential thought I had about coming out. For someone just hearing that y=mx+b for the first time, figuring out how I was to identify for the rest of my life was a bit of a daunting task. I had no idea how to overcome the anxiety that felt intertwined with publicly coming out.

I questioned myself along this line for a long time before I decided to rip off the BandAid. I finally got tired of watching Pride parades from the sidelines, and the furnished, cozy home I’d built in the closet started to get lonely. Only once this feeling finally outweighed my fear did I decide to come out. 

Following my coming out, these worries faded more and more every day. I dated women, went to Pride events, and finally got comfortable with my identity. That was, until quite a while later, I met this guy. And lo and behold, it turns out I could have feelings for a man as well. 

Horrifying, I know. A man! Here I was, having already gone through the trials in convincing everyone in my life that how I identified was real for me, and the situation just… changed. It was hard not to feel like I was back at square one — riddled with anxiety and unsure how to overcome the fear of coming out again.

See, when a fifth grader learns multiplication, it is true. Seven years later, when the same kid discovers the terrifying world of calculus, the rules of multiplication are still true; they just also know more math now. Or, someone’s favorite animal could be an elephant for 20-plus years. But then, one day, they learn about this fascinating species of jellyfish that they completely adore. In these situations, no one laughs at them and points. No one says, “Oh, haha, she got more information, and therefore her headspace adapted? Now her favorite animal is a Jellyfish? Lame!” 

So tell me, why is that any different from how people identify? 

Three years ago, I came out as a lesbian. Then I grew and changed, learned more about myself, and now I identify more with the general term of queer. This flux and the nonspecific label I choose to use now do not make my current sexuality any less legitimate. 

Discovery is one of the basic parts of humanity. It’s what keeps life interesting, keeps life beautiful. We ought not to be afraid to keep our lives beautiful, whether that means coming out once, twice, or a hundred times. And for those who may know someone struggling to overcome the anxiety they’ve associated with coming out, be there for them. Having someone in your corner makes a massive difference.

So, for all my fear about coming out and being “wrong,” it turns out that this fear was truly just change wrapped up in a big scary trench coat all along. But I’m not mad about it. For now, I get to sit in front of my computer and write: You can love who you are now and still one day love who that becomes.