Coming out of the closet is a rite of passage for many LGBTQ people. While there have been great advances in the fight for equality, the fact that we still have to come out as LGBTQ and different from the norm can explain some of the pain in our community.
Picture two different coming out scenarios.
Ideal coming out story
In the best of all possible worlds, picture someone who realizes they are queer at a young age. Their family is open and accepting around sexuality and gender and they have role models for non-heteronomative ways to structure their lives. When they do come out it’s a non-issue for the family. They’re affirmed and supported. They have a great social group at school and they never experience bullying or expressions of disgust or hatred.
Less than ideal coming out story
Picture a young gay man who grows up in a very conservative and religious family. It’s expected that he will get married to a woman and have children. It’s assumed that he will continue to be a leader in the church, as his father was before him. He is not exposed to diversity of any kind in his community. He hears homophobic remarks daily and once he realizes that something is different inside of him he begins to feel a deep sense of dread for what’s to come. He develops a strong sense of internalized homophobia and is uncomfortable being who is he. He doesn’t feel safe enough to come out until he’s left home, finished college and is living on his own. His family does not have a supportive response and cuts him off emotionally and financially when he does muster the courage to come out.
While these examples illustrate two extremes, chances are if you identify as LGBTQ your own coming out story falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. Take a minute and recall what your experience was like. Did you expect something different to happen when you came out? Were you surprised by the response around you? If you haven’t come out yet, there are many great resources on how to come out, and hopefully you will consider seeking more support.
To come out as LGBTQ
For many of the people I work with, myself included, I often hear that coming out was a non-issue. For myself, my family has always been very supportive. I came out at 17, had a gay wedding and gay divorce, and my family supported me throughout.
However, I did experience bullying from other kids growing up and I did internalize the heteronormative messages that media and society perpetuate. As an adult I did have to battle internalized homophobia and I continue to do my own work healing the wounds I’ve collected along the way.
Things to consider
When you’re thinking about your own coming out story, what sticks out for you? Was your family supportive? Was your community supportive? Are there cultural or religious considerations you have to contend with to come out as LGBTQ?
How does this come up in therapy?
When I’m working with someone who identifies along the LGBTQ spectrum, I will typically explore their coming out process early in our work together. Even if the process itself was long ago or uneventful, it provides a useful lens through which to understand someone’s experience.
Hopefully there will come a day when this question or topic becomes obsolete. My perspective is that as long as we have to come out as LGBTQ, this is a topic that deserves attention.