“I feel very suffocated in keeping who I really am to myself. I think it is about time I told it to others around me. But how should I do that? I am also very anxious about whether my family and friends will understand and accept me for who I am; whether they will realise that it is absolutely normal to be this way and that my sexual orientation is just one of the many aspects of my life. I don’t know whether it will be the right thing to do and whether I’ll be fine after that.” – expresses Z as she opens up to a counsellor one fine day.
What Z was concerned about was Coming Out.
Coming Out is an important process for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Asexual (LGBTQIA+) individuals (Ali and Barden, 2015). Coming out means becoming aware of one’s own sexual orientation or gender identity and beginning to disclose it to others.
You may choose to come out in certain situations to certain people without generally disclosing your sexual orientation (Rasmussen, 2004). Usually, coming out begins with those who one considers understanding and closer to oneself. It may steadily extend to others.
A Pew Research Center Study (2013) found that 96% of gay men and 94% lesbians compared to 79% bisexuals had confided in at least one close friend about their sexual orientation. Among bisexuals particularly, 88% women in comparison to 55% men told a close friend about their orientation. The study also found that individuals with a college degree are more likely to Come Out.
There is no defined pattern or process of coming out. Experiences may differ from one another, given that coming out happens differently, at different ages, for different people (Maniago, 2018).
However, years spent in the closet can make the prospect of coming out an emotionally charged experience (Drescher, 2004).
LGBTQIA+ individuals may often be faced by important questions such as:
1) Whether or not they should be coming out?
2) Who should they be coming out to?
3) How should the process of coming out be?
To begin, Gladding and Kishore (2017) note several positive outcomes of Coming Out:
1) Increased Self-esteem
2) Greater Honesty in one’s life
3) A sense of greater personal integrity
4) A sense of relief
5) Reduction of Internal Tension
6) A greater freedom of self-expression
To add to that, Ryan and Legate (2015) note the consequences of keeping sexual identity discreet:
1) Impact on Cognitive Resources
2) Inhibit the expression of identity
3) Interferes with the maintenance and formation of close relationships
4) Diminished psychological and physical health.
Challenges in Coming Out
Coming Out may not necessarily be all hunky-dory for everybody. It may at times involves certain risks and challenges that one cannot afford to ignore or sideline.
For one, LGBTQIA+ individuals may not be understood or accepted for their identity; they may be harassed and abused too. Ali and Barden (2015) also note that individuals must accept the risk that relationships, regardless of closeness, may permanently change after coming out.
Not only aggression, but many also experience rejection from their loved ones after coming out (Wall, Rosado and Chapman, 2019). This includes parents, friends and peers. Katz-Wise, et al. (2016) note that negative responses from parents to LGBT youth may range from anxious concerns about the child’s well-being and future to abuse and even banishment of the child from home.
However, a review of sexual minority research literature, they add, found that regardless of initial reaction, parents generally become more accepting of their child over time.
What to Remember When Coming Out?
1) Be certain about your decision and stay committed to it.
2) Be clear and confident. Do not beat around the bush.
3) Be sure who you want to come out to and why.
4) Do not anticipate any particular response from the ones you are coming out to. Talk about your identity without any expectations and with an open mind.
5) Do not blame yourself if the person you come out to doesn’t accept you or has a negative reaction to the coming out. Realise and Accept that others may have their own reservations.
6) Never consider yourself alone when help is now available at your fingertips.
How can Counselling Help?
A counsellor can play a crucial role during, before and after the coming out process by:
1) Helping you understand yourself, your needs and sexual orientation better.
2) Dealing with internalised homophobia, biphobia or transphobia, if needed.
3) No matter how others react or what others say, a counsellor will always unconditionally accept and respect you.
4) Helping you in gaining a perspective and empathising with others.
5) Understanding and evaluating your situation better and whether it is the right time and situation to come out or not.
6) Helping with specific ways to come out in specific situations.
7) Developing coping skills for future challenges and triggers that might come in the way