With National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11) upon us, many of us can share a coming-out story of some sort, and most of us realize pretty quickly it’s not a one-and-done process. Instead, it’s always ongoing. The method of disclosing one’s gender identity, relationship configuration, or sexual orientation can be one of the terrifying things, especially the first time. Some people are met with hate, some with acceptance, some with anticlimactic indifference, and others with celebration. As well as one may think they know their intended audience, the reactions are either healing or traumatizing. For many, the thought of keeping such a crucial part of oneself in the closet is even more excruciatingly painful than not disclosing.
For this Coming Out month I’d like to share some tips to help with the process.
1. You don’t have to come out
It’s important to note that nobody must come out if they don’t want to it. Granted, there are those who are unfortunately outed by others whether intentionally or not, but as long as it’s in your control, it’s your decision what you choose to disclose. It’s perfectly okay to decide not to come out at all. If or when you decide to come out don’t do it only for yourself.
2. Get support
As much as possible, build a support network of people you trust to be there as you share the news. We can’t always control or predict how others will react. To have a trusted ally makes all the difference. Some find that sharing the news in degrees by writing a letter and following up with a phone call or visit is helpful. Whatever way you choose, the most important thing is that you feel safe and comfortable in the process. If you are in need of support, please look into the Utah Pride Center. The staff can assist in talking through the coming out process, whether for sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
3. Be concerned with your safety
It would be so nice to say that safety shouldn’t be a concern, but unfortunately, bigots and intolerant people like nothing more than to see those of us who are not heteronormative be punished or harmed. If you think there is a good chance you may be hurt or lose your livelihood, take care of yourself and wait until you are in a place with support and security.
4. Expect others to be shocked
When coming out, keep in mind that while you’ve been struggling with this for quite some time, it may come as utterly unknown news to someone else. Some people may be shocked which may make coming out more of a process than a one-time event. However, recognize that any surprise others may experience is their struggle, not yours. As there are resources for the person coming out, there are also resources for those learning the news. You don’t have to be responsible for making others feel better about you.
5. Supporting others
Should you find yourself being receiving such news from a loved one, consider that coming out is complicated. Younger people may find themselves most concerned with how parents and peers will react. Not only may their social base be at risk, but the fear of how parents, of whom they may still be dependent on, will take the news can be especially frightening. Adults may have difficulty coming out to a spouse and/or children who’ve known them a certain way for many years. Regardless of how well you know the person or how surprised or not you may be, remember: a person trusting to share such a vulnerable part of themselves is sacred ground. Respect, validate, support, and honor that trust.
Lastly, as hard as it may seem sometimes, know that you are not alone. Others have gone before you and others will come after. If you’re not ready to come out but want to share anonymously you may write me at DrLaurieBennettCook@gmail.com. Your message will remain private, and if you like, I’m happy to message you back or share a phone call to provide the support and kindness you deserve.
Happy Coming Out Day. You’re a beautiful soul, just as you are.