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Thinking of Coming Out?
Coming out is a process of understanding, accepting, and valuing your sexual orientation/identity. It involves both exploring your identity and sharing your identity with others. Coming out can be a gradual process or one that is very sudden. The first step usually involves coming out to yourself, often with a realization that feelings you’ve had for some time make sense if you can define them as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer.
Coming out can be a very difficult process. Our society strongly enforces codes of behavior regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, and most people receive the message that they must be heterosexual and act according to society’s definition of their gender. For gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons, there may be a sense of being different or of not fitting in to the roles expected of you by your family, friends, workplace or greater society. Coming out involves facing societal responses and attitudes toward LGBTQ people. You may feel ashamed, isolated, and afraid.
Although coming out can be difficult, it can also be a very liberating and freeing process. You may feel like you can finally be authentic and true to who you are. You may find a whole community of people like you and feel supported and inspired. Even if it’s scary to think about coming out to others, sometimes the reward can be worth the challenge that coming out entails.
Individuals do not move through the coming out process at the same speed. The process is very personal. It happens in different ways and occurs at different ages for different people. Some people are aware of their sexual identity at an early age, and others arrive at this awareness after many years. Coming out is a continuing, sometimes lifelong, process.
Once you accept that you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, you can decide to be out to others or to stay “in the closet.” You are the only person who can decide when and how it is safe to come out. You may decide to come out in one part of your life and not in another. For example, some people are out to their families but in the closet at work; some people are out at school but in the closet with their families.
Come out at Work
Come Out At Work Being open at work can be a daunting challenge. But it can also relieve the daily stress of hiding who you are. At the same time, however, no one wants to put their job security or opportunity for advancement in jeopardy. So here are some things to think about as you consider whether or not to come out at work:
Questions to Ask
- Does your employer have a written non-discrimination policy?
- Does it specifically cover sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression?
- Does insurance cover domestic partner benefits?
- Does health coverage cover transitioning costs?
- Is there a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employee resource group at your workplace?
- What’s the overall climate in your workplace? Do people tend to make derogatory comments or jokes?
- Are any of your co-workers openly LGBT?
- What are your work relationships like? Do people discuss their personal lives? Are they asking questions about yours? Is the atmosphere friendly or guarded?
- Does your province or locality have a non-discrimination law including sexual orientation and gender identity/expression?
Once you’ve assessed your workplace atmosphere, here are some practical steps to take:
Identify someone who is LGBT or LGBT-supportive, and talk to them first.
Take a breath. People will often take their cues from you on how to talk and feel about LGBT issues. The more casual you are, the more likely they are to follow your lead.
Make a plan.
Talk about LGBT-related news stories, movies, TV shows or other topics as a way to signal your views or start the conversation.
Bring a partner or date to company functions, or have them meet you at work one day.
Put an HRC sticker and/or a picture of your partner on your desk.
Benefits of Being Open at Work
- Eliminates the need to hide or mislead.
- Makes deeper friendships possible.
- Breaks down barriers to understanding.
- Builds trusting working relationships.
- Lets us bring our “whole selves” to work.
- Being open can make you more productive, and can even benefit your career because your peers will see you in a new, perhaps even courageous, light.
Coming Out to Parents
Coming Out to parents and family is a very difficult process. In part, it is about you. You are sharing something very personal with people you love. This makes it a time when you could become closer and more attached, but it also carries the risk of rejection and pain. Coming Out is also about others. This is a time when family who may have "seen the signs" but ignored them must admit this to themselves.
Pick a Good Time
Don't Come Out in an argument, or at a time when you feel angry or resentful. The message will be delivered to family in a time of bad feelings and will convey those bad feelings, making the process more difficult for you and your family in the long run.
Give them time to get used to it before you introduce them to your boyfriend or girlfriend. They may be willing to accept your "friend" more readily and more easily if the sexual nature of your relationship is not so quickly and constantly apparent. Let them see that your "friend" cares about you, knows you well, treats you well, and wants you to be happy just like your parents do. That is what you ultimately want them to know about your partner, not that they are sexually active.
It Takes Time
Understand that it takes time for them to accept this about you, just like it did for you. Your family will go through periods of rejection, acceptance, and then rejection again before they come to accept you for who you are and understand something of what it means to be gay or lesbian. If you are Coming Out to them, you've had more time to deal with this than they have.
Encourage Your Parents to Come Out
Suggest that they share this with a friend; you needed to come out to others for support, and they will need to do this too. Having a list of phone numbers, such as one for PFLAG (Parents and friends of Lesbians And Gays) could help too.
Consider having a "family contact" person. Sometimes a parent will be hurt that they were not the first to know. However, both you and your parents may benefit from having someone in the family to talk to about the issue, how the "Coming Out" went, and how things are going after. An aunt or uncle, sibling, or grandparent may help out tremendously.
Be Prepared and Patient
Be prepared for negative responses, religious fears, and suggestions for therapy. Often, when faced with some stressor we can't handle easily, we wish that it would just change. This is something you may have gone through as well; you may have just "wished" to be straight. It is natural that when faced with the loss of the child they thought they had, the likelihood of grandchildren they dreamed of, and other fantasies your parents had for you, that they too will experience some shock and wish things would simply change and go back to "how they used to be."
Consider how the "Worst Case Scenario" might go. Coming Out is hard enough as is; if you need your parents' financial and emotional support and are really scared they would "cut you off" if you came out, then wait until you can tell them with less fear and anxiety. This may sound like "hiding," but it's not.
There's no reason why you can't build up a network of friends and other family who will be supportive of you and provide some "emotional backup" to get ready for and recover from a difficult Coming Out to family.
Be Ready to Teach
Explain that your sexual orientation is a biologically based thing, and you can't control it any more than they can control their own sexual orientation. Being gay or lesbian isn't their "fault" and does not result from something they did "wrong."
Some parents suggest therapy. There are many who claim to do "reparative therapy," and even some crackpots in the media, like the infamous "Dr. Laura," who claim that such therapy is effective and necessary for happiness. It is not effective, and no sound scientific data has ever been gathered and confirmed to support this kind of "treatment." The American Psychological Association has published a statement indicating that offering therapy to "correct" someone's sexual orientation against their will is unethical. Often these groups of "recovered" gays and lesbians are simply made to feel very, very guilty about their sexual and intimacy needs. They simply focus on trying to deny all sexual aspects of their being, try to conform to heterosexual lifestyles and expectations, and avoid "relapse" through weekly religious "support groups" where a lot of hush-hush sexual activity goes on after hours.
When your parents read about how to talk to you about difficult issues, including potty training, sex, and marriage, they were told to use the same language they wanted you to use. Be patient as your parents learn to use the language you teach them. Explain the terms "gay" and "lesbian" as opposed to "homosexual" and "queer." Allow them to refer to your partner as a "friend" for a while until they grow comfortable with "boyfriend" or "girlfriend."
Be ready to talk about AIDS. While your parents may not be ready for any real details, and they may not ask for fear of finding out information they don't think they can handle, they do need to be assured that you are safe and have tested negative. Of course, if you are positive, lying to your family at the outset may not be recommended. Be ready to discuss the issue as much or as little as your family wants.
Some people have a book or something for reading materials ready to give parents. It's a nice way for them to be reminded gently about something they must learn about, and allow them to read and think about it at their convenience.
The Student Counselling Centre at the University of Windsor provides free, confidential counselling to registered students as well as consultation and referral services for University of Windsor faculty and staff. Services are provided by Psychologists, Registered Therapists, a Registered Nurse, and Master's-level graduate students.