Coming Out is a Lifelong Experience: Telling Others is the End of one Process and the Beginning of Another
Prior to coming out, most LGBT individuals mistakenly believe that coming out is an event and not a process. It is often viewed as an ending rather than a beginning. Coming out is an endpoint of sorts; it means telling other people that you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and it means that you’re fairly comfortable with your sexual orientation or gender.
Even as coming out solves a lot of problems, it creates new ones. When you tell other people about your sexual orientation, you create ripples in your relationships. A common mistake that many LGBT individuals make during the coming out process is to expect or demand immediate acceptance. Developing patience for friends and family to come to terms with your disclosure can save your relationships.
Plus, you live in your body and you know that your attraction is natural to you. For parents, it’s as if your orientation is a reflection of them, and shame or guilt about producing a LGBT son or daughter may result. Although their process may not be nearly as difficult as ours, there is shame they have to deal with. A good gauge to determine if your family feels shame about your sexual orientation is if they ask you not to tell other family members or their friends.
Only the most accepting of parents are fully accepting right away (“Thank God you finally told us. Dad and I have been waiting since you were 14. Do you have a boyfriend?”). Rather, coming out to family members, friends, and co-workers puts them in a closet of their own. It is a closet of fear and shame they feel about having a LGBT friend or relative.
Try to imagine what it’s like living in another person’s body who not only feels attracted to people of the other gender, but who receives messages from society that LGBT individuals choose their orientation or gender. Add to this the beliefs that heterosexual people carry about LGBT people, and you can begin to understand the difficulty in accepting your orientation or actual gender.
Along with patience, another thing to consider is to allow other people the opportunity to voice their concerns, prejudices, and curiosity at the thought of their friend or relative having sex with the same gender or being transgender. It becomes threatening for many of us to hear these questions and concerns, and part of the process of continuing to come out is to feel more comfortable with their unfamiliarity.
There are steps you can take to help friends and family through their “coming out” process. There are many books on coming out, and there’s a lot of coming out literature for family and friends. A few resources to consider are “Now That You Know: What Every Parent Should Know About Homosexuality,” “The New Loving Someone Gay,” “The World Out There: Becoming Part of the Lesbian and Gay Community,” and “Now That I’m Out, What Do I Do?” If you search the Internet, you’ll find everything from blogs to meetups to pages and pages of information for friends and family members, as well as for you.
If you’re having emotional difficulty coming out, you can turn to one of several hotlines and websites for help. They include The GLBT National Help Center or for LGBT youth The Trevor Project. You can also call them at 888-843-4564 or call/text 866-488-7386.
Another part of coming to terms with your sexual orientation is to recognize that you are never finished. Coming out is a lifelong process somewhat similar to self-actualization. No one can ever self-actualized any more than one can be completely accepting of one’s LGBT self, but to keep working at it is the point.
It can be surprising, but you can be at a hotel with your partner and feel slightly embarrassed that you asked for one bed when the clerk assumed you wanted two. Your partner could be in a hospital, and when the nurse asks you what your relationship to the patient is, you hesitate slightly before responding. Or, you hear a particularly mean-spirited joke and you don’t speak because fear of being judged or rejected comes up for you.
Coming out is a lifelong process both for you and for people around you. It takes courage to come out – first to yourself, and then to others, and it takes wisdom to let others have their experience. Remember, it took you a long time to come to terms with your sexual orientation. Likewise, you need to give your family members and friends time to accept it. So, be patient with both you and them. It will get better in the long run.