Why Come Out
More often than not, when people choose to come out of a closet it's because they’re looking for something. This might be...
Self-esteem. They want to express themselves openly, to tell those hot stories that drip with their uniqueness, and to dress as fiercely and fabulously as they wish. They want to feel connected to the faces they see in their own mirrors, and to move in the world in a way that reflects their identities. They want to honor themselves and feel whole.
Community. They want a pile of excited friends to wander with at parades and street fairs. They want smart, experienced pals to call for advice. They want to surround themselves with people who need no explanation from them about who they are.
Respect. They’re ready to explain to their best friend that their collection of ropes and riding crops is actually NOT for working on a ranch, and by the way, that’s not really where they’ve been going away to every summer, either. They want to be honest with the people they care about. They’re done with lying.
Passion. They realize it’s a lot easier to show up to a gay bar if they’re comfortable with people thinking they might be gay. They want to open their lives up to pursue their desires, to find new partners, and to revel in the joy of being free.
Solidarity. They want to support their communities by showing up to marches, festivals, forums, conferences, parties, and parades. They want to show everyone who’s still in a closet that they’re not alone, and to show the rest of the world, “There are many of us, and our lifestyles are valid and valuable.”
Coming out is one of many ways to live with integrity and to find love. Sometimes it’s just the path that makes sense.
Why Think Twice About It
Sometimes the cons can outweigh the pros, and we choose not come out. Despite what the Gay Pride parade may have told you, this is actually completely okay. It’s usually a matter of wisdom and self-preservation when we stop and think carefully about…
Partners. Will we be outing them by association? If an otherwise heterosexual man wants to start referring to himself as bisexual because his long-term girlfriend is secretly talking about transitioning to male, he should pick his timing carefully. When our stories aren’t just about ourselves, we’re best off respecting privacy and checking in for consent.
Safety. Are we (or the people we love) likely targets for bullying or hate crimes? It’s a hard and scary possibility, and the evening news likes to remind us that it still happens much too often. On the other hand, rules for fears still apply: whatever we survive makes us stronger, and most of the things we fear will never happen. It’s a lot to think about.
Family of Origin. Are our parents and relatives the intolerant and punishing types? Are we dependent on them for money or decisions? Is now a bad time? When it comes to family, we need to tread carefully – they’re rarely ready for surprises.
Marriage. Are we asking for changes in our lifestyles that our spouses would be unable to accommodate? Are we open to negotiating a middle ground? Are we feeling pressured? Do we want to hold onto this marriage or is it time to let it go? Sometimes we need to get clear about our real needs before we try to ask for what we want.
Children. Are we facing a custody battle? Are we uncomfortable with our kids finding out about our private lives? Are we still grappling with that double standard of not wanting our children to grow up to be us? We may want to spend some more time battling our own demons before we bring them into the fight.
Livelihood. Does this seem like the kind of thing that could get us fired? Are we vulnerable to discrimination or harassment? Sometimes making a living can be hard enough as it is, and we’re not ready to add any complications to that.
Privacy. Does the idea of others knowing this much about us make us feel violated? Maybe we’re perfectly happy to never mention the fact that we love being spanked to anyone but our own red-handed husbands. What we do in our personal lives is really, in a lot of ways, nobody’s business but ours, and it’s okay for us to protect that when it feels like the right thing to do.
If you find yourself wrestling with an issue along these lines, it doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t come out – it just means you have a responsibility to decide for yourself what path is best, given all of the factors.
I'm not saying this to try to sway you, but you should be aware that there are some pretty fantastic benefits to being out. For example…
Hotness. People who come out magically become 10 times more attractive than they ever thought they could be. True fact!
Global Impact. Once people are out, their friends and family become more likely to support their communities’ rights. They also tend to get a little more educated, just by osmosis.
Serendipity. Here’s a neat trick: When we’re open with each other, opportunities seem to just fall out of the sky. For example, a newly-out genderqueer (who happened to make his own clothes) volunteered at an LGBT organization, and met a trans woman who complained that her dresses didn’t fit well. Three months later, he was running his own gender-variant tailoring service and making a lot of people very happy.
