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COMING OUT
 

Wikipedia: Coming Out

Ellen DeGeneres: It's Scary to Say I'm Gay Out Loud

Best Coming Out Scene

Coming Out Video: Finding Joy in Difference

 

Breaking the Silence


Closeted – Individual who is not open to themselves or others about their sexuality or gender identity. This may be by choice and/or for other reasons such as fear for one’s safety, peer or family rejection or disapproval and/or loss of housing or job.  Also known as being “in the closet.” When someone chooses to break this silence they “come out” of the closet.

Coming Out – Process by which one accepts and/or comes to identify one’s own sexuality or gender identity (to “come out” to oneself).  Process by which one shares one’s sexuality or gender identity with others (to “come out” to friends, family, co-workers).
 

Outing/Outed – Involuntary, unwanted, or unexpected disclosure of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity status.

 

 

The Coming Out Process

 

The term “coming out” refers to the life-long process in developing a positive identity as a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person. It is not something that just happens one day.  It is an ongoing process of several steps. First, the person must accept him/herself, and be somewhat comfortable with the fact he/she is gay. Next, the person usually tells his/her closest friend or group of friends to “test” how comfortable hey might be with disclosure. Another step is when the person might find a partner or start dating someone. Then come the most difficult step, in many cases, when the person decides to tell his/her parents, other family members, or employer.

This process is very long and difficult struggle for many people since they have to confront many opposing ideas and homophobic attitudes. Many people first need to struggle with misinformation and stereotypes that are taught them while growing up. Before someone can feel good about who he/she is, the person will need to challenge his/her own attitudes and move from wherever the person is on the homophobic continuum, which might include feelings of repulsion, pity, and/or tolerance, to feelings of appreciation and admiration. After many years of painful work to develop a positive identity and attitude, many will then decided whom to tell that they are gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender.

 

“I was just done. It’s so toxic to just be hiding. It becomes so consuming without you even knowing it’s consuming you. You become so complacent in this reality you create. It’s like a bucket, and it’s filling up and filing up and filling up – and finally it just spills over. And I felt guilty for not being out for the LGBT community. I was like, Dude, just say you’re gay.  For me, it was a great opportunity to be honest, to share certain elements of the pain that I went through.  The reality is, there are very few young people out as actors, so I was hoping to speak to a lot of the issues so it wouldn’t just seem like, Hey, look, I’m gay."

-Ellen Page

 

Brian McNaught: What It's Like to Be in the Closet

All Things Queer: Coming Out Stories

Coming out Again and Again

Coming Out Video: A Cadet With Questions
 

Coming Out Comments

 

Being "In the Closet" has been described as "hiding your true self," "denying your real identity," and "suppressing your authenticity." To be closeted about your sexual orientation is to restrain yourself from revealing an important aspect of your nature.

What does it feel like to be closeted? It has been described as "exhausting," "stressful," "a fulltime job," and "keeping yourself in check at all times." It takes a lot of time and energy to constantly hide certain aspects of your self. Here are some collected comments:

"When I was fully in the closet, I always felt the need to make sure there was no possible way no one would ever find out. That's why I'm happy I came out, even if it's just a few people."

“It's a very exhausting task. The majority of my family is aware of it (with the exception of distant relatives), all of my friends, and one or two of my co-workers. It's not a problem if people find out, or come to terms with knowing. I tell who I want to tell, and I don't tell who I don't want to tell.”

“Holding onto shame takes a lot of energy. And being in the closet is about being in shame; not loving ourselves and not believing that others will love us, or allow us to be part of their lives. It takes a lot of energy to maintain a counterfeit persona, to fit in when you aren't being authentic. It's a lot easier being who you really are.”

 

   

“I feel like I am constantly watching my behavior around others. For some reason I'm not comfortable telling anyone I know just yet.”

“Every day is literally a struggle and I feel like I'm being held back by being in the closet.”

“It does eat away at you consistently. You don't really realize how much time and energy you spend trying to hide yourself on a daily basis until you retrospectively look at it once you've come out. Now that I’m out, I'm not trying to hide it I feel a lot better.”

