If You Just Came Out, Here’s What To Know About LGBTQ+ Dating
Tips for navigating flirting, sex, dates, finding community, and more.
You’ve done it. You’ve officially come out, in whatever way matters to you — congratulations! Now you might be asking yourself, what’s next? The short answer is: whatever you want. You can jump into dating right away or you can take your time building friendships, finding community, or maybe a combination of both. Although dating after coming out can feel intimidating, part of the process involves ditching mainstream culture’s scripts of what relationships look like — and that means you get to make your own rules. This can be simultaneously freeing and terrifying.
Dating in the LGBTQ+ world can feel a little like traveling to a foreign country. The big picture stuff is the same, but there are new customs to get used to. Sure, you can probably find the grocery store, but the foods are unfamiliar and the norms are unclear. Much like you’d consult a travel-savvy friend to help you fit in, I’ve compiled some of the best advice from my personal and professional experience, along with expert-approved tips.
Here’s what you need to know about dating after coming out, from how to flag your identity to others to navigating rejection — and yes, even learning the ins and outs of LGBTQ+ sex.
It’s OK To Say “I’m New Here”
Like any new experience, it may take some time to get your bearings before diving into the LGBTQ+ dating scene. While it might feel scary, consider advertising your inexperience. Just like the “I’m new here” sticker you’ve seen cashiers wear or a “student driver” bumper sticker, admitting that you’re new to the LGBTQ+ communities will make people cut you some slack. Most people remember what it feels like to come out and are eager to be supportive.
So, how does this work in practice? When you find LGBTQ+ meetups or events you’d like to attend, message an organizer or host in advance to let them know you’re new and nervous. Most of the time, they’ll offer to show you around and make introductions. You can also let people know you’re new on dating apps, either by saying so in your bio or in one of your first messages to a potential date.
There’s No Rush To Go On Dates
Just like when you were exploring your sexuality, you don’t have anything to prove after coming out — to yourself or anyone else. So don’t feel pressured to date, have sex, or commit to a relationship right away. In fact, you never have to do those things if you don’t want to. Instead, give yourself time to reflect and figure out the kinds of connections and relationships you want to have. This can mean making friends and finding community first, or focusing on casual dating for a while (or forever).
Another reason to move slowly is that you likely have many feelings that you’re still sorting out. Maybe you had crushes on people in the past but didn’t feel safe speaking up about them. If so, it may take a while to get used to telling folks how you feel. Or maybe, like me, you tacked celebrities’ pictures to your wall but never quite answered the question “Do I want to be her, or do I want to be with her?” Give yourself time to process the fact that both of these urges are now an option. And hey, why not both? (Sometimes one of the benefits of LGBTQ+ dating is sharing clothes with a partner, so dating someone whose style you admire has its perks.)
It’s Also OK To Dive Right In
Maybe you feel ready and eager to date — that’s OK too! There’s no required waiting period between coming out and going out. Feel free to test the waters and see what feels good to you. If you find yourself having fun, great! Keep going. And if you ever need to slow down or hit the brakes entirely, that’s always an option — even in the middle of a date.
Try telling your date something like “This is new to me, but I’m excited to try it out!” This can help set the tone for experimentation (and ongoing check-ins can’t hurt, either).
The Lines Between Friendship & Dating Can Get Blurry
When you start dating after coming out, it can feel difficult at first (or, ahem, forever) to tell the difference between hanging out as friends versus going on a date. Especially if you meet IRL, instead of on a dating app. Once, I got as far as scheduling what I thought was a date, only to double-check her social media before meeting for coffee and realizing that she was definitely straight. It can also be tricky to tell the difference between a simple compliment and flirting. I can’t even tell you how many times a cute person has complimented my dress or my lipstick and I’ve been plunged into confusion, unsure whether they’re being friendly or flirtatious.
