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The Process of Coming Out as LGBT
While coming out is an individual and ongoing process for those in the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) community, there are some commonalities as well. It is quite unfortunate that coming out even needs to occur, for heterosexual persons don’t have to go through such a process. But those of us in the LGBT community know that this is something that has to happen for us to grow and heal through the discrimination, prejudice, and sometimes, outright hatred, that we experience. And even if we haven’t had this type of negativity, most people will just assume we’re straight and so we have to set them straight about our orientation. This is not always an easy prospect even for our family and other loved ones who truly care for us. After all, not many of them say things like, “Gee, I hope my son grows up to be gay” or “I hope my daughter wants to become a transgender male.”
Coming Out: An Important Ritual
The most important aspect of coming out is that it allows us to be true to ourselves. Secondly, it is a necessary step to overcome internalized homophobia, biphobia or transphobia. It allows us to be true to others, for if we are still in the closet, no one can really get to know us. Also, coming out can be an important ritual. And, it can be a professional step in teaching others. Next, it can be a way to develop politically, and finally, it is a spiritual process regarding how to delve into the love of ourselves, others, the universe, and the cosmos.
Here are 7 important phases during one’s “coming out” stage.
1. Allowing Ourselves to Be True
By being honest with ourselves, we come to find who we are, not just as someone who is LGBT, but who we are as human beings. For being honest with ourselves is a first step on the path of growing into all that we are and all that we can be.
2. Overcoming Internalized Homo/Bi/Trans- phobia
It is unfortunate that culture still plays a negative role in who we and because of this, many people internalize that there is something wrong with them and thereby, cannot accept themselves as LGBT. Coming out allows us to overcome such negative beliefs that have been instilled in us. It also helps us to look at who is homo/bi/trans-phobic, as these are the people with a mental illness, not those who are LGBT.
3. Being True to Others
By being true to ourselves, we also become true to those who love us and not only does this help our individual selves, it allows others to examine their own beliefs. This happens by them coming face-to-face with loved ones who also happen to be LGBT. Studies reveal that those who know someone who is LGBT are more likely to be accepting.
4. Coming Out is an Important Ritual
We have rituals in everyday life such as weddings, religious ceremonies, graduation ceremonies, and numerous other rituals. Coming out can be a ritual in its own right – a celebration with loved ones about being LGBT – and of course, weddings are another celebration. We need to always celebrate who we are, whether this is a huge celebration or one with just a few loved ones.
5. Coming Out Professionally
Coming out professionally is also a big decision for in many states, there are no laws to protect us from discrimination. It can be very freeing to come out at work, but for some, this is a tremendous risk, and like all coming out decisions, must be examined by the individual.
6. Coming Out Politically
Some of us may decide to come out politically and help others with our work on LGBT issues. This is also a risk as too often, we become targets of hate, discrimination, and prejudice. Hate crimes continue to be a problem within the community and the stress of this can be overwhelming and may keep some people from coming out politically.
7. A Way of Growing Spiritually
When we examine all of our coming out processes, we learn that we are the children of the universe and recognize the special relationship we have with a Higher Essence, for we are risking so much in our lives to just be ourselves. Some spiritual and religious scholars believe that when we incarnate into difficult lives, it’s to advance our souls, and obviously, being LGBT is not an easy process. If we embrace the love that overcomes the hate, we are transcending into the higher aspects of ourselves.
In summary, we must always remember that coming out is an individual decision. “Outing” someone who is not ready is a disrespecting act and often, expresses a level of hatred towards that individual. We must come out at our own pace and at our own level of comfort, be that individually/personally, socially with others, professionally, or politically. And if someone comes out to you, please honor that individual for coming out to you tells you that you are important to them.
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, has over 30 years of experience as a clinical social worker, program developer, clinical director, and adjunct professor. She specializes in mental health, substance abuse, trauma, grief, LGBT and women’s issues, chronic pain, and spiritual counseling. Dr. Anderson is the author of Where All Our Journeys End: Searching for the Beloved in Everyday Life (C. Lynn Anderson) which has been praised for its depth of study and beauty of prose and poetry.