Does this sound familiar? You’re LGBTQ+. You’ve struggled internally with your feelings and have come to terms with it. I guess you could say you’ve “come out” to yourself. Next up? Coming out to other people. (dun dun dun…queue ominous music) Should you come out though?
If a boy and girl meet, fall in love, and want to build a life together, they don’t have come out. Before that guy brings his girlfriend home for Thanksgiving, he doesn’t need to come out ahead of time or worry that his family will reject the relationship. When they want to get married, they send out invitations. The response is something like, “Awww” or “Hey, look who finally decided to tie the knot”. Sometimes it is even, “I bet she got knocked up” or “Not another one! I’m so sick of parties and buying gifts. Why can’t people just elope?” However this scene plays out, coming out was not needed.
It isn’t the same for us. On top of the verbal abuse, the physical abuse, the career politicians and church leaders trying to make us into second class citizens, we must face coming out.
Coming Out Is No Walk In The Park
“Will they love me?”
“Will I have a home after this?”
“What do I do if they throw me out?
“My family got so angry. Is it even safe to sleep here tonight?”
Thoughts like these go through the mind of an LGBTQ+ person before they come out to their family. Similar thoughts occur when it comes to telling our friends. So even before the coming out, there is already harm to the mental and physical health of the individual.
Coming out can lead to even more problems. People you’ve known your whole life will look at you differently. You like dancing in the rain? People will shrug or just think you’re a bit odd. Like Brussel sprouts? Who cares? Like to date people of the same sex? Maybe you like people of either sex. Do you like to dress like a member of the opposite sex? Were you born in a body that doesn’t match your gender identity? Revealing those things should just be another fact that wasn’t known 5 minutes ago, but all of a sudden, they act like you are a complete stranger. They aren’t even sure they want to have around.
Making a living
Coming out can affect your ability to make a living. As of 2019, there were only 20 U.S. states with protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 17 states had no protections at all. I live in one of them. There are countries with even fewer protections than we have in the United States.
When I started working for my current company, they didn’t even have sexual orientation in their non-discrimination clause. I wrote to the head of HR and asked for a meeting. After meeting with me, she agreed adding it was the right thing to do. My company added sexual orientation as a protected category the very next year. A company policy is better than nothing, but it still isn’t protection under the law.
Think celebrities have it better?
Celebrities might be richer than most of us, but do they have freedom in their personal lives and job protection? I don’t think so. Let’s look at some different scenarios from their perspective.
- You do one or more gay roles early in your career before you’ve established yourself as a guaranteed money maker for the studios. Getting stereotyped might mean losing out on parts you really like to play regardless of your sexuality.
- What if you’re queer? If you come out, the probability of you getting certain types of roles goes down. Stereotyping strikes again. You also face all the potential hate issues ranging from verbal to physical abuse.
- If you are straight and get a gay role, you get bashed by people screaming about how only queer people should perform queer roles.
- What if you act in a queer role and refuse to label yourself? People will accuse you of queer-baiting just to increase your fan base.
- What if you’re bisexual? Bisexuals get the shaft from people in and out of the LGBTQ+ community. More than once, I’ve witnessed people in gay bars make fun of them. People say things like, “You’re just confused.”, or “Are you too cowardly to pick a side?”. Gays fuss about being abused by straight society and then do the exact same thing to other members of the LGBTQ+ community. Shameful. Add in the celebrity element to that, and things get even worse because the avenues of attack are magnified exponentially.
- How about trans people? I can only think of two instances where an openly trans person was cast in a role and both of those were pretty recent. There are probably others. Either way, there aren’t that many roles out there for a trans person to play a trans character.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we stopped seeing our celebrities as LGBTQ+ first and started seeing them as people who also happen to be talented actors and actresses? Whether you need a male or female for the part, ask yourself, “Did the person knock the audition right out of the ballpark?” If the answer is yes, HIRE THEM!
In Recent News
On a happy note, the day I started writing this, the announcement came out that Yasmin Finney had been chosen to play Rose on Doctor Who. Everything I’ve read talks about her being chosen because she is an amazingly talented actress. I haven’t seen one that mentioned her being chosen because she is trans. I think that is amazing. It is exactly what I’m talking about.
Are you in the military? What about law enforcement? That could mean putting your life at risk if homophobia exists in your unit.
Do you have a religious calling? You won’t have the same opportunities if your faith is based in one of the many religions that see homosexuality as a sin.
See? Lots of people have something to lose job-wise by coming out.
So, Why Come Out?
Still with me? Chomping at the bit to come out?
