Many of us had a childhood filled with both covert/subtle as well as overt life-lessons for how things should work, and how people should be. There was a specific set of world-views to which we were to subscribe, without question.
Friends, family, culture, many religious communities, and some in the broader society expect us to fit into a certain mold and behave a certain way. And there are many benefits to structured societal expectations to prevent harm and create a healthy society (e.g. honesty, kindness, not committing crime…), but some societal expectations can cause much harm when the issue at hand is purely based in sets of belief-systems for how people should be. Fact is, some of those expectations cause the same harm they purport to prevent, that is, they purport to prevent harm and give structure to society, but instead they cause harm to anyone who doesn’t fit into the mold. Such is the case on matters that don’t lead to harm for persons, the broader community, or the world. Think about it for a moment: In what way does someone being gay, lesbian, trans… cause harm to you, them, or the world? The answer is, it doesn’t.
Because of that type of upbringing and socialization, it can be very difficult for people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning, intersex, asexual, two-spirit, plus (LGBTQIA2+) community to come out to family and friends, and to live openly as who they are.
What Does It Mean to “Come Out”?
For LGBTQIA2S+ folks, to “come out” is to acknowledge and let others know about their sexual or gender identity. There is no wrong way or time to come out; how, when, or if you do so is a uniquely personal decision. To not come out means you’re withholding a part of who you are from people you know and may care about. For some people, it’s less stressful to hide than to be open. Don’t feel pressure to come out; you are the only one who can decide what’s best for your life.
Coming Out as an Adult
Coming out later in life poses some unique challenges. By adulthood, many people are already established in their career and may even be married and have children. Family, friends, religious communities, and co-workers may see you in a certain way, and may be shaken when they realize that you are different (italicized to indicate that I don’t share the view that this is a matter of being different – I only mean to emphasize how some people may see you). The unfortunate and sad truth is that not everyone you come out to will be accepting, and some relationships may permanently change.
However, if you’re ready to come out, it means you don’t want to hide anymore and are ready to enrich your life with authenticity. This will inherently bring many benefits to you and your relationships, such as reduced stress from hiding, which can increase your self-esteem by being known and loved for who you truly are. Living more authentically can enrich the relationships with people who are in your life, and make those relationships more genuine.
What to Say
You may want to start by writing out what you want to say so you can organize your thoughts and feelings. Some people prefer to tell their loved-ones face to face, while others would rather send an email, a letter even (and I realize how antiquated letter-writing sounds!), or make a phone or video call. Whatever way you choose, be sure to come out at a time when you’re not angry or in the middle of an argument with a love-one.
Also, keep in mind that if you receive a negative or less than accepting response, this may be just their initial reaction; they may need some time to process what you’ve shared with them. Try not to make decisions about the future of that relationship on the basis of the initial reaction. However, if their position doesn’t change and they are unable to accept you for who you truly are, it may be healthiest for you to limit or end that relationship. You are the only person who can know what you need. Trust in that and make your decisions based on what you need at this time.
For many people, coming out isn’t easy. It may be difficult and awkward at first, but it will ultimately bring you joy and free you from the burden of hiding an integral part of who you are. This can lead to more meaningful, genuine, and fulfilling relationships and life-experiences.
If you’re looking for support and guidance on coming out as an LGBTQIA2S+ adult, a licensed mental health professional can help. Give me a call today, and let’s schedule an appointment to talk.