Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Coming Out Month: Coming Out Dos

When coming out, here are a number of things you might want to do:

(For the list of Coming Out Don'ts, please click here.)

Coming Out Dos

Do lead up to it.
I’m a big advocate of a softer, gentler approach.  Sure, you could come right out and say, “Mom, Dad, I’m gay,” but I believe the message would be more shocking than it needs to be.  If you’re more the direct kind, by all means do what you want to do.
But, if you want to ease your parents into it, then plant a few seeds ahead of time.  For example, find out what they think about current subjects in the news, like same-sex marriage.  By their reactions, gauge how challenging (or not) this big step could be for you.  Don’t go into it cold.  Don’t hit them over the head if you don't have to.  
Do be financially independent.
No way could I have told my parents I was gay while I still lived at home.  What if things had gone badly?  What if they’d kicked me out?  A good many young people come out when they’re still dependent on their parents and end up on the street with nowhere to go.  Don’t be another unfortunate homeless statistic.  Wait to come out after you’re on your own (if you can).   
Do be prepared.
Before you come out to anyone, be prepared.  Know what you want to say and how you want to say it.  Anticipate the reactions you might receive, from mild surprise to outright anger.  Have ready answers available for the questions you could be asked (there will be a future post on this).  Figure out where you’ll spend the night if you still live at home but can’t stay there for a few days or longer.   
I’m a fan of managing situations as much as I can.  No, you can’t manage other people, but you can manage you by anticipating the best and worst case scenarios, and everything in between.
Do come out to someone you trust first. 
Parents are among the hardest people to come out to because of the high stakes.  Rather than come out to them first, why not confide in someone else you trust?  This person could be a good friend, a fellow student, or a colleague.  Choosing to reveal your truth to him or her first will give you valuable experience with the coming out process, build your confidence level, and provide you with much-needed support should coming out to your parents not go well.
Do ensure the time and the place are appropriate.  
Coming out to your mother while she’s driving the car at 100 kms per hour on the freeway may not be the wisest choice.  Coming out to your entire family around the Christmas dinner table may not be the wisest choice.  You get the idea.  There’s a right time and a right place for everything, and you should go out of your way to ensure both are right when you come out.
Do be ready in your own mind that this is the right thing for you do to.    
You are not on anyone else’s timetable to come out.  Every gay person has to get to the point where he accepts his own homosexuality before he can tell anyone about it.  Arrive at that place first, and don't let anyone talk you into doing it before you're ready.    
Do breathe. 
Sounds silly, doesn’t it?  After all, breathing is something we all do naturally; it’s a part of being alive.  But when you’re nervous or in the middle of a difficult situation, circumstances become worse if your breathing is shallow or if your body doesn’t receive the oxygen it needs. 
So remember to breath deeply and evenly.  Take air right down into your diaphragm.  Be conscious of your breaths.  Breathing properly will help you control your nervousness, and keep you calm and levelheaded as you make your way through the coming out process.  
Do be sure you’re sitting down. 
It’s nerve-wracking to admit to someone you’re gay.  You’ll need all the support you can get, including having a comfortable chair to sit on so that, if your legs turn to jelly, you don’t fall.  A firm chair beneath you will help you feel more comfortable and secure.    
Do be yourself, both while you come out and afterward. 
By being yourself, you confirm for the person you’re coming out to that you’re still who they know and love.  Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you suddenly become someone else.    
And don’t think that just because you’re out, you have to be and act like you think gay people do.  Resist becoming a stereotype.  Be gay on your own terms.    
Do the job alone.
In other words, don’t bring along a trusted friend or someone you’ve already told you’re gay.  And never bring your new lover.  This is not the time to tell your parents you’re gay, and, “Oh, by the way Mom, here’s Glen, the guy who shares my bed."  Respect the person you’re telling by doing it one-on-one, or, in the case of both parents, one-on-two.  
Do follow through. 
Your intention is to tell someone important to you that you're gay.  So get the job done.  Don’t give up because the reaction you get is bad, or because you lost your nerve at the last minute.  Coming out will never get any easier.  Assuming you've done your planning and you're ready, now is the time.  Make it happen.  You’ll be grateful you did.
Do find out how the people you plan to come out to feel about homosexuality.
When I was in college, long before I came out, one of my assignments was to design a survey, compile the results, and interpret what they meant.  So I decided to do a survey on current attitudes toward homosexuality (remember this was 1978).  I gave the survey to everyone I knew, including my parents, and, although the answers were anonymous overall, I knew how each individual answered when the completed surveys were returned to me.  There are other ways to find out how people you love feel about homosexuality, so be creative.  
Do be respectful of the situation and the person you’re coming out to. 
Yes, you may be impatient about the whole coming out process and wonder why you’re in the position of having to come out at all, especially since you’ve already accepted yourself and can’t understand why everyone doesn’t.  Fair enough. 
But have respect for the people you tell.  They may have no idea you’re gay.  They may feel they have a stake in you being straight and living your life as a straight person. 
The more respect you have for the people you tell, the more respect you’re likely to receive back when you say the words.   
Do be ready for any reaction you receive.
If there’s anything I learned when I came out to various people, it’s that those you think will take it well don’t, and those you don’t think will take it well do.  So be prepared for that.  Reactions could range from immediate acceptance, to indifference, to shock, outrage, and anger.  Be ready for all of them and don't overreact when things don't go as expected.    
Do get the person you told previously on side. 
One of the reasons why you told this trusted person before your parents, for example, is because you hoped he’d be there for you as you continued to come out to other family members and friends, and in case you needed moral support or a place to stay for the night. 
Just as you’re about to tell a parent you’re gay, let this person know.  That will put him or her on notice that he or she could be called upon to help you if need be. 
Do give people as much time as they need to process what you tell them. 
Remember, you took years (perhaps most of your life) to come to terms with being gay.  Depending on their reactions, those you tell may need anywhere from a few minutes, to days, to weeks, to months, or even longer to work through what they need to.  Give them all the time they need, and be there for them if necessary.  
Do come out in a letter if you think that might be the best way. 
There’s nothing wrong with a letter.  No, you’re not a coward if you choose to come out that way.  Rather, it means you want the time to think about the perfect way to say what you have to, and to get it down on paper.  It beats stuttering and stammering, and not being able to get the job done right.    
You can either send the letter to the person and follow-up on it, or you can hand the person the letter, wait while he reads it, and be available for a discussion afterward.  Either way works.  (For a sample of a coming out letter, please click here.)
Do focus on being gay is about love and not about sex.  
People get hung up on the sex part.  They just do.  Perhaps you haven’t given a moment’s thought to the person you’re coming out to having sex with his partner, but, when people find out someone is gay, almost immediately, the focus is on sex.  Be sure to tell the person you’re coming out to that being gay is about who you love, not who you have sex with.  I think he’ll relate to you better when you talk about how we all have love in common.    
Do rehearse beforehand. 
At a certain point, the person you’re telling will likely interrupt to make a comment or ask a question.  But, before then, it will be all you and a lot of dead air.      
Prior to entering this emotionally charged situation, think about what you want to say.  How will you say that you’re gay?  What words will you use?  After you say it, what else do you want the person to know?   
Do come out. 
That’s right.  Come out.  Make it happen.  It’ll be the best thing you’ll ever do for yourself.  Because it's about you.  It’s about finally owning what you are and not being held back or restricted by it any longer.   Set yourself free.  Be who you were meant to be.  The world needs all of you, not just the part you don’t hide.

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