Happy National Coming Out Day! For the millions of people who identify under the LGBTQIA umbrella around the world, it is a very special day.
Coming out is a very personal journey for each individual. I love it in the sense that at its earliest instances, it can bring affirmation and confidence to a persons sense of self. But, in many regards I still feel a level of frustration with the idea of it all. Having to come out is a quite an undertaking. Having to go out of your way to let those you love and respect know about an aspect of your life that is both so much a part of who you are and also so insignificant in the grand scheme of your persona is just silly to me. But I get it. It’s human nature. It helps us to identify each other. It helps us understand each other better.
I’m not saying I like it, but the reality is being gay is still outlawed in many parts of the world (and in some punishable by death). Some may say, “why do gay people have to say it and straight people don’t?” or “having to come out makes it seem that being straight is the norm and being gay is not, and with that attitude we’ll never become normalized”.
Honestly I hear you, I get it. But now is not the time to make those advances. We just aren’t there yet. Coming out is an unfortunate bi-product of the LGBTQIA community still being marginalized. But, heteronormativity is woven so tightly into our society – our local communities, perpetuating media, history, our conscious and our subconscious. It will take a minimum of 50 years to even tear away from that narrative. We have to give it time.
So now for the purpose of this blog. For those of you who have come out – you know what I mean. For those of you who never have to – you’re so f*ckin lucky…BUT, pay attention. This advice is primarily for those who still need to/want to come out. However, I’m leaving some room for the don’ts of the so-called “allies” in our lives (smh)
Tip #1: Put the power into your own hands
In many of my coming out experiences, I have taken the time to carefully decide when and how I told people. For my first official coming out experience, when I came out to my best friend and my sister (double whammy) I decided to take them out to dinner. I specifically asked for a booth so we could have a private conversation and if things got emotional (which they totally did) it wouldn’t draw attention. I set it up in a public space as well because I felt safer and less weird around the buzzing and busyness of a restaurant versus an even more awkward private engagement.
Another example is when I told my dad. I was putting off telling him because at the time I was living at home and was worried that if it went south then I would not have a place to go. So instead, when he started a job in another city, I took advantage of the distance and figured that if I went to visit him, even if it went bad I could walk away from the situation. Good or bad though, I do feel like giving people time and space to process something that you spring up on them, no matter what it is can be the best option for both parties.
All this being said, as much power you may hold in the situation does not necessarily mean that there is a “perfect time” or “perfect place” for when you come out. You can set the stage the best you can if it suits you, or you can say it at the spur of the moment. All of it is a cumbersome thing so just do what works best for you.
Tip #2: Take your time. There is no rush
When I first came out I was 18 and 29 when I came out to my dad (who was the official last person I needed to come out to, everyone else after was on a need to know basis). That’s 11 whole years of the coming out process to people left, right and centre. Sometimes the process seems endless. So don’t worry – do it once whenever it happens because it won’t be the last time you do it.
On another note, I knew someone who didn’t come out until he was 50. And that was after 2 wives and 3 children. There is no time limit on when you feel like you need to live your truth. I mean yea, it might suck. But there is no judgement or pressure that you should ever place upon yourself. Everyone has their time.
Perhaps ask yourself why you feel that it’s important to do it at a specific time. Oddly enough in my first and last instances, I did it because I was in love (so cheesy I know). I was beginning to live a life, a happy life, with someone that I loved and I was becoming heartbroken that I had to separate him with the important people in my life. By 29, I was in my next relationship and told myself that I wanted to have the ability to bring my man home for dinner to meet both my parents. That was very important to the growth of my relationship with him and my loved ones. But see, in the mean time I picked and chose who I wanted to tell. It takes time so just take it. There is no set deadline.
Tip #3: If you can, bring support
When I came out to my parents, I had my little brother by my side. It wasn’t necessarily just because he was my brother but mostly because he is who he is.
You definitely don’t want just any ally/supporter. You need someone who can control themselves and not get too excited. The last thing you need is someone who comes off just as nervous as you are because then you’re taking care of both of your feelings in a stressful situation.
My mom was like that when I came out to my dad. There we all were at dinner, my dad, mom and brother just sitting around the table. At any given moment I would glance at my mom and she would give me this nervous worried look and pet me with anxiety. That was not helpful.
I specifically asked my brother to be there because he is innately level headed and has a calming personality. I knew that if things went some weird way he could intercede and talk through it. At the end of it all we were even able to properly debrief with each other as well. Talking yourself through things can feel isolating sometimes.
And of course, ask your ally instead of assuming that they would be okay with it. Some people may seem fully equipped but they may not be. So just do your due diligence and ask them respectfully.
Tip #4: Stay safe
If you really feel the need to come out but are almost certain the outcome will be negative, then set up a strategy. Never put yourself in a situation where you could be left out on your ass on the streets or worse inflict any undue violence against you. Set up a safeguard or google the nearest safe houses if you still live at home. Ask friends or family who you have come out to if you could stay with them until things get a little better.
But honestly, I know this may sound awful but if you can help it and avoid a very potential shitty situation then just don’t do it in that time. You may think that sounds cowardice, but I see it as common sense. If you know it could potentially bring you harm, just wait until you are in a safer space or situation until you are able to put the power into your own hands (cc: Tip #1). This has nothing to do with being proud of who you are, it’s about staying safe.
Tip #5: Don’t be too hard on yourself (or others)
Coming out can be f*ckin hard, ya’ll. It may be easier but it’s definitely not fun. At least it wasn’t for me. So don’t beat yourself up about it. The worst thing you can do is add more unnecessary guilt and blame for being yourself. And on top of that feeling like sh*t for having to do something that you never asked for but have to do.
I have been lucky that I have had nothing but positive experiences across the board. This is definitely not the case for everyone. If it doesn’t go the way you planned, then don’t blame yourself for it. Don’t even blame the people who reject you. It can be a sad stark reality for many but there is not much you can do about it. Yelling at them doesn’t help. Hating them doesn’t help. Perhaps, try to understand them. That might help.
The one thing that may be more difficult than coming out is having to empathize with someone who rejects you based on your sexuality. It may not make your relationship better, but you will find a semblance of peace.
And if that day does come where they want to know more or understand you better, you can go to them with open arms and educate them positively. Don’t let it harden you. At the end of the day you are the only one being affected by it.
BONUS TIP: *FOR ALLIES* DO NOT OUT SOMEONE
For the allies who decide to bear the cross for their LGBTQIA brethren here is a little tip. I know you may think that you are doing someone right or helping someone out by letting others know someones sexuality but just don’t do it. There is a reason some people do or don’t know so don’t take it upon yourself to “help” someone out. That is their story to tell, not yours.
I know in many instances outing can happen by accident. (I had a friend accidentally tell my brother). Sometimes people are thoughtless and idiotic (re: my friend who accidentally told my brother). Just remember that you can’t take that shit back. And you suffer the consequences of that betrayal, whether it’s by accident or not (eg. I am no longer friends with that person). In some cases, some one overhears it. In that case, don’t be a gossipy little bitch.
This is all to also remember that you could potentially be putting someone in harms way by doing so. So, just don’t do it okay?
Now some of my tips might be outdated. I feel like the younger generations may not need to go through such hoops just to come out. Also I’m an anxiety filled wuss so that didn’t help either. But, if not, I do hope this can help anyone else who may struggle or who need some tips and tools to help them along their very own gay way. Thanks for reading!
*Disclaimer* These are my recommendations based on my own personal experiences. I am a middle class gay man living in one of the most multicultural cities, raised by a liberal family. So just take that into consideration.