According to the Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms, coming out refers to “be willing to talk in public about something that was kept secret” or to “announce that you are attracted to the same sex”. It is used commonly amongst the gay community to refer to the disclosure of sexual identity or gender orientation.
Faced with the decision of “coming out” can be a very daunting experience. For many people the decision is an extremely difficult one accompanied by many internal conflicts. On the one hand, letting go of secrecy and pretending in order to live an open and authentic life is very appealing. On the other, fears of rejection, isolation and discrimination are overwhelming. This decision is a personal one and the outcome needs to be weighed up carefully. Each person is unique and what is best for one might not be the best for another. Often, hiding your true self away behind a mask of heterosexuality seems to be much easier, but not being true to yourself does damage psychologically, emotionally and behaviourally.
Rather than an isolated event, coming out is a process which begins with acknowledging and accepting your sexual orientation to yourself. The feelings accompanying this phase range from denial, disbelief and anger to relief, acceptance and excitement. Once you have accepted yourself and are confident with your sexuality, you are ready to share your identity with others.
Starting off by confiding in a person whom you trust and who you know will not judge you, is very important. This person needs to be chosen carefully – it could be a counsellor, a friend, a family member or a valued colleague. The confidence you gain and the support you receive from this initial sharing will help you through the process of coming out. It is not necessary to tell everyone in your life at the same time but rather in stages guided by how you feel and what you are most comfortable with. Often coming out to one’s parents is the most difficult. Be mindful of the timing, the venue as well as the method of your disclosure and allow them time and space to absorb this new knowledge.
It is important to be prepared for the various reactions of the people with whom you share your sexual orientation. People may show shock, disbelief and have many questions to ask. Treat their concerns seriously and answer as honestly and openly as possible.
Coming out is a difficult and very brave decision to make. However,making this choice can lead to a far happier and more meaningful life.
Published in Diversity Magazine – October 2014