It’s the 21st century and coming out of the closet is becoming more widely accepted than ever. However, this doesn’t mean that it is an easy process. The LGBTQ individual may be afraid of the potentially unpredictable reactions of loved ones, and loved ones may be concerned with how to handle and support the LGBTQ individual.
As a result, the process of coming out can be riddled with negative emotions like shame and fear. These feelings can make coming out a much more difficult process.
Below are some simple guidelines and advice from close friends of mine that have helped them through the process.
For the LGBTQ individual:
- Start with appropriate people. Begin with your friends; it's usually easier to confide in them. Avoid beginning the process with people with whom you are unsure what their reaction might be.
- Set appropriate dates and stick to them. Establish these dates far in advance to you can prepare yourself. Example: At the end of summer I will tell my friends, after the new year I will tell my family.
- Start small, go big. The first person is always the hardest. Fact: it gets progressively easier to come out with every person you confide in.
- Avoid catastrophizing. Changes are, you are exaggerating to yourself the reactions that your loved ones will have. Think about this realistically.
- You do not have to do this alone. Turn to a trusted friend, family member or someone else who is significant in your life for advice and support through the process.
For the supportive loved one:
- Never force the individual to come out. This can be frustrating because you want your loved one to know you support him. But doing so may make him more resistant. When he is ready, it will happen.
- Understand that the LGBTQ person is the same. You may want to treat her differently, but this is not what she wants. Instead, make your support clear and then continue as if nothing has happened while expressing acknowledgment when appropriate.
- LGBTQ is not a choice. Understand that the LGBTQ individual did not choose his sexual orientation or gender just as you did not choose yours. Trying to change him or convince him it is a phase is not only inaccurate but can actually cause harm. Even if you disagree or are upset, expressing such an opinion can only bring about negativity.
- It's okay to be shocked or surprised. It is perfectly fine to explain that your reaction is because you were not expecting the disclosure. Your surprise may be not that she has chosen to disclose her sexual orientation but rather how and when she chooses to do so.
- The best approach is to be non-judgmental and supportive. When an LGBTQ individual comes out he typically fears that he will not be supported. Reassure her that it's okay and that you are proud of her decision -- and that you will always support her.
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by Bryant Stone
Bryant is a summer 2016 intern in PsychBC's Student Practicum Program. He is a rising senior at John Carroll University.