Automatic friends. There’s a funny thing that happens after someone comes out: she wakes up one day and realizes she’s floated to the center of a community without even trying to – it’s as though it just formed around her. Even folks who are still closeted are approaching her nervously and asking to connect. She’s visible, and people have found her.
New Family. In any community that develops around a closet, friends tend to feel a little more like family. They take care of each other, look out for each other, support each other, and have each other’s backs. That’s not to say they don’t also fight like siblings, but it’s with a deeper understanding that they’re committed to each other. Being out means having access to a broader family and a stronger safety net.
And maybe it goes without saying, but every single fear associated with “What will happen if I come out?” also mercifully falls away, and an unimagined sense of emotional freedom fills the space left in its wake.
How to Do It
So you’ve read this far, and you’re thinking maybe it’s time to give this whole “coming out” business a shot. Here are a few basic tips and things you may want to think about.
Start with safe spaces, allies, and people who share your identity. Try online forums, blogs, and personals sites, and then move on to in-person support groups, workshops, bars, and events. If possible, hold off on making any big announcements to people outside of these circles until you've felt confident and stable in your identity for long enough that it feels completely normal to you. There are two reasons for this:
1) People can sense how comfortable you are with yourself, and this can affect their willingness to embrace whatever you're coming out about.
2) If you're in the process of changing, keep changing! Marrying yourself to a social category can slow down the process of self-discovery if it happens too soon. Give yourself as much permission as possible to explore, experiment, and change.
This is your process, and you get to do it your way. You don't have to come out to everyone at once. You also don't have to come out about everything at once. Or ever. It's all up to you.
You can come out to different people in different ways. Be creative! You might consider...
1) The subtle approach -- Drop tactful hints by wearing your bright pink "I LIKE BUTT SEX" t-shirt with your studded dog collar. Put the wedding photo of you and your husband making out with your bridesmaid together at your wedding reception on your desk. Add "Dungeon Play Party" to your office calendar under Saturday night.
2) The casual approach -- Slip this interesting "getting to know you" fact into a relevant conversation, as casually as you would if you were telling someone you like to snowboard. For example, "Well, I'm hitting the dyke bars this weekend with my girlfriend, but I'd love to meet up with you on Sunday." Or, "Hmm, I'm not sure which sex to check off on this form because I'm biologically both. What do you recommend?"
3) The gossip approach -- Remember in middle school when you sent a friend over to find out if so-and-so liked you? Well, this is the same thing, only the Sexually Marginalized Grown-Up edition. Enlist the help of a friend to drop the news to someone without you in the room, and check back later to see how it went. This is also a great way to test your gaydar theories before you pounce.
4) The direct approach -- The plan is simple: you ask for their time and attention, you describe your identity in clear terms, and you request their support. Of course, simple doesn't mean easy, but it does mean you can do it. (Hint: This is the one you use on your parents.)
Tolerance goes both ways. It took you time to get comfortable with your identity, so be gentle with the people you come out to and let them take their time, too. Remember that negative reactions, even anger, are really an expression of fear. How do you take care of a friend who is scared? With lots of patience, reassurance, and respect.
You can be out or you can be Out. Some people come out, and then live as though that identity doesn't change who they are. (Sure, she brings her wife to the company Christmas party, but so what? Everyone’s busy talking about the deal she just landed.) Others come Out and focus on living expressively and carrying a torch for everyone who’s still in a closet. Both approaches are good for your communities, so don’t listen to any peer pressure one this one – just do what feels right.
When it comes down to it, you need to live your life in the way that's best for you, and only you can decide what that means. So if you want to come out, come out! If you want to keep your private life private, then do so, and do it in a way that honors yourself. The point of all this self-knowledge and loving is really just to bring more joy and awareness into our lives and the lives of those around us. As long as you stay honest with yourself, whatever you do is right.