One of the most life-changing experiences that I ever had was coming out as gay in 2011. Making the decision to be open about who you are and who you love was a whirlwind filled with revelation, an identity crisis, anger, hurt, loss of support, and the gaining of friends as family.
As I reflect on the past few decades of my life, this is what I’ve learned from coming out.
It’s Scary As Hell
I don’t think many people understand how frightening it is when you’re coming out to people, specifically loved ones. There’s the fear of the unknown, the fear of change, the fear of violence, the fear of abandonment, the fear of being misunderstood. Even if you have a million family members and friends who would be all for it if you chose to be open about who you are, those fears don’t go away.
There’s something terrifying about the idea that your life as you know it won’t be the same once those words you’ve been hiding are out in the world. It’s a secret of realization that the struggling person has kept with them like an intimate friend that they are choosing to show to others who have never seen it before. It’s important that people who don’t experience coming out to be mindful that a confession like that is the scariest thing a person might ever deal with.
Ignorant Questions Will Follow
It doesn’t matter how much love and support you receive from the people around you, you should expect ignorant questions to follow after you begin your coming out process. For many, like myself, you will still receive questions long after your coming out process. It’s never-ending at times. People will ask who is the “man” and the “woman” in your relationships. People will ask you to be their “gay BFF” or ask you for fashion tips, even if you’re known for wearing sweats and old T-shirts.
If you’re coming out as trans, people will ask you why you woke up one day and “decided to be a man” or “decided to be a woman.” The biggest question you’ll get no matter how you are coming out is “why did you choose this lifestyle?” One of the biggest things I’ve learned is patience and grace. You answer the questions in a mature and direct manner. Never be afraid to tell someone that their question offends you, but always explain why.
Sometimes it’s up to you to educate others who may not be aware of the ignorance they have. Let them know the best way to approach future questions they may have as well with you. Even if you don’t feel comfortable answering their questions, you can still encourage them to do their own research as there are many resources online for having conversations with people who are coming out.
The Choice To Be Out Is Yours Alone
Never let anyone “toss you out of the closet” or “drag you out.” Your choice for coming out is yours and yours alone. Nobody gets to dictate when you should be open to everyone. Whenever you decide to come out to someone, be sure to make it clear to them that you wish to tell others on your own terms. If someone seems to be pushy about it, stand your ground. Do not let anyone make you ready to do something you aren’t prepared for.
It Can Lead To Trauma
For many, like myself, trauma can ensue after coming out. I have faced abandonment issues based on the way I was perceived by loved ones after being open about my sexuality. I know many who have coped with the consequences of coming out through drugs and alcohol. Some people, who are afraid to come out, also face the same inner conflicts. Coping is never easy if your experience is it’s coming out is a negative one.
It’s important to resort to therapy as soon as you decide to be open about it. Even if you get a positive reaction from loved ones, you may still be dealing with feelings of anxiety from drastic changes in your demeanor or a loss of control. It’s important to have a licensed professional that you trust walk you through your emotions and heal any damage caused.
You Can Make Your Own Family
Family isn’t just blood. And although blood is thicker than water, as the expression goes, blood also goes bad sometimes. In these cases, it’s important you build your own “adopted” family from friends and loved ones who boost you up and welcome you with open arms and without judgment.
For the longest time, I thought that if I couldn’t be loved by those I was biologically connected with, I couldn’t be loved by anyone, but that’s not true. There are many people who love and care about you and are willing to lend an ear or a hug or a cup of coffee during your troubled times. Lean on love, no matter what form, when you’re coming out.
Some Things Take Time
Sometimes, in my experience, those who don’t understand or meet you with hostility can have a change of heart over time. I realized that just because someone doesn’t have a positive reaction to your coming out right away doesn’t mean they never will. Time heals all wounds, and I am a firm believer in this. It might take days and for some, like me, it may take many years.
However, it is possible and there is always hope that hearts and minds will change as you continue to live your best and authentic life.
It’s Not The End, But A New Beginning
Coming out, when you are young, feels like the end of everything familiar to you. It’s all you’ve ever known. So, the idea of being open about your authentic self feels like your old self is dying, that there’s an end to speaking your truth into existence.
However, if you change your mindset to the idea that coming out is a new beginning for you, that helps a lot with the fear you might be facing. You are starting a new journey to becoming who you are meant to be without worrying that you are trying to be anyone different from yourself.
It Gets Better
This was a cliche term I heard my entire life when coming out started becoming big in society. However, years later, I realize how much truth there is to this. I’m now happy in a healthy same-sex relationship and we’ve bought our first house already. We have the support and love from friends and family, both biological and “adopted.” Things aren’t perfect, of course. Nothing ever is. However, now, I live a beautiful, free life and I am the happiest I’ve ever been.
What are some things you’ve learned from coming out? Leave a comment!
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