It’s no secret that coming out is one of the most tumultuous parts of being a queer individual. Some days, the thought of coming out as queer, makes you want to wrench the hair out of your scalp – strand by strand; whilst other days, it fills you with the warm, hazy pink glow of hope – a yearning to be seen, to be heard.
The unquenchable desire to be validated, alloyed with intense feelings of fear, shame and guilt – often causes a cognitive dissonance, of sorts – which tears you apart on the inside and leaves you gasping for breath.
Since coming out is an incredibly emotion-laden, idiosyncratic experience – a vast majority of queer individuals are unprepared or misinformed about the logistics of coming out – which is uncomfortable at best, and potentially life-threatening, at worst.
As someone who’s come out to a significant number of people in the past years, there are several things I wish I knew about coming out before I actually did the deed. Whilst I’ve been privileged enough to receive support from most of the people I’ve come out to, I understand that a significant percentage of the queer population doesn’t enjoy the same advantages.
Here’s a guide to coming out – as compiled from an amalgamation of my personal experience, the experiences of people I know, and some elementary research.
Of course, coming out isn’t a one-size-fits-all model – people differ, circumstances differ, experiences differ. But hopefully, this coming out guide will be able to simplify a few common areas of concern – in spite of any demographic inconveniences.
Come out to yourself
The only thing more difficult than coming out to another person – is coming out to yourself. It’s excruciating, painful, exhilarating and ecstatic all at once. It makes perfect sense – until it doesn’t. You’ve spent all these years of your life, thinking you’re someone else, until one day, you’re not. Suddenly, you’re different – in the best, the worst, the subtlest and the most conspicuous way possible.
It takes immense emotional strength and resilience to look at yourself in the mirror, lock eyes with your trembling reflection, and say the words to yourself – “I’m gay” or “I’m bi” or “I’m agender” or whatever it is, that you identify as.
The first step to coming out – is your own acknowledgement.
It may be uncomfortable. It may cause you to break down. And that’s okay. You’re okay.
Take all the time you need.
Evaluate your reasons for coming out
Why do you want to come out?
Are you in search of validation? Do you feel guilty about this terrible secret you’ve stowed away in a dusty corner of your head? Do you feel pressured to come out, because that’s what you’re “supposed to do”?
Write down your reasons for coming out. Once you’ve gained clarity about your reason(s), decide if coming out is the only solution. Whilst coming out can definitely aid your quest for validation, self-validation can be equally fulfilling and doesn’t involve the same risk and discomfort, as that, attached to seeking affirmation from another person.
In the case of guilt, it is essential to remind yourself that you identity is NOT shameful or wrong. You are perfectly normal. There is nothing wrong with you. The overwhelming pressure to come out, and be openly queer, is socially constructed and unwarranted. There is nothing wrong with seeking privacy, and remaining closeted for as long as you feel comfortable.
Remember that there are multiple LGBTQ support groups which you could join, virtually or in reality – in case you need support, comfort or validation. These can often be excellent alternatives to coming out to people who’re already a part of your life, for instance, a friend, family member, or teacher – with whom, you may stand a greater risk of jeopardizing your relationship.
Whilst the decision to come out is entirely your own, gaining clarity about your reasons for coming out – is an excellent exercise to aid your decision.
Educate yourself about coming out
Educating yourself about coming out, includes the conduction of a thorough appraisal of your personal and socio-political circumstances – and the consequences of your actions, in context of the same.
Analyse your immediate personal environment, and create a checklist, as a parameter to measure your safety/ comfort within your surroundings, as per your idiosyncratic criteria. A few examples of pointers, which could be included in your personal checklist are:
1) Are my parents/ guardians/ friends accepting of the queer
2) Have the individuals present in my immediate environment ever shown any extreme violent/ abusive tendencies?
3) Do I have any protective factors (for instance: independent allowance, privately-owned vehicle, etc.), which could negate any risks attached to coming out?
Based on your responses to the pointers, use your discretion to decide if coming out would be a safe and fulfilling experience.
Measuring your safety/ comfort within your socio-political environment, on the other hand, may require a combination of personal experience, secondary sources, and research about social attitudes and laws pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community within your country.
Here’s an example of an online resource, which desi queers could use to obtain basic information about the laws and legalities involved with being Indian and queer. Similar to the checklist created to measure the safety of your personal environment, a few examples of pointers, which could be included in your socio-political checklist are:
- Is same-sex marriage legal in my country?
- Do my country’s laws protect me against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and/ or sexual orientation?
- Would people within my vicinity be accepting of individuals identifying and presenting as queer?
Before deciding to come out, it is important to ensure that you are safe within both environments, at all times. Coming out can be a rich, fulfilling experience – but not at the cost of your well-being or safety.
Plan the logistics
Planning the logistics of coming out, includes a thorough overview of the coming out process, and the time period which will follow.
Planning the coming out process, includes fixing a date, time, venue, and of course, selecting the individual you will come out to. Ensure that you fix a date and time, when you’re relatively unoccupied, and are in a physical and emotional state to handle the onslaught of emotions, which you are bound to be barraged with.
The venue you select, must be a private space, where you can have a healthy discussion without the constant fear of being overheard. However, in case you’re unsure or concerned about the other person’s reaction to your confession, it is essential to ensure that the venue you select must be accessible to others, in case of an emergency – where you might need to seek help.
Lastly, selecting an individual, (or individuals – if you’re fortunate), can be a daunting experience. A few ways of gauging someone’s attitudes towards the queer community, can include: inciting a political debate, discussing an LGBTQ+ movie/ book/ television series, or sharing news about the queer community, amongst others.
Whilst selecting a person to come out to, relying on your intuition is usually your safest bet, although it’s always helpful to create a checklist for the same, on the basis of your personal needs. A few examples of pointers, which could be included in your checklist are:
- Is this person warm, genuine and empathetic?
- Are they accepting of the queer community?
- Can they be trusted to keep a secret? Have I successfully confided in them before?
Now for the logistics of the time period following the coming out process.
It’s a good idea to create a plan for both the possible scenarios.
If you’ve managed to successfully come out and received an affirmative response, congratulations! Celebrate this day – watch a movie, treat yourself to ice-cream, go for a walk! Ensure that you’ve closed the conversation with your confidante by informing them of your expectations from them, with regards to confidentiality, or anything else you’d like to flag them about.
However, in the worst-case scenario that everything doesn’t work out the way you’d like it to – create a back-up plan, detailing any protective measures you could take, to ensure that your basic needs of food, clothing and shelter are met.
The time has come, for you to come out.
Take a deep breath, and remind yourself that no matter what the outcome – your identity is still valid and beautiful. You are still worthy of love and joy – and nobody can take that away from you.
Ensure that you’re mentally and physically – in the correct state of mind, to take such a huge, life-altering step.
Remember to treat yourself the same way you’d tend to your closest friend – with love, kindness and a huge scoop of mint ice-cream. A single poor experience does not necessarily precede an entire lifetime of bad experiences.