Sharing personal information, coming out and being outed

PDF download is not available for Arabic and Urdu languages at this time. Please use the browser print function instead

It's up to you who you talk to about your personal information and what details you choose to share. Find out tips to help you talk to others about sensitive topics and what to do when others share your personal information without your consent.

Key points

  • “Coming out” is a term to describe the action of no longer keeping private a certain aspect about yourself.
  • “Being outed” is when someone shares your sensitive personal information without your consent.
  • There is no one “right” way to tell anyone your personal information, and you don't need to tell anyone you don't want to or share any details you are not comfortable sharing.
  • Only you can know when the right time is to come out. You have the right to feel safe and to be in charge of making the decision to come out.

What is personal information?

Some people are very open with their personal lives. Other people share personal information with only their closest friends and family. Personal information can be any information that is unique and relates to you. This can include things like your sexual orientation, gender identity, financial status, home life, religion or personally held beliefs, medical history, and many other identifying details about you.

It is up to you who you talk to about sensitive topics and what details you choose to share.

Coming out

The term “coming out” is a shortened version of the phrase “coming out of the closet”. It is a metaphor for no longer keeping private a certain aspect about yourself and has traditionally been used to describe the process of understanding, accepting and disclosing your sexual orientation or gender identity. But, it can also be applied more broadly to any sensitive personal information that you have decided to make publicly known.

Why should I consider coming out?

You should never feel pressured to come out; but if you are ready, below are some reasons why you might want to share your news with others:

  • You have accepted this information yourself and are ready for your friends and family to know (e.g., you have come to terms with a medical diagnosis, you have accepted your sexuality, you have acknowledged your gender identity is different from what you were assigned at birth, etc.).
  • You feel like you are not being your true, authentic self and would like to be accepted for who you really are.
  • You no longer want people making assumptions about you or spreading misinformation.
  • You would like to combat stereotypes or negative labels.
  • You are excited about who you are and want to share that with other people in your life.

Why might it be better to wait before coming out?

Even if you have important personal information to share, it is important to feel comfortable that the time is right. Below are some reasons why you might not want to share your news with others:

  • You are simply not ready yet. You are still trying to process the information and figure out how you feel.
  • The information is private, and it is simply no one else’s business to know.
  • You are worried about how your friends and family will react to the news (e.g., being kicked out of the house, being abandoned by your community, losing friendships, etc.).
  • You are afraid of bullying, harassment, discrimination and/or violence.

Teens can be in a particularly complicated position because many of them are still under the care of, and are financially supported by, their parents/guardians. There are lots of considerations that will go into deciding when to come out. For example, if you feel that your care, safety or financial stability will be in jeopardy if you come out, you may decide it is safer to wait until you are more independent before sharing your news.

Who should I tell and how?

The first and most important step to coming out is making sure that you are comfortable sharing your information with someone else. Once you are ready, you can start by sharing your news with one trusted person who you feel will be very supportive. This might be your best friend, a trusted family member or a counsellor. From there, you can begin to share the news with others.

It will also help to choose what you disclose, and the place and time where you share it, carefully based on what is most comfortable and safe for you. You can share as much or as little as you want to, and you can do it in person, over the phone or in writing (on paper or online). Feel free to share resources like websites or support networks too. These can provide extra context about your situation to your friends and family and explain some of the details on your behalf.

How will my friends and family respond?

When you tell your friends and family your personal news, they may not react the way you hoped or thought they would. Their reaction may make you feel angry or disappointed, or make you feel like they don’t understand what you are going through. Often peoples’ first reaction to new or unexpected information is not how they would normally react to other news. They may need time to process this information, just as you first did.

On the other hand, their reaction might be surprisingly good! You might be surprised by how much they understand and how much better you feel knowing you still have their support. It may seem difficult, but you will likely need to help your friends and family understand what kind of support you expect from them. Remember that before you came out, you were maybe still figuring things out.

Being outed

When someone shares sensitive personal information about you without your permission, or they find out your news without you telling them, this can be referred to as “being outed”. Like the term “coming out”, being outed is usually used within the LGBTQ2S+ community to describe disclosing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent.

Being outed can be a very scary experience because it can lead to consequences that you are not yet prepared to handle. If you have been outed, below are a few ways that you can take back control of the situation:

  • Accept what has happened and come out again on your own terms. Even though the news is no longer a surprise, it can be helpful for your mental health to say what you want to say in your own words. Showing confidence during this time can also demonstrate that you will not let other people dictate your coming out experience.
  • Seek out your support networks. They can help comfort you during this time and offer their assistance in stopping any gossip.
  • Stick to your routines. It can help to continue your daily activities as normal to keep your mind off the situation and to show others that you are still the same person you were before your news was shared.
  • Make new friends with people who share your experience. It is nice to know you are not alone. You can connect with others through an organization, support group or online community.
  • Talk to a mental health professional if you are feeling overwhelmed or having a tough time dealing with the situation.

Supporting someone who has come out

Coming out is a very personal and often complicated decision. If someone shares their sensitive personal information with you, it is sometimes hard to know how to react in the moment. You may be surprised, happy, confused, worried, all of these things at once or none of these at all. Whatever your initial reaction, it is important to remember that by coming out to you this person trusts you to be kind, supportive and discreet with the information. Below are some ways that you can help to support someone who has come out to you:

  • Respect the person’s privacy. They do not have to tell you everything, and they do not need to share all of the details at the same time. If you have questions, be sure to ask them kindly and without judgement.
  • Treat the person the same as you did before they shared their news. Just because you know something a little more personal about them does not mean your relationship has to change.
  • Ask the person what they need from you. They might need you to help them share the news with others or they might simply want you to listen and be emotionally supportive. It is always best not to assume.
Last updated: August 16th 2021