Friday, October 21, 2011

Coming Out Month: Do I or Don't I?

So if you're still trying to decide whether now is the right time to come out, here's something you might want to try.

Whenever I have a tough, life-changing decision to make, I put together a list of pros and a list of cons.  That is, I write down on a sheet of paper (a critical step) all the reasons why I should do something and all the reasons why I shouldn't.

I populate the pros and cons lists by brainstorming.  I don't judge what I write down, or make decisions about whether each item should be included.  Rather, I record whatever comes to mind, good or bad, and reserve judgment until after I've finished.

The goal is to make your list of pros (reasons why you should do something) and cons (reasons why you shouldn't) as robust as possible.  So, to force yourself to think fast and generate lots of ideas, time yourself.  Take no more than ten, maximum fifteen, minutes to pour out everything that comes to mind, and capture it on paper.  Get it all down until you can't think of anything else, or until time runs out, whichever happens first.  (Timing yourself will focus your efforts, as well as prevent you from second guessing or judging what you come up with.)

Here's an example of how it works.  In mid-2000, I had the opportunity to apply for a position in Victoria, British Columbia's capital city sixty-five kilometres away, on an island, from where I lived.  I was happy at my job in Vancouver (if a little bored and unchallenged), but my boss urged me to put my name forward.  The problem was, the new job would be significantly different from the one I had, with a lot more responsibility; we'd have to move to Vancouver Island, which Chris was adamant about not doing; and he'd have to either transfer with his job, or find another one, because we needed both incomes.    

We talked about the job posting many times, and I vacillated between applying and not applying. The closing date was fast approaching, and I needed to make a decision.  Finally, I wrote down all the reasons why the job would be a good move for me and all the reasons why it wouldn't. (For those who don't know, I applied for and got it, Chris and I moved to Victoria in July 2000, and Chris got a transfer to the same ministry where he worked.  The move was one of the best decisions we ever made, and I remained in my position for seven years.  I don't believe I would have applied for the job if I hadn't put together pros and cons lists (and if Chris hadn't finally said he'd move with me.))

So now it's your turn.  Make a list of pros and cons about whether this is the right time for you to come out.  On a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle, top to bottom.  At the top of the left side, write "Pros," and at the top of the right side, write "Cons," just like in the picture of the chalkboard below.

Give yourself only ten minutes to record everything you can think of, every reason to come out and not to come out.  Don't judge what you write.  Let the ideas flow freely.  Decide which ones belong in the pros column and which in the cons.  No point is too small or silly or unimportant.  If you thought of it, chances are it's something you should consider in your decision.    

Go ahead.  Put your lists together.  Come back to read the rest of this post when you're done.  I'll wait for you.


All right.  Have you completed your lists?  Have you recorded all the reasons why you think you should come out now, and all the reasons why you think you shouldn't?  Good job.  I'm proud of you.  You should be proud of yourself.  Now what?

Review your lists in detail.  If you want, you can give everything equal value and decide which side overall, pros or cons, is weighted more heavily--that is, which side far and away gives you a clear indication of the best course of action to take (come out now or wait until another time).

On the other hand, while you review your lists, you could eliminate anything that isn't significant enough to concern yourself with (put a line through it).  Now, take a look at what's left. Everything remaining on your lists should be the big hitter items--the most important reasons why you should or should not come out at this time.

As you review each item--reflecting on them, thinking them through, understanding what they would entail, what the results would or could be--which side, pros or cons, has more weight, gives a clearer indication of the decision you should make?

For many of you, taking your family's feelings into consideration--how you think they'll respond to your news--will weigh heavily on the side of not coming out.  But I hate to tell you this--those cons will always be there, whether you come out tomorrow or next year or in five years.  Unless, somehow, you  prepare your family ahead of time so you're certain they'll react favorably to your coming out (which there's no guarantee of, no matter how hard you try).  

So here's how you get around that:  Focus on the big picture--not on the hear-and-now but on the long term.  In the case of Chris and me moving to Victoria, I had to weigh the inconvenience of moving, learning a new job, and uprooting Chris (among other things), against having the chance to live in a city I loved, earn a higher income, and have the experience of a lifetime.  In the long-term, the benefits far outweighed the inconveniences and the risks, so we decided to do what made the most sense to us under the circumstances at the time.

This may be the case for you as well.  Sure, there will be short-term pain for long-term gain.  Yes, your family might be angry that you upset their apple cart by telling them you're gay.  Yes, they might be disappointed and make you feel rejected for a time.  But I believe this is one instance where you need to be focused on the future, six months or even a year down the road, and what the benefit to you will be.  Nothing is worth having if there's no work or risk involved.

Listen, if it sounds like I'm telling you to come out right now, I'm not.  I can't make that decision for you, only you can, based on your own particular circumstances.  I wouldn't want you to do anything that might jeopardize your safety and security.  With this post, all I've done is given you a tool, the pros and cons lists, which you can use to decide what's best for you at this time in your life.

Instead of obsessing about coming out, allowing all those thoughts to run around in your head and make you crazy, do something about it.  Turn your thoughts and obsessions into points on pros and cons lists.  Give yourself the opportunity to see everything you're thinking, everything going through your head, in black and white.  When it's all there in front of you, I'm confident one side will weigh heavier than the other, and you'll know what the right thing for you to do is, whether that's coming out now or waiting until a better time.

