Coming out. Again. And again. And sometimes not coming out.
Before I came out, I pictured this grand experience where I just needed to come out once and then it was done. There would be some sort of beacon that notified everyone that I was gay. I thought, “If I could just manage to come out once then that is all I’d I have to do.” Well, let me tell you-that is not the case. I don’t know how many times I have had to come out. I came out to my friends and family over a few years, choosing to share with people as I felt ready. It was quite a process that still continues, especially when I meet new people. We live in a heteronormative society-meaning many people see heterosexuality as the default, normal, or expected sexuality of everyone. I like to believe that most people do not have malicious intent when they make the assumption that I’m straight. It is their own lens and when you think about it, it is our society’s lens. Pretty much every book, TV show, movie, magazine cover, etc. that I saw growing up was a perfect picture of heterosexuality. Because this norm is still widely represented, I continue to come out. I come out to the man doing repairs in our home. I come out to the server at a restaurant that asks if my partner and I are out for a special occasion. I often come out to strangers who ask me what my husband does in a casual conversation. Sometimes my coming out is completely non-verbal such as when I show my partner physical affection in public. Some of these situations require that I come out-like when I’m calling the health insurance company who needs to know my relationship to the other person listed on the insurance card. In some of these situations I choose to come out by identifying my partner or correct people who assume I have a husband. However, sometimes I don’t come out. Coming out is a journey and there are many factors to look at whether it’s our first time or 100th time. Here are some tips I have picked up along the way:
Have support! Build yourself a community of people who love you just as you are. We may find our safe communities through an LGBTQ+ group, through work, online, through our friends or family. You want supportive people in your life and on your side.
Before coming out, consider if you are dependent on anyone that you are going to come out to. This is often family members, a spouse/partner, or a boss. It is realistic to think about how coming out could impact your finances, health insurance, housing, or tuition.
Be prepared for an array of reactions. From love to anger. Just as our sexuality is often a journey for us-it can be a process for our loved ones as well. Sometimes a friend or family member goes through grieving the loss of what they expected our lives to look like. Though this can be painful for us, this is not about us-this is about them and their process of understanding. Unfortunately, people may respond worse than needing time to grieve: some of us will lose family, friends, or communities. And one of the scariest reactions can be violence-we cannot ignore the the statistics of hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community.
Consider safety. Does this situation feel safe? I’m talking about that gut feeling in your stomach, that intuition voice that we all have. Listen to that vibe or those hairs standing up on the back of your neck. It might not be the time to hold your partner’s hand as you walk down the street in a place that does not feel safe. THIS IS YOUR CHOICE. You do not have to come out to anyone. Ever. You get to decide in what situations you want to share this piece of you and what situations you feel that it is best that you don’t.
If it’s not a matter of your safety and more related to not wanting to feel outed or seen as different, I’d encourage you consider the other side of this coin. Imagine you saw more queer people showing each other affection when you were younger. How might that have felt for you? I think it would have helped me feel less alone and less different. You may unknowingly be offering support to someone who needs it by outing yourself. By letting yourself be seen.
Lastly, coming out is as unique as each of us. People often ask me if their experience or journey is normal and the answer is yes. Whether you came out when you were a young child, if you came out later in life, or if you are still contemplating the decision to come out-you are normal. That was and is your journey. Honor it because it brought you to where you are today.