“Being in the closet definitely feels like being in a full time job. It's because we're all reflecting on something that we think might not be taken in a positive light or be mocked or even worse, yet a lot of people now will be supportive for the most part. Then there's trying to not give away any clues that may be a bit suspicious to everyone else. It's also such a major personal thing that is rather sensitive at the same time, so that doesn't help.”

“Being in the closet is a full time job. It's exhausting sometimes. I just wish I could let myself relax and let my guard down about it, but I can't.”

“I feel that I have to watch every word I say, or where my eyes wander to. But right now in middle school kids are jerks about that kinda stuff, so I am waiting until High School until I tell anyone outside of my family.”

“I have to watch what I’m saying and doing constantly. It’s so stressful.”

“At home, I have to constantly be careful with my internet browser, especially since I have nosy siblings always in my space. And then when people talk about their significant others, I have to try to sidestep the question as to not bring attention to myself. Also, having to hear people's annoying gay jokes is frustrating because then I have to pretend that I don't care or people will get suspicious.”

 

NY Times: Anderson Cooper's Coming Out Story

Coming Out Video: Alone Among Many

Valuable Lessons We Learned From Coming Out

Coming Out Video: I Told Them I'm Transgender

 

Coming Out Model

 

The Cass Model (Vivian Cass, 1984) is one of the more well-known and widely used models for coming out and LGB identity development. It is very common for individuals to move from one stage to another out of the listed order or even be in more than one stage depending on the situation. Individuals often move back and forth between stages and are sometimes at a midway point between stages. The model should be thought of more as a continuum that people can move about freely. It should also be noted that the primary participants in Cass’ original study were white gay men. Thus, this model should not be assumed to be equally applicable to gay and lesbian people of color, bisexual or transgender people, and women.

1. Identity Confusion: "Could I be gay?" Person is beginning to wonder if "homosexuality" is personally relevant. Denial and confusion is experienced.

Task: Who am I? - Accept, Deny, Reject.

Possible Responses: Will avoid information about lesbians and gays; inhibit behavior; deny homosexuality ("experimenting," "an accident," "just drunk"). Males: May keep emotional involvement separate from sexual contact; Females: May have deep relationships that are non-sexual, though strongly emotional.

Possible Needs: Exploration of internal positive and negative judgments. To be uncertain regarding sexual identity. May find support in knowing that sexual behavior occurs along a spectrum. Permission and encouragement to explore sexual identity as a normal experience (like career identity, and social identity)

2. Identity Comparison: "Maybe this does apply to me." Will accept the possibility that he/she may be gay. Self-alienation becomes isolation.

Task: Deal with social alienation.

Possible Responses: Begins to grieve for losses he/she may experience by embracing their sexual orientation. May compartmentalize own sexuality. Accepts lesbian, gay definition of behavior but maintains "heterosexual" identity of self. Tells oneself, “I'm just in love with this particular woman/man," etc.

Possible Needs: Important that the person develops own definitions. Will need information about sexual identity, LGB community resources, encouragement to talk about loss of heterosexual life expectations. May need to keep some "heterosexual" identity (it is not an all or none issue).

   

 

3. Identity Tolerance: "I'm not the only one." Accepts the probability of being homosexual and recognizes sexual, social, emotional needs that go with being lesbian and gay. Increased commitment to being lesbian or gay.

Task: Decrease social alienation by seeking out lesbians and gays.

Possible Responses: Beginning to have language to talk and think about the issue. Accentuates difference between self and heterosexuals. Seeks out lesbian and gay culture (positive contact leads to more positive sense of self, negative contact leads to devaluation of the culture). May try out variety of stereotypical roles.

 

Possible Needs: Be supported in exploring own shame feelings derived from heterosexism, as well as external heterosexism. Receive support in finding positive lesbian, gay community connections. It is

particularly important for the person to know community resources.

4. Identity Acceptance: "I will be okay." Accepts, rather than tolerates, gay or lesbian self-image. There is continuing and increased contact with the gay and lesbian culture.

Task: Deal with idea of no longer subscribing to society's norm. Congruence between private and public self.