If you’re hesitant about where a person stands, it’s always OK to ask for clarification. It may sound strange at first, but consent practices can begin long before sex or even kissing is involved. You can even ask permission to flirt. Try asking, “Would it be OK if I flirted with you?” This can be especially important for people whose appearance doesn’t immediately scream gay.
If you’re shy, asking a question like that may seem impossible. In that case, being up front about your identity may save you some stress and help others read your intentions accurately. And no, you don’t need to run out and get an undercut to fit in (unless you want to rock one); an enamel pin or two on your lapel or purse can go a long way.
You can also make the flirting question a bit less direct and more playful. Try “Are you flirting with me?” When someone gives you a compliment. If they are flirting, it’ll give them a chance to double down, and if not, it’s easily laughed off.
Dealing With Rejection Can Feel Intense
In a way, coming out can feel like going through puberty again, with all of the confusion and intensity that comes with it. Lamont White, a gay matchmaker, tells Elite Daily that this intensity can also mean rejection hits harder. It’s worth noting that dating rejection may feel amplified for LGBTQ+ people in general — largely due to experiences being rejected by friends, family, co-workers, or others during the coming-out process. This is yet another reason to go slowly while you’re trying new things.
There’s seldom a way to make rejection fun, but you can reduce the sting by making sure there are areas in your life where you feel fully accepted. Having a supportive community — and even engaging in hobbies you feel proud of — can help remind you that your happiness doesn’t rely entirely on dating success.
Going On IRL Dates Can Feel Different, Too
Depending on where you live, it can sometimes feel like there’s a spotlight shining on you when you’re out with a sweetie who doesn’t match people’s expectations. Even though I’ve always lived in some of the most LGBTQ+-friendly cities in the country, I’ve never completely lost the butterflies in my stomach when on a visibly queer date.
I vividly remember an experience from a few years ago. I was sitting at an outdoor table eating pie with my girlfriend, and some kids were playing near us, getting kind of rowdy. Their mom stepped in to wrangle them, and at first, I was expecting to hear something awful, like “Get away from those perverts,” because that’s where my anxiety brain always goes. But instead, she said, “Stop interrupting their date.” I was floored. There was no big fuss made. It was simply a fact that we were on a date, and she wasn’t trying to hide that from her children.
In that instance, I was lucky. But it’s still important to take safety into consideration when planning a date. How do you do that?
Tips For Your First Queer Date
Make Sure Your First Date Is In A (Vetted) Public Place
Meeting in a public place is basic dating safety advice for everyone — regardless of gender or sexuality — but the practice may be especially important for LGBTQ+ folks. Unfortunately, being in a crowd doesn’t always equal safety when you’re in a marginalized group. So, instead of simply aiming for “public,” look for spaces you’re already familiar with. You want establishments that you know are LGBTQ+-friendly, so employees and other patrons will have your back if something goes sideways.
If you don’t already have hang-out spots you feel comfortable in, here are some ways to find date locations:
- Look for businesses that have used “LGBTQ-friendly” and/or “Transgender Safe Space” in their Google business listings.
- Keep an eye out around town for spots that fly the rainbow flag or its counterparts.
- Look up LGBTQ+-owned businesses in your area.
- Pay attention to which venues host Pride events.
- Ask your friends or ask for suggestions on social media.
Tell Someone Where You’re Going & Who You’re With
Having a “safe call” is another safety standard when it comes to dating, especially in kink communities (but it’s a good practice for everyone). “Safe call” is a term for a trusted person who knows where you’re going, who you’re with, and when you plan to check in (even if you’re texting them rather than actually calling). Then, don’t forget to follow up! Set a phone alarm so your safe call isn’t panicking when they haven’t heard from you. You should also tell your date that someone knows what you’re up to.
