May 16, 2010

[Technicolor Musings] The Question of Coming Out

Coming out the ClosetImage by StephenMcleod - time for nudes? via Flickr

The day a gay man or woman finally leaves the happy lands of Narnia is always a big day, regardless of the circumstances. You can be as feminine as a Southern Belle or as flamboyant as a cheap noontime host but people will still deny that you're queer until they actually hear it from you directly. This is why coming out is such a significant and personal experience and one that should never be taken lightly.

Many feel that coming out isn't necessary in order to demonstrate gay pride these days and I can understand why. Living in the closet means we tend to invest in our nesting environment and thus we enrich our personal Narnias with the trappings of nobility, career advancement or love of family. We have a million and one reasons for keeping up the lie and we've gotten used to how we our closeted lives. We know it's not right and it's not true but it is what it is and we've become content. It's like learned helplessness - you know, the bit about the bird who won't fly out of an open bird cage.

In this week's Technicolor Musings, let's take a closer look at whether or not it's worth it to leave Mr. Tumnus and his oddly intriguing fuzzy treasure trail for the land beyond the wardrobe. Is it worth it to come out? Why should we still leave the closet? What difference does coming out make?

I've been an out and proud man for more than 7 years now and so I've had my fair share of friends and associates asking me about coming out. Their reasons for wanting to hear my views on the matter are pretty diverse, ranging from polite conversation, idle curiosity to moral support for his or her big day. Thus over the years and spanning all these many conversations and consultations, I've sort of come up with a few principles when it comes to coming out that you may or may not agree with. Regardless of how we all view things, it certainly makes for a healthy discussion, right?

Coming out is a personal experience - I say this a lot and there are very specific meanings laced into that statement. First, it means that you should decide to come out for yourself or your betterment and never because some external factor or person is coercing or even forcing you to do so. You need to be able to come out on your own terms since this really is about you coming clean to your friends and family and finally declaring who you really are. And thus I frown upon those who try to out other Narnians for their own amusement or some shallow sense of vengeance after a break-up. It is never your place to come out for someone else - that is something that the individual needs to be able to accomplish for themselves.

Sorry, you need to be a little selfish - A lot of people tend to stay in the closet because there are all these other factors that come into play that take precedence. This could be because of love and respect for your family whether this means your aging mother's health or your established family's reputation in society. But as stressed in my first point, this is supposed to be about you and who you are and not about everyone else around you and how your gender identity is going to affect their life. It's not bad to be selfish from time to time and this is definitely one of those instances.

You're not being noble by staying in the closet - What you are doing is lying to the people that you love, every single day of your Narnian life. We were taught from a very early age to tell the truth and yet when it comes to coming out, we forget this in fear out of how people will react. So when does it become better to lie about your identity? How any times will you have to lie to your parents, whom you claim to love, by saying that the reason you're not married yet is that you haven't found the right girl or that the friend you've been bringing home for dinner is just that - a friend. You hurt more people with lies in any situation and in this case, you're hurting yourself the most. Whatever noble reasons you're holding onto in order to justify staying in Narnia, these are really just excuses and rationalizations you're putting together in your head in order to avoid facing the truth of who you are.

There is never a perfect time - A lot of friends have asked me what defines the "perfect" moment to come out and I always say that there's so such thing. It's a personal experience and it really is more about you and so the perfect time is whenever you feel you're ready to make the declaration. Whenever you say that you almost came out but something happened or some other family issue took priority or whatever, what you're really saying is that you weren't ready to tell them. Something inside your head got cold feet and now you're rationalizing delaying the announcement. This is neither good nor bad - it's natural for us to go through this cycle over and over until we finally come out. Just stop trying to orchestrate a "perfect" coming out situation. This is not a marriage proposal, you know.

You are not asking for permission - Many forget the fact that coming out is about telling your loved ones who you are and not asking them if you can be gay. It seems that way since it's a very big thing that's bound to get a lot of people talking. Plus it feels like those times when you needed to ask your parents permission to sleepover at a friend's house when you were much. much younger and thus you tend to mix up these circumstances. You're an adult now (at least I hope you are if you're sure about your gender identity), and so this is you letting other people know something they didn't know before and that's that. You are not expecting a response of whether or not you can do this. It's too late - you're already gay and you've slept with someone of the same gender at least once so it's time to come clean.

Your family will always love you - I expect a lot of folks to disagree with this statement, but I feel it's fundamentally true. Sure, they can still throw a fit after you've come out but it doesn't mean they don't love you. Remember that when you do come out, the natural response in everyone close to you tends to fall along two paths - "Did I see the signs of this happening" or "What did I do to cause this?" It's natural for them to do this since they've known you the longest and dealing with these questions can be emotionally draining and thus leading to a lot of misplaced aggression. They still love you and even their anger is an expression of this love. Remember and understand this fact and give them the time they need to come to terms with things.

Coming out will always be important - There's a subset of the LGBT population out there that believes that you never need to come out of the closet. They believe that it's a lot more convenient to live a double life and hide this side of things and claim that they're still proud of who they are despite this dichotomy. I'm not saying they're wrong - we're all entitled to our own beliefs after all. However given what coming out means - being true to oneself - I strongly feel that everyone should come out one day. This is something you as a gay person needs to do for yourself in order to truly be comfortable with who you are. Staying in denial isn't just about hiding the truth from your loved ones but it also means constantly putting into question who you really are as an individual. If you want to be accepted for who you are, you need to first step of accepting yourself completely. If you really are proud of who you are, then what's holding you back from telling the world?

Well, those are pretty much my key principles when it comes to the question of coming out or not. I know some of the language seems a bit strong and a lot of you might feel I'm being a total ass for saying these things or that I'm just completely wrong and I have no idea what I'm talking about. But really, read the entry again and really think about it with an open mind without giving in to your instinctive need to protect your family or advance your career or preserve your image.

You can do this. Coming out is never easy, I admit that, but once you get over with it, the rewards are priceless. The feeling of being completely honest, even about just one small thing like your sexual orientation, can be really uplifting and empowering. Plus it changes your life and how you live each day and you'll find yourself smiling more than you used to.

Sure, there will be the rocky bits here and there and you'll have a lot of talking to get over and a lot of re-explaining for both friends and family. Man up! Be strong! Believe in yourself! Once you get past the initial storm, you'll find the radical, gossip-like nature to things will quickly pass and soon you'll be living a "normal" life again with one big difference - you'll be truly living it as yourself and who you really are.

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