Possible Responses: Accepts gay or lesbian self identification. May compartmentalize "gay life." Maintains less and less contact with heterosexual community. Attempts to "fit in" within the gay and lesbian community. Begins some selective disclosures of sexual identity. More social coming out; more comfortable being seen with groups of men or women that are identified as "gay." More realistic evaluation of situation.

Possible Needs: Continue exploring loss of heterosexual life expectations. Continue exploring internalized "homophobia." Find support in making decisions about where, when, and to whom he/she self-discloses.


 

5. Identity Pride: "I've got to let people know who I am!" Immerses self in gay and lesbian culture. Less and less involvement with heterosexual community. Us vs. Them quality to political/social viewpoint.

Task: Deal with incongruent views of heterosexuals.

Possible Responses: Splits world into "gay" (good) and "straight" (bad). Experiences disclosure crises with heterosexuals as he/she is less willing to "blend in." Identifies gay culture as sole source of support.

Possible Needs: Receive support for exploring anger issues. Find support for exploring issues of heterosexism. Develop skills for coping with responses to disclosure of sexual. Resist being defensive.

6. Identity Synthesis: Develops holistic view of self. Defines self in more than just terms of sexual orientation.

Task: Integrate gay and lesbian identity so that instead of being the identity, it is on aspect of self.

Possible Responses: Continues to be angry at heterosexism, but with decreased intensity. Allows trust of others to increase and build. Gay and lesbian identity is integrated with all aspects of "self." Feels all right to move out into the community and not simply define space according to sexual orientation.

[Source: Vivian Cass, Homosexual Identity Development, 1979 and Susan Young, SIUC, 1995]

 

Coming Out at Work

12 People Who Need to Know You're Gay

Stages of Coming Out

Coming Out: Parents Guide to Supporting Your Gay Teen

Coming Out Video: Gaining Confidence From God

 

 

Preparing Yourself to Come Out

 

Have a serious talk with yourself. Clarify specifically what you hope will happen as a result of disclosure and what you expect will really happen. Without a clear purpose, your presentation of self may be a scary and risky experience without an attainable objective.

Select the particular person or persons to whom you wish to disclose. Tell the person(s) that you want to share something important, that you want to have a serious personal conversation. Although you cannot make someone ready to hear what you have to say, you can create a situation in which the other person feels ready for a serious personal conversation.

Select a time and a place. Avoid situations that may result in a lack of time or privacy. Neither you nor the other person can interact honestly and fully if he or she does not feel there is enough situational privacy. Coming out is a continuing process, not a hit and run bombing mission or something done well in a crowded public place.

Keep your disclosure clean. That is, don’t clutter it up with attempts to punish, cause guilt or gain sympathy. Talk about yourself, your feelings and your experiences. Stay with “I” statements. Being LGBTQ is no one’s fault. What you as a person decide to do with your LGBTQ identity is your responsibility.

Allow time for surprise reactions. It is doubtful that you came into self-acceptance overnight. Asking that another accept and appreciate you faster than you have learned to appreciate yourself is self-defeating.

Be ready to clearly identify learning resources that are available to the person. For example, books, films, magazine articles, journals, counselors etc. As your learning has taken time and energy, the “significant other” will need time to digest your disclosure and ingest a new understanding.

An important step, certainly not the last priority, is the setting up of a LGBTQ support system. Participating in a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender support group can help prepare you for disclosure to significant others in your life. It can also provide you with support and understanding during and after the disclosure. If this type of group is not available to you, having supportive friends, teachers, relatives, etc. is also a good source of support for the coming out process.

Coming out in our society is an endless process and being proud of being LGBTQ requires constant affirmation of self.


 

Brian McNaught: What It's Like to Be in the Closet

All Things Queer: Coming Out Stories

Valuable Lessons We Learned From Coming Out

Coming Out Video: I Told Them I'm Transgender

Coming out Again and Again

Coming Out Video: A Cadet With Questions

 

Coming Out to Your Parents

Are you sure about your sexual orientation and/or gender identity?  Don’t raise the issue unless you’re able to respond with confidence to the question “Are you sure?” Confusion on your part will increase your parents’ confusion and decrease their confidence in your conclusions. If you do decide to come out before you are certain, you may have your parents’ support in your period of confusion, but you may also have pressure and their homophobia to contend with.