But here's one thing I know for sure:  You can't not ever come out.  Staying in the closet isn't an option.  In the past, too many people compromised the only lives they'll ever get by never coming out.  Sooner or later, you'll have to do it, to whatever extent you're comfortable.  Not coming out at all would be like denying everything you were meant to be.  Would be like living only fifty percent of your life.  Would be like living half free and half imprisoned.  No one can live like that. No one should have to live like that.

For me, it's not a question of whether or not you'll come out.  It's a question of when.  And that should be the question you ask yourself, too.  


  1. Rick, this is excellent advise and in fact I've used this same method myself. Might I also add that when my pros outweigh the cons I make the decision to hope for the best but I prepare myself for the worst. In this way I truly have never been disappointed in the way any of my major life decisions have turned out.


  2. Great point, Loretta. It certainly doesn't hurt to be prepared for the worst when, after weighing your pros and cons, you decide to follow through on something that could be controversial or difficult (as coming out often is).

    And, I agree, using the pros and cons exercise, I've never been disappointed with my choices either. The worst thing one can do is not make a choice at all (although sometimes that's not an option).

    So much better than flying by the seat of our pants, drawing up pros and cons lists allow us to make intelligent decisions that have a big impact on us. They also make me feel I have more control over a situation, since a decision isn't forced on me.

    Thanks for confirming the use of pros and cons lists can be used for just about anything, and that you've used them yourself. I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't used them sometimes.

    I appreciate your comment. And I'm glad to see you've graduated from being Anonymous to being you.

  3. LOL....the anonymous was me not knowing exactly what I should do to get my name on there. I did it the first time and couldn't figure it out again. I think I've got it now though! And besides I'll always sign off "Love Loretta" so I know you'll know it's me.


  4. Great to hear from you again, Loretta.
    I really appreciate your interest in what I have to say, especially since you're not gay. Your support is encouraging.
    Thanks for your comment.

  5. Rick
    I've known you since what?...grade 9?...and at that time I knew you were different but I was brought up in such a sheltered life I didn't know until in my mid 20's what a gay person was. When I first realized what it meant to be gay you were the only person I could think of that I'd known that could possibly be gay based on what I remembered of you from jr. high. Over the years I have thought of you and wondered how life had treated you as I know the couple of school years we shared were terrible for you. I needn't elaborate, you lived it and I saw it.

    I'm not gay, that much is true. However I did not choose to be staight any more than you chose to be gay. In fact, having known you in school, I know you would not choose to be gay any more than I would. That said, we are who we are, human beings, with feelings, emotions, ups and downs, and a life journey to live regardless of our sexual orientation.

    If you're still anything like you were in high school (albeit older and wiser), I remember you as a good person. I remember you as someone who tried his best at whatever he did. I remember you as funny and witty and a little nutty. And now I see you as a grown man, helping others, encouraging others in a way that only one who has lived your life could do. You're a hero in my books.

    I'm delighted that you have a blog. I'm very glad I found you as I've looked for you over the years without success. Why? I dunno. I can't explain it really. I just know I always wondered what you did after high school, what became of you and if you were happy. Obviously you are happy and if we can be friends and share a thought or two on your blog then I'm honored.


  6. Are you trying to make my cry, Loretta, because it's working?

    I've read your comment several times now, and I'm deeply moved by your compassion and kindness. As I've gotten older, I've realized we never know whose lives we'll touch and in what ways. How could we have guessed back in high school that we'd be in touch today, through a blog no less (there weren't even personal computers back then), and have a greater appreciation for the adults and human beings we turned out to be? Life's funny, isn't it?

    I think it's interesting when you say you had a sheltered upbringing, yet you're as understanding and as open about gay people as you are. What confounds me is how someone like you grows up with an open heart, eager to embrace the differences in people, while others close themselves off and judge people for who and what they can't help being. How does that happen? It makes no sense to me.

    While I may have worked in a bank for twenty-eight years, what I'm doing now is truly my life's work. I'm not aware of anyone else who's trying to elevate the experience of being gay, by helping gay and lesbian people to see themselves differently, to end the cycle of self-loathing, and to see what's really possible when we embrace and love ourselves. If only I'd had something like this when I was growing up--how much despair it would have saved me from.

    What you said in your comment, based on your knowledge of me over thirty-five years ago, I believe lends credibility to what I'm doing here. Yes, I lived it. Yes, I endured all the physical and emotional bullying. Yes, I know what I'm talking about. And, yes, I know there is a way out of gay and lesbian hell. It is my passion to show others that way out. We don't deserve what's been done to us. We have so much to give and to contribute. And I want to play a role in making that happen.

    Hero? I don't know about being a hero. What I do know is sitting at my computer each day and trying to think of different ways to say essentially the same thing: Love yourself. The source of all good things, internally and externally, is loving ourselves. And if I can say something in a slightly different way that helps a gay man or a lesbian woman get it and begin his or her journey to self-actualization, then I have done what I can do.

    Of course we can still be friends Loretta. You bet. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to get to know you again through my blog. And I'm thrilled that you're interested in what I write and take the time to leave such generous and heartfelt comments. I hope you'll stick around for a very long time.

    All the best.