Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Coming Out Month: How Do You Know You're Ready to Come Out?
(This post is dedicated to Aries Boy in Indonesia, who, in a comment on a recent post, suggested the topic, and asked me what I did to prepare myself to come out, and what advice I have.)
The short answer to the question "How do you know you're ready to come out?" is, chances are, you don't.
I was not ready. Not in terms of preparing anything. While I might have gone over in my mind, time and again, the discussion I'd have with my mother, everything I'd imagined saying was hypothetical. Who knew what words would leave my mouth when I actually found myself in the situation? I hadn't anticipated any questions she might ask, so I had no answers prepared or rehearsed. And I had no idea how she'd react, although I'd hoped it would be better than it was (goodness knows, without consciously intending to, I'd given my parents enough hints over the years that I was gay). So, despite all that, how did I end up coming out on the evening of January 1, 1986?
Emotionally, I'd reached a breaking point. I needed to be set free. I did not come out until I was twenty-six, which I consider late. Up to that point, I had the sense life was passing me by. I had a job, supported myself, and lived on my own, but everything felt like I was going through the motions. I had no personal life, and that frustrated the hell out of me. More than anything, I wanted to be in a relationship. I hated being alone, and I needed someone to love me (I never felt my family loved me, even though I'm sure they did). Coming out for me, then, was more a case of running toward the wall and smacking into it, rather than stepping carefully forward and being prepared for what happened.
However I did it, it needed to be done. As I approached my mid-twenties, I began to get a greater sense of myself than I'd had before (although it would still be years before I realized my true self-worth). While I'd been filled with self-loathing for many of my school years and long after graduation, I began to get an inkling there was nothing wrong with me just because I was gay. This was a critical step for me. Had I not begun to acknowledge, even at an elementary level, that I was just as good as everyone else (that is, those who weren't gay), I don't know if I would have felt the need to come out as strongly as I did, or if I would have found the courage to do it.
As I wrote before in "My Own Coming Out Story," seminal in my experience was attending a New Year's Eve dance on December 31, 1985, attended by gay and lesbian people in the community where I lived. Through meeting many likeable and respectable people there, similar to me, I realized for the first time I no longer deserved the bad rap gay people had gotten over the decades. Some may have maintained I was worthless because of my sexual orientation--and, to some extent, I still did, too--but a window had been opened. And when I looked out that window, I saw that I no longer deserved to feel badly about myself, to hide in a closet, or to sacrifice my life to what everyone else thought of me.
As haphazard as the occasion of my coming out was, I believe I was better off for not over-thinking it. On the day it actually happened, no, I hadn't forgotten all the fear I'd felt over the years about getting it done. But, in addition to believing there was nothing wrong with me--that I was essentially good and decent--I found I had no choice: I needed to soar. I did not obsess over the words I'd use, or how my mother would react. The last thing I wanted was to hurt her, which is exactly what I did, but, in the end, she recovered. Thus, I think the moral of this story is, don't over-think it, don't obsess about it, don't worry about what your family's reaction will be, just do what needs to be done.
I'm aware many people reading this come from different countries around the world, with different cultures, different mores, and different attitudes toward homosexuality. So please take that into consideration when you read the following: Coming out is about you. It's about your life. It's about your happiness. It's about your completeness as a human being. What it's not about is your parents. That's right, it's not about your parents. Somehow, the focus is always on the gay person's parents, how they'll be affected by their child's admission. But, from my perspective, twenty-five years in, the focus must be on the gay person, and the fate he'll suffer if he never comes out.
You can't live your life for your parents (although many children do). As much as you may love your parents, respect them, want to make them happy, meet their expectations, and make them proud, the reality is, at some point, the effect they have on you and your life must be curtailed. That is part of the natural process of growing up: parents do their bit to raise you the best way they know how, and then you let go of them and their influence, and you make your own way in life. That's called becoming an adult and taking responsibility for yourself. It's about coming into your own. It's about being true to yourself and living authentically. You are not your parents. You are you. And you are gay.
It's great to have the love and support of family, and I'm not suggesting you shouldn't want it or won't get it when you come out. In fact, in all likelihood, you will; parents are incredibly resilient, and, in the end, the tremendous love they have for their child usually overcomes any challenge you experience together, including your sexual orientation. But if the love and support you need from your them means you must be anything less than you were meant to be (that is, deny your sexual orientation, remain closeted, live a lie, be alone for the rest of your life), because you couldn't possibility hurt of upset them by admitting you're gay, then the price is too high. The price is too high.
If now is clearly not the right time to come out--because, for example, you're dependent on your parents, financially or otherwise, and you can't be sure they'll embrace you or throw you out onto the street--then you must keep your homosexuality to yourself until some future time. But, take it from someone who is gay--who lived half his life in the closet and knows how stultifying that is, and the other half out, and has never been happier or more fulfilled--you must come out at some point. You have one life to live, and, as the years go by, it passes faster than ever. There is no time to waste in the closet. You are called upon to live your life with gusto--fully, authentically, and passionately.