We live in a world where the LGBT community is accepted in some areas, but not others. We also live in a world where education in regards to the unique challenges of being part of the LGBT community is practically nonexistent. Pop culture is attempting to shine a light of certain aspects of it but a situation, like the idea of coming out, is more delicate than you might think.
You see, coming out is more than just admitting to others that you are gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, etc. There is so much more to it, and depending on where you live in the world, it can be a life or death secret you may keep. I know that sounds dramatic, but there are countries in the world that kill homosexuals because they are “an abomination” in the eyes of their religion, government, or simply because they don’t understand the idea of it.
I myself came from a pair of open-minded, loving parents, with an extended family that was very religious. Other people I have known in my life have come out with very little family issues at all, while I have also known people that were disowned, kicked out of their homes, beaten or worse by their families. I recently read an article from Attitude magazine that talked about a teacher in Texas who outed a student in the middle of class.
Whether this kid was gay or not, that is a problem. There are very few ways that story could end that are positive. If that kid is gay, then he will be that much more reluctant to truly come out, because the idea of it was forced on him before he was ready. Regardless of whether he is gay or not, it could reinforce the idea in his mind that being gay is bad or that if you are gay, you’re open to being mocked, vilified, judged, bullied, and worse.
As a 25-year-old gay male, I am at peace with what the world thinks of gay people. I wear it like a badge of honor, knowing that people like Alan Turing, Oscar Wilde, Ellen Degeneres, Leonardo Da Vinci, Emily Dickinson, and so many other great influential LGBT people came before me. They weathered the storm of what people thought of them, they lived their lives as best they could and made the most of it.
Teenagers and young adults do not always see things that way. It takes a bit of time to understand that progress comes with the younger generation overwriting the ways of the older generations. We see a wave of celebrities of various types coming out publicly, yet we do not see the stress and emotional roller coaster that goes with it.
There are even a few shows, like Supergirl and Shadowhunters that have tried to tackle the issue and have found varying degrees of success. I can’t really say that the issue has been covered on all sides though, as there are a lot of LGBT characters that are represented as the outrageous, promiscuous, flamboyant caricature that so many people believe is the truth these days.
Coming out isn’t entirely a declaration of your sexuality. Coming out says to those around you “I am still the same person I always was, but this is a part of me that I do not wish to hide.” It carries with it the understanding that you have accepted it yourself, and now you are hoping that the people around you will accept you as well.
Even from my experience, there was a lot of fear involved. I knew “objectively” that my parents would love and support me. Yet, I also saw every day the amount of anti-LGBT discourse there was, and I worried that somehow I was wrong and that people around me would hate me. It was an irrational fear, but one that I carried with me as I went about my daily life.
I compartmentalized myself, showed one side in public, to those who didn’t know that I was gay while showing another to those I felt comfortable with. It takes a long time to unravel that, and truly be comfortable with being “completely out” with everyone. I don’t advertise my sexuality these days. I live in Texas, so that’s a recipe for disaster. However, I am not afraid to mention it should it be relevant. I no longer fear the reaction I might get, or worry about what others may think.
Coming out is a journey. It is a rite of passage that you set for yourself and requires you to accept yourself first. That is a hard thing for a lot of people, and while I am not qualified to give details on this subject, it is a well-known fact that LGBT people in minority groups have a much harder time than I did. Whether it is from family expectations, religious expectations, or societal expectations, there are many factors that go into whether it is safe for someone to come out or not.
The concept of coming out is often compared to things like mutants in the X-Men series revealing their powers. While this metaphor makes sense, it often glosses over the dangers that coming out can cause if forced on someone, or if someone comes out in a way that doesn’t end well. Many people internalize the rejection that comes from people denying the validity of their coming out experience.
People take the rejection or the abuse that comes with bigotry and hatred, and they sometimes become depressed, and can even commit suicide because of it. I have read too many news stories about LGBT Kids killing themselves because of bullying, or because their families rejected them and chose to belittle them rather than support them in their journey towards acceptance.
When people ask why a celebrity hasn’t come out yet, or when they mention that they think someone close to them might be gay, lesbian, transgender, etc. I often try and encourage the idea that instead of expecting people to come out, we should support them in coming out when the time is right. Be someone that those close to you can trust with the information, and don’t spread it around.
At the end of the day, coming out is a piece of someone else’s story. It isn’t about you, it isn’t about their family. It is about their personal journey to accepting themselves and reaching out a hand in the hope that other people will accept them for who they are as well. Coming out is a delicate thing, and the more people start to understand that, the better off they will be.