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20 June 2011

12 steps on how to step out of the closet

Everyone has a different story to tell, some people have had to face being disowned by their families and others have been embraced by them.

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Everyone has a different story to tell, some people have had to face being disowned by their families and others have been embraced by them. None of this is in your control. But always bare in mind that this is a great realisation for some, and it might just be a rocky road. So, give yourself, your family and friends some time to deal with your sexuality. Consider these suggestions before you step out of the closet and protect yourself from the gremlins of society:

  • Safety first. It is extremely critical for you to consider your own safety first before ‘coming out’. In recent news, you would have heard about hate crimes committed against members of the LGBTI community who chose to disclose their gender identity.
     
  • Timing is important, so take your time. When deciding to ‘come out’ it is advisable to take some time to become secure with your identity, to identify suitable people to ‘come out’ to, and to carefully consider the possible consequences of ‘coming out’ to these people. Being true to yourself is a great thing, but you need to be realistic about your environment.
     
  • Choose the right person. When choosing whom to ‘come out’ to first, it is important that you select someone whom you can trust, and is supportive. This person must be able to respect your privacy and show an appreciation for your safety. He or she should be the least likely to be shocked, threatened or put off by your ‘revelation’. You need someone who is a good listener, and is non-judgmental.
     
  • Test the waters. It is often better that you test the waters first by ‘coming out’ to a supportive teacher, colleague or close friend before talking to your parents. This will provide you with good practice for what you will want to say and how you will handle negative feedback. It is also preferable to test the waters by seeing what people’s general opinions of gay and lesbian people are before you disclose to them. See how they feel about gay and lesbian developments that have been given media coverage. This is often helpful in terms of giving you an idea of their feelings and opinions before actually telling them about yourself.
     
  • Be prepared for questions. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions. It is therefore advisable for you to consider how much information you already have, how much you still need, and how much you are willing to share. Try to think of all the possible questions you might be asked, and then try to think of all the possible answers to these questions.
     
  • Be prepared for emotional responses. It is important for you to keep in mind that there is no way you can guess the exact responses your family, friends or colleagues will give you. There are a variety of responses, which may range from shock, anger, sadness, guilt and denial to acceptance, curiosity, support, understanding and love. It is often the case that the family may also experience a process of coming out themselves, in the sense that they have to let their friends and other family members know. This is a very difficult process for the family. Keeping this in mind, you should try to be realistic about the reactions you may encounter. You need to decide for yourself whether you will be able to handle the different responses you may encounter. It might be advisable to consult with a counsellor who might be able to assist them in the process of acceptance.
     
  • Be aware of subversive tactics. You should be aware that some negative reactions are often attempts to make you get back into the closet. Examples include: “Look how you are hurting me”, “You are only doing this to hurt me”, and “Do you know what this is doing to us?” You should make it clear that you are not doing this to hurt anyone. You are simply doing this because of the hurt you feel by having to hide and be what you are not. The intention is not to cause pain but rather to bring about healing.
     
  • Practice and rehearse. It is advisable that you prepare yourself adequately before you come out to someone. You need to prepare yourself for what you want to say, how you will respond to questions or negative reactions, and how you will conduct yourself if your safety becomes an issue. Psychologists often recommend rehearsing in front of the mirror or with a counselor. This activity provides you with an excellent opportunity to physically prepare yourself on how you want to conduct your disclosure. This also brings about preparation through repetition. You should also realise that the questioning you encounter can be extremely stressful, especially when you feel the need to defend or justify yourself to those people closest to you.
     
  • Be clear. It might also be advisable for you to make it clear to your friends and family that you are gay that this is not going to change. You need to make it clear that this is not just a phase. The reason for this is that if the person you are disclosing to gets the feeling that there might be a possibility of change, they will not accept your sexual orientation and will keep hoping for change. Make it clear that you have been through a process of self-questioning and you are now at a place where you are able to share your self-knowledge with others.
     
  • OK if things don’t go according to plan. If your disclosure does not go according to plan, you should not take it personally and see it as a failure. Do not be too harsh or too critical on yourself. Sometimes we have to admit to ourselves that we don’t always have control over everything.
     
  • Chat to a professional. If you do not know someone you can safely come out to, you should then consider talking to a school counsellor, a gay-friendly therapist, or a trained counsellor at a gay and lesbian organisation. Ask our Gay, lesbian and bisexual expert or Transgender Advisor
     
  • Get the necessay support. Do not be afraid to access and make use of support and legal services should the need ever arise. Support groups can serve to reduce anxiety and reduce feelings of isolation. On the other hand, legal advice could be sought to understand and enforce one’s rights.

Always remember that people tend to take your behaviour during disclosure as an indication of how they should react to you.

(Zaakirah Rossier, Health24, March 2011)

Information sourced from womyn2womyn, a website designed to address various issues relating to gender identity, coming out, health and wellbeing, relationships / or just sex with other women.

What is sexual orientation?
Development of sexual identity
5 myths men believe about lesbians
Lesbian parents raise best kids

Visit our Gay, lesbian and bisexual community
Learn more about transgender and intersex people
 

 
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