‘Coming out’ as an expression has been traditionally used for the process of many LGBT people that declare openly to friends and family their sexual orientation or gender identity. It comes from the slang expression ‘coming out of the closet’ and individuals who were hiding their sexual orientation were considered closeted.
What are the stages of coming out?
Coming out is a process that depends largely on the individual. However, there are some signposts that signal different stages as we go through this process.
- In the beginning, there is great confusion and perhaps denial going on. A yet unclear and in some cases, “unwanted” part of ourselves claims space in our everyday life. We might deny that it is there but this part of us is knocking on our door and requests to be acknowledged and accepted for what it is.
- As the process continues, there is a lot of inner tension as we are not sure we want to share this with the world. What will people think? Are they going to reject me or stop loving me? These are all valid questions.
- As the tension builds up, at some point it seems unbearable to keep this part of you a secret. You might realise how keeping an important part of your identity a secret might be making forming a healthy relationship more difficult. You might struggle to “act” as though you are something you are not.
- Coming out of the closet is when you actually voice the words and find the right words for telling people. This becomes “verbal” rather than leaving people to guess. It might start with one or two closest friends and then move to parents and family. This is a stage that you need to reach for yourself and not because somebody else tells you to.
- There are many different ways this can go. Depending on your context (mainly where in the world you live in, the circumstances and how old you are) several different things might happen. They might feel hurt by some responses, happy and relief from other responses and at the same time, they feel a sense of relief and empowerment that they never thought it was possible. Because when you think about it, becoming who we are is a challenging task – more challenging than any job you will ever have and a life-long endeavour.
Challenging question: Is ‘coming out’ really an LGBT thing?
The words ‘coming out’ have been used to describe a specific process. This process though can include any part of our identities which is unwanted, ostracised or closeted. We don’t want to be seen as gays or trans but we also don’t want to be seen as judgemental teens, men who are sensitive, women who are smart or powerful individuals and this list is endless depending on the individual. Just think about the ‘coming out’ of Meryl Streep as an intelligent woman that she described in her 2010 commencement speech. That was a ‘coming out’ process of revealing how smart she was when all that she wanted was to be accepted. And she had to give her need for acceptance up and look where that took her!
This is a part of what she said:
And I reached a point in senior year, when my adjustment felt like me, I had actually convinced myself that I was this person [the generic blonde pretty high-school girl] and she, me, pretty, talented, but not stuck-up. You know, a girl who laughed a lot at every stupid thing every boy said and who lowered her eyes at the right moment and deferred, who learned to defer when the boys took over the conversation […] this was conscious but it was at the same time motivated and fully-felt this was real, real acting.
[…] I made some quick but lifelong and challenging friends. And with their help outside of any competition for boys, my brain woke up. I got up and I got outside myself and I found myself again. I didn’t have to pretend, I could be goofy, vehement, aggressive, and slovenly and open and funny and tough and my friends let me. […] I became real instead of an imagined stuffed bunny […]
What she says about how her adjustment felt like her sounds a lot like the imposter syndrome, doesn’t it?
And as I am writing this, I am reminded of a quote by Caroline Myss:
‘You are at your most powerful, when you do not seek or need external approval’.
And coming out is a sign of that! Just make sure you remain safe because you need to pay attention to whom you are coming out to. Make sure you have enough support and do not do this to impress anyone… do it for you – this is how you will be in your most powerful!
Good luck… on coming out as your true Self.