5 years ago, right after I’d finished Year 12, I wrote a coming out letter. It was 2,013 words, which I thought was symbolic as fuck given that it was 2013 at the time. I left it sitting on the Mac for about six months.

In early 2014, I showed the letter to my friend down by the beach. I then showed a few more of my friends before travelling for the remainder of the year – I felt suffocated and needed time to think. Fast forward to the end of 2014, after I returned, and I decided to come out to all of my family and close friends in the space of a week. “Just rip it off like a band-aid,” my cousin, who also coincides as one of my best friends, had told me. He’d come out before me, and definitely guided me through the whole ordeal.

I’ve seen some incredible changes since 2014, and marched alongside my brothers and sisters in the fight against plebiscites, for pride, against NO campaigners and, ultimately, in celebrations for marriage equality.

Here are some of the main things I’ve learned along the way:

It’s okay if you’re not out.
If you’re not out, that’s more than okay – your sexuality is just as valued. It’s all about timing, and your safety is a priority. You shouldn’t feel like there is a certain script that you need follow, because every coming out story is different. To be super cliché for a hot second, no two coming out stories are the same.

So, absorb as much information as you can from those around you – listen to the advice from your friends, go on Instagram and Youtube, find people online who inspire you, reach out to them, send those DMs and ask those questions because, at the end of the day, it’s important to take as much time as possible. There is no rush.

Hug your platonic LGBTQ friends tight – you’ll need them.
When I first came out, a close friend of mine told me that I should hold my platonic queer friends close. “Fuckboys will come and go,” they said, paraphrasing loosely, “but you’ll always need your girls beside you.” They were right – at the end of the day, my LGBTQ brothers and sisters truly understood how I felt. It’s a shared experience that only you and your friends can truly understand.

You’ll never stop coming out.
After I came out to my family and friends, I thought I wouldn’t have to come out again. One thing I did learn very early on, though, was that coming out is less of a one-time thing and, more so, something I’d continue to do over the subsequent four years. In fact, coming out became a bit of a daily practice – there were many times when I had to subtly hint to the cringey dudes in my lectures that, while I did find that female a rather beautiful being, I was unfortunately of the homosexual variety. I guess you could call them mini-coming out episodes. Either way, each coming out gets easier.

We need to be investing more into LGBTQ mental health departments.
Mental illness within the queer and, particularly, the trans and non-binary communities remain an extremely prevalent issue that has not subsided over recent recent years. According to the National LGBTI Health Alliance, LGBTQ young Australians between the ages of 16 and 27 are five times more likely to attempt suicide, compared to the general population. Trans Australians over the age of 18 are nearly 11 times more likely. It was extremely frustrating to see millions being funded into the unnecessary nationwide plebiscite last year rather than into much-needed online counselling, campaigns and services for those most in need.

That being said, LGBTQ organisations for youth, such as Minus 18, and national telephone and web counselling services, such as QLife, are paving the way for greater discourse and services for queer, non-binary and trans Australians. Black Rainbow is also an important social enterprise, as the first and only LGBTQ organisation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, specialising in suicide prevention, homelessness and social outcomes.

The country is changing.
Yes, we may be waking up to newspapers with headlines surrounding Scott Morrison and the proposed ‘religious freedom’ bills, but I’ve recognised the importance of staying positive. Our country is overwhelmingly changing for the better – if 2017 is anything to go by, a year filled with nationwide plebiscites and viscous anti-same-sex marriage campaigns ultimately gave rise to a resounding YES vote and greater visibility for LGBTQ folk. Attitudes are changing, and this is ultimately establishing a greater sense of inclusivity across schools, universities and workplaces.

This obviously wavers across our country’s various regions but, nowadays, every shout of homo-, bi- or transphobia is being drowned out by thousands of other voices who care. It’s 20GAYTEEN, after all.

Happy National Coming Out Day!

If this article has affected you in any way, or you would like to talk to someone, please call QLife on 1800 184 527, headspace on 1800 650 890, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Image: Jordan Gogos