Are you comfortable with your sexual orientation and/or gender identity?  If you’re wrestling with guilt and periods of depression, you may be better off waiting to tell your parents. Coming out to them may require tremendous energy on your part; it will require a reserve of positive self-image.

Do you have support?  In the event that your parents’ reaction devastates you, there should be someone or a group that you can confidently turn to for emotional support and strength. Maintaining your sense of self-worth is critical.

Are you knowledgeable about homosexuality and gender issues?  Your parents will probably respond based on a lifetime of information from a homophobic society. If you’ve done some serious reading on the subject, you’ll be able to assist them by sharing reliable information and research.

 

What’s the emotional climate at home?  If you have the choice of when to tell, consider the timing. Choose a time when they’re not dealing with such matters as the death of a close friend, pending surgery, or the loss of a job.
 

Can you be patient?  Your parents will require time to deal with this information if they haven’t considered it prior to your sharing.

What’s your motive for coming out now?  Hopefully, it is because you love them and are uncomfortable with the distance you feel. Never come out in anger or during an argument, using your sexuality as a weapon.

Do you have available resources?  Homosexuality is a subject most non-gay people know little about. It can help to have available at least one of the following: a book addressed to parents, a contact for the local or national Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays (PFLAG), the name of a non-gay counselor who can deal fairly with the issue.

Are you financially dependent on your parents?  If you suspect they are capable of withdrawing college finances or forcing you out of the house, you should consider how to best manage the possible consequences of coming out.

What is your general relationship with your parents?  If you’ve gotten along well and have always known their love and shared your love for them in return then it is more likely they’ll be able to deal with the issue in a positive way.

What is their moral/societal view?  Take into consideration what your parents generally believe is morally and socially acceptable when deciding whether or not they will be accepting of your sexuality.

Is this your decision?  Not everyone should come out to their parents. Don’t be pressured into it if you’re not sure you’ll be better off by doing so.

 


 

Wikipedia: Coming Out

Ellen DeGeneres: It's Scary to Say I'm Gay Out Loud

Best Coming Out Scene

Coming Out Video: Finding Joy in Difference

NY Times: Anderson Cooper's Coming Out Story

Coming Out Video: Alone Among Many

 

When Someone Comes Out to You

What is someone comes out to you?  How should you respond?

 

Don’t judge. Regardless of your own personal or moral belief about LGBTQ people, keep in mind that the person has made himself/herself vulnerable. Simply listen to the person.

Acknowledge them. Let them know that you heard what they said and ask open-ended questions to show that you are interested and care.

Recognize the trust. If someone voluntarily comes out to you he/she is putting a lot of trust in you and has used a lot of courage. It can be good to acknowledge that courage and trust.

Match their words. Remember that this is about how they identify. It is important to use the same language that they use. If the person identifies himself/herself as gay, then use the word “gay.” If he/she uses queer, then use the word “queer.”

Mirror emotions. You should be mindful of their emotions concerning coming out. If the person is happy, don’t talk about how difficult it must be.

Don’t let sex be your guide. Don’t assume, just because someone has had a same-sex sexual encounter, that the person identifies as gay. Also don’t assume, just because someone identifies as gay, that the person has had a same-sex sexual encounter.

Maintain contact. Let the person know that they are still important to you. You don’t need to change the way you interact or how often you see the person in the future.

Keep confidentiality. LGBTQ people face many forms of discrimination and harassment in society. It is important to make sure to never share a person’s identity unless it is with someone he/she has told you knows. A good rule of thumb is, “if your not sure, don’t share.”
 

Give resources. When someone comes out to you, it is possible that he/she is already very knowledgeable about resources, but he/she also might not know of any. Share what resources you have and make an active effort to learn about new useful resources.

Just listen. The most important thing you can do is to listen. Being LGBTQ isn’t a problem that needs solving or something that becomes easy to deal with given just the right resource. LGBTQ identities are part of who people are. When you listen to people tell you about their identities, you learn more about who that person is.

 

 

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