Consider A Group Date
Group hangouts aren’t just for children! A group date can be a great way to ensure extra safety and spread the burden of making small talk among more people. Being in a group not only provides more safety from your date, but it can also provide extra safety from bystanders or the general public if you live in a less LGBTQ+-friendly area. I’ve absolutely brought a friend along on dates before; even one extra person can change the dynamic. If you plan on bringing someone, it can be nice to give your date a heads up, too, so they aren’t caught off-guard.
Keep Your Phone Handy
Make sure your phone is charged (and/or have a backup power supply with you). A phone can help with any number of sticky situations, including calling a ride to get you home or calling for help if you need it. You can also share your location with a trusted friend or two, just in case.
Think About Your “Dating Resume”
LGBTQ+ communities are often tight-knit, which can be a good thing, but it also means information travels quickly (and you’re likely to see your exes everywhere). So there’s even more incentive to treat people well and end relationships with compassion — and that means no ghosting! “Keep in mind what your ‘dating resume’ might look like,” White says. “What are people going to say about you? Are they going to say, ‘Oh, this person flaked on me,’ or ‘This person was rude,’ or ‘This person was sexually amazing’?”
Treat your dates the way you’d like to be treated, and you’ll do fine.
Heteronormative Scripts Are A Thing Of The Past
In mainstream, heteronormative relationships, there are a lot of expectations — many of them unspoken (and many of them toxic). If you’ve done some dating before coming out, you may be used to playing a certain role in terms of who makes the first move, who asks whom out, or who opens the door or pays for meals. It’s understandable because these expectations are everywhere. From movies to reality TV to dating advice on TikTok, “rules” about how dating works are impossible to avoid.
Once you’re out, though, dating dynamics change pretty drastically. While it may be jarring at first, one of the benefits of LGBTQ+ dating is that not being able to rely on heteronormative scripts and assumptions means you talk about everything. From choosing the first date location to deciding who pays the tab, expect an open conversation. Or better yet, start the conversation yourself. (This is another great opportunity to use the “I’m new here” card.)
What About LGBTQ+ Sex?
The lack of heteronormative scripts applies to sex, too. According to sex and relationship coach Rachel Rose, “This is the absolute best part about queer sex — it works however the people involved want it to. There’s far [fewer] expectations or examples of what queer sex ‘should’ look like, so the conversations about who’s into what tend to be more built-in. As long as everyone involved is into it, [sex] can be whatever you want it to be.”
Again, this uncertainty is a good thing. It’s normal not to know exactly what you want sex to look or feel like. In fact, I’ve heard from countless coaching clients that they’re afraid of entering a sexual situation without knowing what to do. But knowing what to do was always an illusion. The skills you need for good sex are communication-based, like active listening and empathy. And as always, trust your gut.
One of the most misleading ideas about LGBTQ+ sex is that if you’re playing with someone who has the same body parts you do, you’ll automatically know how they like to be touched. But everybody is different, and there are no universal preferences. So no matter the gender or genitals of the person you’re going to play with, it’s important to talk to them about what they enjoy long before clothes start to come off. White also emphasizes the importance of having conversations in advance: “Sex starts before it gets to the bedroom.”
You May Get Nervous Or Not Enjoy Sex Right Away — And That’s OK
Another concern I often hear from folks is that they’re afraid of not liking sex once it starts. And that’s a concern you should feel safe sharing with potential partners. “Vulnerability is hot, and bringing up your concerns gives the other person a chance to bring up anything they want to mention, too,” Rose says. “If you get to a point where you’re uncomfortable, you can always stop things, either for a pause to talk or take a moment or for good. Consent can be revoked at any time, for any reason.”
If you’re entering the LGBTQ+ dating world after coming out, know that this advice applies to everything — not just sex. You can change your mind about dating someone, even middate. You can change your mind about what you’re into or what you want to try. Having permission to change your mind can make it safer — and more fun — to try new things.
So go ahead; the world is your 31 Flavors, and you can use as many taster spoons as you want.
Lamont White, gay matchmaker
Rachel Rose, sex & relationship coach