National Coming Out Day is this week. This is an important day not only for those who make the move and come out, but also for everyone else to be aware of the process. It is the process where an individual becomes more honest about who they are, even at the risk of public or private scorn and ridicule.
The substance of “coming out” is truth. On the individual level, by telling the truth about myself, I know I gained a fuller anchor in my own life. Before “coming out” when people said they loved or liked me, I would not believe them. How could I? I was aware that in order to truly like or love me, they would have to know something I had not shared, who I really was. Once I came out, and they said they loved me, I realized that they must really, really love me after all.
On the public level, “coming out” for the LGBT community is the mark of heroism. When Ellen DeGeneres came out and risked her career, she ended an intense stigma against portraying gay people in media. It did not necessarily become easy, but the taboo was gone never to return to that level again. When Will Portman came out to his father Republican Senator Rob Portman, love won out and marriage equality crossed the bridge into bi-partisan support. Two people changed the experience of millions, both by uttering a simple variation of “yep, I’m gay”.
This week, I am sure, there will be lots of good blogs with all kinds of helpful pointers on what to do as you “come out”. Mine will not be one of them.
While I fully embrace the benefits of living with honesty and integrity for decades, as well as embodying “it gets better”, my own coming out was an unmitigated disaster. It could not have been worse. Well, ok, no one died and no small animals were harmed, so I guess it could have been worse, but it did not feel that way at the time.
For that reason, I offer you the nine things that I did in the coming out process that I do not recommend.
- I compartmentalized my identity to myself: When I allowed myself to think gay thoughts, I was one person. When I was forcing heterosexual thoughts as I “should”, I was someone else. Neither the twain would I allow to meet. It worked wonderfully. If it had worked any better, they would have hired Joanne Woodward and given her multiple faces to play me in a movie.
- I acted like a boorish straight guy: I wasn’t an idiot, I knew what I was expected to act like as a “straight guy”. I would cruise women, with a hint of drool and then act embarrassed, and in denial, when caught. This behavior backfired when I did finally come out. I found out that those observing me had catalogued and stored those memories as proof that I “couldn’t be gay”.
- I was morally superior: It was not hard for me to be a “good boy” when the idea of getting into a girl’s bra (at least, with her still in it) made me wretch. I was living proof that one could live a life as pure as the driven snow, all the while, having fellatio fantasies on his mind.
- I relished homophobic humor: I never bullied any LGBT person, in fact, I was rather enamored of them. I do remember the times I told “fag” jokes, however. While telling them, I felt incredibly safe. Afterward, I felt like an incredible fraud.
- I disrespected my worth in my initial sex experiences: When I was told about the “birds and the bees” the expectation promised was that I would meet someone special, the time would be right, and “it” would be wonderful. “It” happened from a want ad. “It” happened from the tacky adult section in the Free Press. “It” was not thought out but was a spur of the moment decision. I did not feel special, I felt tawdry and I acted that way.
- I was too drunk to manage my information: My alcoholism helped me feel like I wasn’t lying, so it had been very useful. Until it wasn’t. Then it made me sloppy. I was three-sheets to the wind and my mother complained about “those homosexuals”. Thinking back now, the decision to tell her to “fuck off” in that instance, was probably not the best closet-preserving move I could have made.
- I was too drunk to manage my information, part 2: Later that night, I was still drunk when I tried to explain to her what it feels like to be gay. (Sub-rule here: don’t try to explain gay sex to your mother. Ever.)
- I failed to predict the reactions of every single person: The people in my family I thought would rally around me, didn’t. The person I thought most likely to reject me, didn’t. The thing I learned about my wisdom and sensibility in this situation, was that I didn’t have much of either.
- I lied and implied there were loopholes: I made the mistake of conceding that if I EVER found a woman that I actually loved and was sexually attracted to, that I would marry her. My mother decided that meant that I would “try” to find this completely fictitious fantasy woman. She was angry weeks later when she found out I had no intention of doing so. (The non-existence of such a woman was non-discussable with my determined mother. ) My mother then offered to quit smoking if I “quit being gay”. Bottom line, coming out is not a negotiation.
That was over thirty one years ago, and I hope I am wiser. From a self actualization perspective…. I am out, out, out. I am the authentic me. My parents know who I am. My sibling knows who I am. My kids know who I am. Anyone in the world aware of me, knows who I am.
Most importantly, I know who I am. I am proud…thrilled and proud…to be that person.
The point here for you is you can read someone else’s article on “how to best come out”, or you can just be yourself, as soon as it is safe to be. Shakespeare wrote a line in the play Hamlet, “to thine own self be true”, a piece of solid advice. None of the dysfunctional characters in that play followed that wisdom, however, and, (spoiler alert!) , all ended up killing themselves and each other.
So, in classic Dad form, I say to you: “Don’t do as I did, do as I say.”
Be true. Be you. Be fabulous. Happy National Coming Out Day.
