-Mayah Taylor, MA
Last week we shared with you insight into what it is like for an LGBTQ individual to be thinking about coming out. We shared with you the challenges, the risks, and all that can affect a person who is making the complex choice of whether to come out to others. This is a process and journey that an LGBTQ individual will go on throughout their lifetime and isn’t defined by a single instance of coming out to others but multiple instances of coming out to others they encounter in their life that they choose to share their gender identity and/or sexual orientation with. So, what happens when the decision is made to come out? How is an LGBTQ individual affected after the decision has been made to come out? In this blog we’d like to shine the spotlight on what it’s like to come out to others and how an LGBTQ person can be affected after they are out.
Coming out of the closet, as the imagery suggests, is to acknowledge an aspect of one’s self or one’s experiences that may have been previously kept secret or hidden. For lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender people, to “come out” means to acknowledge their sexual identity (or gender identity for transgender people) and, typically, let others know about their identity. Clients that we see at our practice have expressed that following coming out to family and friends there is often mixed reactions. Remembering that other peoples’ actions or reactions are out of your control is helpful to bear in mind prior to coming out. There are those that may have issues with your sexuality or identity and that is to be expected. While it can be hurtful and disappointing, one of my client’s shared with me that focusing on the positive people in their life that accept them for who they are was helpful after they came out. Going forward in their life they focused on keeping open-minded individuals in their life and creating their own sense of support to help cope with the negativity they sometimes faced with being openly out of the closet.
The internal emotions faced after coming out vary and can be overwhelming at times. You may find that after coming out you feel relief, joy, maybe pain, and possibly everything in between. You may even feel anger and frustration depending on the circumstances. This is all part of the process. Working towards being able to manage one’s emotions is important in dealing with the ups and downs in life. This is where building up a solid support system can be very beneficial.
After coming out to your loved ones, you may even be faced with the question of labeling yourself past being LGBTQ. These may be questions you ask yourself and they may be questions that you are asked by those that you have come out to. In society today, we often try to categorize things and place labels on things. This brings a sense of comfortability and understanding. Within the LGBTQ community however, labeling is not a necessity. You are not obligated to label yourself or put yourself in a box. It may be helpful after coming out to keep yourself open and away from labels so that others may in turn keep an open mind. This can allow you more room to continue to grow and become even more comfortable with yourself.
Coming out can be met with a sense of liberation and freedom. There are pros and cons that some LGBTQ persons face upon coming out to their family and friends. It’s always important as with any decision for an individual to be conscious and knowledgeable about how this decision may affect your life. It is also helpful to prepare yourself to come out as much as you can by first knowing your surroundings and creating the most safe, comfortable environment possible. While you cannot always control everything going on around you upon coming out, you want to be sure you feel safe and comfortable. You also want to make sure that you have coping skills and support systems in place to help you deal with any negative emotions or experiences that you may encounter after you are out to others.
Remember, you do not need to be apologetic or ashamed for who you are. If you find yourself struggling and in need professional help, there are LGBTQ affirmative support groups and therapists around you that are waiting and willing to help. Speak to a LGBTQ affirmative counselor about your thoughts and feelings and get clarity on what you want to do. If you enjoyed this blog, please check out more of the same, here.