I know you can’t see my face, but I couldn’t even type that without grinning. I’m guessing your answer is something like, “Well gosh, Daniel. You said I could lose my friends, my family, my life, and that I might be unemployable. I’m going to vote, ‘No!’.”
I don’t blame you. To be clear, I’m not here to convince you to come out. I’m here to help you decide if coming out is right for you. Since all decisions come with pros and cons, the only way I know to help with that is by talking about everything. Now, we’ve talked about the negatives. How about we talk about some positive reasons for coming out?
Benefits of Coming Out
Like it or not, society is going to assume every person is heterosexual and every person is born with their physical body matching their gender identity. That’s a lie. Growing up, I was taught that only “limp wristed, pansy boys who are into art, music, and dance” are gay. That was also a lie. The same family member who said that also believed that automatic cars were going to make people forget how to drive because they could just “point and shoot” rather than “really driving”. As if knowing how to drive a car with a manual transmission makes you a better driver. All lies! We need to get rid of the lies. Coming out helps break down those walls.
Masculine people can be gay. Lesbians aren’t all butch. Heterosexual men can like poetry. Bisexual people aren’t just confused or scared to come out. Trans people are not mentally ill. Seeking medical help to transitions does not mean trans people need to be “protected from themselves.” People who are struggling with their own identity need positive role models to look up to. You could be that person. You might never even know it. To the right person your story might make all the difference.
Coming out can help drive social change. Each time you come out, you are giving another person the opportunity to grow into a better version of themselves. It may be a difficult road. Some people may choose not to walk it at all, but at least they had the chance. I’m not trying to get you to be an activist. It is your life. At the same time, your coming out doesn’t have to be huge either. Social change can happen one person at a time.
Until they are confronted with something that makes them see the world differently, most people don’t even think about changing, let alone actually change. You might be the only LGBTQ+ person they ever get to know…their only chance at changing how they feel towards people who are different from them. If you don’t come out, the opportunity will be missed.
More Direct Benefits
The benefits I’ve listed so far focus on what you can do for others. Just like that country song goes, “Let’s talk about me, me, me, me, memememe, me!” Okay…what can coming out do for you?
Whether you admit it to yourself or not, being in the closet makes you feel a bit ashamed. Lying to others to hide a part of your life from them only hurts yourself. You shouldn’t have to do that. We all want to feel loved and appreciated for who we are. If we know a person doesn’t know who we really are, and that persons says, “I love you”, we don’t hear the love. We hear that little voice in our heads saying things like, “They wouldn’t love you if they really knew.” Coming out takes the power away from that negative voice in your head.
So, whether your coming out went smashingly or it ended negatively, you will feel better on the inside because you’ll know whatever you are left with is real. Life feels amazing when it isn’t build on a lie. Believe me…I have been there. It feels SO MUCH BETTER to know that someone likes you for you than to wonder if they will still like you if they knew everything about you.
Hitting Too Close To Home
I started working on this entry over a week ago. Wednesday, May 18th, at approximately 6:00 a.m. CST, my uncle passed away. His funeral was yesterday. My aunt and uncle were like second parents to me as a child. I thought he was the coolest. He’d served in the Navy. I was fascinated with his tattoos which is why I have some of my own now. My uncle was always the embodiment of mischief and fun. He made me feel safe.
All of that changed they day my aunt told me he wouldn’t love me if he found out I was gay. I’d heard him talk about doing physical harm to a guy that worked at a hotel we stayed at once because he thought the guy was “a fairy”. Her warning seemed like a very real possibility. I withdrew even more from my family. Telling myself I was doing it to honor my mom’s request that no one ever find out while she was alive was just an excuse. The truth is that I just didn’t feel brave enough.
My uncle passed away without ever knowing who I really am. I’ll never get the chance to know how things would have played out. I missed my chance, and both of us missed out on the years we could have spent together.
So…Should You Come Out?
There’s only one answer to that. Coming out is important to you if it matters to you. Would coming out enable you to love yourself a little more today than you did yesterday? Do it! If you are struggling with the decision to come out, learn from my mistakes. Don’t wait until it is too late like I did with my uncle.
It isn’t always going to be easy, but nothing feels better than having people in your life who know you, still love you, and who want to be with you because they love the person you really are. You can’t feel that type of love unless you are brave enough to show them who you are. Heck, that is true for any relationship.
June 1 kicks off Pride season. Whether you are out, in the closet, or somewhere in between, I hope all of you remember to be proud of yourselves.
Would you like to learn more about coming out? Check out the LGBT Foundation to read about other’s coming out stories. Regardless of where you are in your personal journey, the LGBT Foundation has information about support and volunteer opportunities to remind everyone that you aren’t alone.