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I really hope I’ll be able to come out to my family soon (-ish? Preferable before I finish my Masters and move away). My friends, coworkers, and people I meet who ask, they all know about my girlfriend. When anyone in my family asks, I’m single, or I change the subject. I hate lying, whether its by omission or just flat out false information. My mom knows and she says she doesn’t care if I’m gay or not but she forbade me from telling our family and made it clear that she doesn’t want to meet my girlfriend. One day, I hope I can come out to both sides of my family and be accepted as the same person I’ve always been, just way happier. Realizing that I’m pansexual definitely makes me feel better now at least.
#10 – “I apologized”
Hell, I still haven’t come out to my family. They’re psycho-religious and homophobic and don’t approve of me living with someone out of wedlock anyhow. The only person in my family who knows that I’ve been bisexual since before I can remember is my mother, because moms are just like that.
You know, the other thing I might add to your list is “Don’t come out to family members that you know for a fact are both homophobic and hostile.”
Or, well, maybe do that, but only with supportive friends/family members as backup.
Reading your points, I am often uncertain to what degree they deal with your “coming out” and to what degree they deal with your own realization/self-admittance of your gayness (resp. denial/theater towards others and denial/theater towards yourself). Some clarification could possible be helpful for the readers.
Concerning 8: It is quite common for people (in a wide variety of situations,including in the office) to misjudge the true opinions, quality, character, whatnot, of others. Most notably, sociability and superficial “niceness” have little or nothing to do with “goodness” or true friendship.
Concerning 9: My father (who is gay) actually did get married. Despite having two children, it simply did not work out. As I understand my father, his homosexuality was the main cause. I cannot say what degree (or type) of love was involved, but I would advice to great caution for those who contemplate starting an honest search along your mother’s lines or think that they have already found a suitable woman.
(In an almost funny coincidence, it appears that my mother, who did not know, was actually a bit homophobic at the time…)
out and proud, too much to worry what others may think. EVERYONE who has really liked me still does!
I grew up in a military, community and even though I knew i was different, i hid in that closet for many years, when i was young some friends of my parents were talking and one lady had said that fagots, and lesbos belonged in a mental institute, so later I asked my mom what baggots and besbos (what i thought the lady had said) belonged in a mental institute ment, so she told me it was boys who liked boys and girls who liked girls , i piped up and said I LIKE GIRLS, but my mom said not like that you dont. so I hid in the closet most of my life trying to be straight, NEVER WORKED, I was never happy, I joined the army my self when i was old enough so I stayed in the closet even longer and even attempted marriage , because one of my NCO’s said to me i know you are a lesbian and i am going to prove it and have you kicked out, so i got married.big mistake, then got divorced yeaaaaaa, and still hid in the closet even though at that point I had come to terms with my self and knew I was a Lesbian, then when I was 32 i had a friend she was definitely out, and i peeped my head out of the closet, my family had cows, so i jumped back in, and tried to be straight, but kept remembering how happy i was with her, and how even though it didnt work out between us, i was truly happy with a woman, so finally when i was 38 i jumped out of that closet and announced it to the world on face book. and have not looked back since then, Now I have a beautiful girl friend, and eventually I intend to move to England to be with her for ever.
Funny how Facebook has become quite a lot of peoples conduit to coming out. YEAA Facebook!!
I didn’t come out I was yanked out by my Facebook stalking sister lol I had decided to wait until after her wedding to let the family know I was in a relationship with a woman my sister thought otherwise. So I never expirenced coming out. The support I received was overwhelming I wish every persons coming out was as smooth as mine. Not that I didn’t fret for the three months I was in that secret relationship and how my family would react. Good luck to everyone coming out! I really enjoyed your article 🙂
Number 8 is ambiguous. If it means “I did not correctly predict the reactions of anyone”, then it’s reasonable to call it a mistake. And maybe that’s what’s meant. But the more natural reading to me is the other one “There were some people I did not correctly predict the reactions of”. Which isn’t a mistake. It’s life in the real world.
On a more positive note, this part I really struck me, as something I relate to.
“Before “coming out” when people said they loved or liked me, I would not believe them. How could I? I was aware that in order to truly like or love me, they would have to know something I had not shared, who I really was.”
I’m heterosexual, but, still, I have my own things I kept locked up inside and didn’t share with others. And even while being authentically myself in what I did share with the world, there was the feeling that people wouldn’t love/like me if I shared that part of myself I kept hidden.
I’d venture to say those nine ‘mistakes’ (or slight variations thereof) are very common in the lives of those over 30 or from conservative communities. We start with self-denial, move on to creating an act, then we try to keep the act going by having straight sex, then we need escapism (alcohol etc), then we hit bottom and feel we have no choice but to come out. I went through all that. Including the ‘it’ from the want ad. I’m persistent so I then went out and got myself a fiancée. Went through the motions of sex for two years. Exhausting. So ridiculous in hindsight. What a spectacular waste of time.