I distinctly remember the first time I came out as asexual: on October 23, 2012 (exactly four years ago), I disclosed my asexuality to a close friend of mine and it changed the way I experienced the world. For the first time, I had shared an identity that deeply resonated with me and it felt like a first step toward being open and honest about myself.
It helped that my friend was also ace.
I spent the next year sharing my identity with increasing numbers of people, often to mixed reactions. Coming from a deeply religious environment, I found that coming out as ace generally didn’t prompt the same kind of violence that coming out as other LGBT identities might. Instead, my coming out almost always accompanied a half-hour explanation that often ended in my dismissal and invalidation. At the time, the widespread lack of knowledge about being ace meant that many people would simply refuse to accept that someone’s ace identity was legitimate.
My coming out story was not incredibly positive, though it also wasn’t terrible either. My coming out also wasn’t a singular event, yet the way we talk about coming out often treats it that way.
Although coming out has deep personal significance for a lot of people, the narrative around coming out remains heavily shaped by a deep political history.
Since the beginning of the gay rights movement, self-disclosure was a seen as a way to change public opinion. Many gay rights activists encouraged people to come out to their friends and family in order to further progress toward equality, and that mentality has stuck around to this day.
The lack of commonplace knowledge of ace identities and shortage of people who personally know any ‘out’ aces contribute to many of the issues we face. As a result, our community also has a history of encouraging people to “come out for the cause,” and it becomes easy to feel like coming out is a necessity in order to further awareness efforts.
I certainly fell into this trap when I came out to my parents years ago: I chose to disclose my identity, not because I felt it would positively impact our relationship or my life, but because I felt it was politically necessary to achieve my advocacy goals. I put myself in a situation that I was not necessarily prepared for, but was fortunate enough not to receive a bad reaction. This isn’t the case for everyone.
Today, I like to joke that it’s literally my job to come out (and there certainly is a lot of truth to that statement). I like to think I’ve become pretty good at coming out to people, having done it thousands of times over the last four years, so here is a list of my top seven suggestions for people who may be considering coming out themselves:
1. You are not obligated to come out under any circumstance
Identifying as ace does not mean that you are obligated to tell others about that identity. Some people prefer to live their life without ever coming out, and for some, being ace might not have a large impact on their experience. All of these are perfectly okay, and there is no reason why you should ever feel obligated to come out, either now or in the future.
Alongside that, your personal well-being always outweighs the need for advocacy. If you feel you are in an appropriate position to come out, feel free to do so; however, if you suspect coming out might not benefit you, I implore you to prioritize your needs over any theoretical advantage for the ace advocacy movement.
For example, youth who still live with their parents are not always in a great position to come out, especially if their parents are unlikely to be accepting. In this situation, it may be safer to wait until after moving out before a young ace comes out to their parents if they are interested in doing so. As another example, if you know someone who has openly expressed anti-ace views, that person may not be worth coming out to.
2. Recognize that people may struggle to understand your identity
Unfortunately, ace identities can be a lot harder for people to understand than more commonly known sexual orientations. Straight people tend to understand a gay identity, for example, as they often have a reference point to compare that experience. For them, a gay person shares a similar experience of attraction, only towards a different gender. Yet, because asexuality describes a lack of that experience, non-aces can have significant difficulties contextualizing it.
3. Be prepared to receive countless questions
When I first started coming out, the process rarely took less than half an hour of explanation. Over time and with experience, I’ve managed to whittle that down to about three minutes, but I still run into folks who simply refuse to understand ace identities. (At this point, I usually stop trying after a while)
I am continually surprised by the questions people manage to create in response to my coming out, so having a solid grasp of ace concepts can significantly help. At the same time, you aren’t required to answer anything if you do not want to. Many of the questions people ask may be innocent, but also rather invasive.
4. Understand that coming out is a lifelong process
Coming out is not something that happens overnight. Because you will continue to meet new people throughout your life, you may find the need to come out time and time again. In my experience, coming out gets significantly easier over time, especially as you become more familiar with the coming out process, and as people in your social circles become more familiar with ace identities (often as a result of you coming out).
5. Build a solid support system to rely on
Coming out can be a frightening and emotionally exhausting process, so having people who can support you through it definitely helps. Unfortunately, you may face invalidation by people who you deeply care about, and that can be difficult. Having someone that you can reliably turn to for support will help ease that process.
You do not necessarily need to build your support system on offline friends either; having online friends to turn to can be incredibly beneficial, especially because it can be easier to find other aces on the internet.
6. Expect to defy assumptions about your life
People who have known you for a long time may have made assumptions about how your life will turn out, and might be quite invested in those assumptions. Parents often expect their children to grow up, get married, and have children themselves; therefore, your parents might view your coming out as an affront to their life plans for you. (As awful as this may seem, it happens more than you may think) Considering this fact may help you decide whether or not it is a good time to come out to your parents, or whether or not there may ever be a good time.
7. Above all, your needs are most important
Coming out is not always a positive process, and even if people do react positively, the emotional exhaustion, anxiety, and discomfort coming out can cause may not be worth it for you. Your needs and well-being should always come before any benefit to the advocacy movement, no matter how large or small that may be.
On the other hand, you may feel like coming out may negatively harm either your family, or the people whom you come out to. I know countless people whose parents told them not to come out to siblings or extended family, for example, because they did not want to deal with the ramifications themselves. Again, your personal well-being remains the most important piece of your coming out experience, so do not feel like you necessarily cannot come out, just because others have told you not to.
In all of this, I encourage you to put yourself first. Ultimately, your well-being is worth more than any amount of awareness.