In most of the other articles that I have written on gay issues, I have discussed the difficulties of coming to terms with one’s orientation, and how traumatic those experiences can sometimes be. This time around, I would like to talk about some of the more positive effects that coming out can have on the lives of gay individuals.
Most people in straight society seem to have trouble understanding why we feel the need to tell others that we are gay. Several of my straight friends have even asked me questions to that effect. They’ve asked things like: “Can’t you just be gay without bringing it up?” or “Why does anyone need to know? It’s none of their business anyway.” Since knowledge and understanding are the keys to combatting ignorance and bigotry, I hope to shed some light on this issue by writing about it.
Here’s my best two-part answer to those questions and others like them. First, hiding the fact that you are gay robs you of the ability to live an honest life. When you hide your true self from the world, you live every day of your life feeling like a liar, because you are letting everyone believe something about you that is not true. What are you supposed say when someone in your life finds out the truth and asks why you didn’t tell them? That is something you have to consider, because sooner or later, it will happen! It’s inevitable.
Secondly, it is my opinion that coming out is the first step toward peace and self-acceptance with your true identity. Most gay people who are closeted carry a tremendous amount of emotional baggage, and the burden of this baggage is a very heavy one. You live in constant fear that your secret will be discovered, and when it is, you will lose the love and respect of everyone in your life. You fear that they will see you as a disgusting pervert. Because of this, we hide our true feelings from the rest of the world, and sometimes even from ourselves, because we fear the hatred that will almost surely come.
Most of us grow up being taught that homosexuality is immoral, dirty, and sinful. The teaching of these ideas causes most gay people to associate a great deal of shame with their feelings of attraction toward the same sex. Many people go into complete denial, refusing to even acknowledge the attraction; that is what happened in my case. Others convince themselves that they can overcome their feelings and teach themselves to be straight through self-discipline. Some even get married and attempt to lead a heterosexual life, only to realize years later that they have forced themselves to live a lie. Eventually, however, the lie always crumbles. When this happens, the shame is even greater and more scarring to the psyche, because people feel like the have failed; they feel that they were too weak or undisciplined to overcome their feelings, which makes them feel completely worthless. This causes the self-esteem to plummet and often leads to severe depression, self-loathing, and suicide.
For me, coming out was the first step on the path toward recovery from all of these negative emotions. It gives the closeted gay person a chance to look at themselves through their own eyes and realize that regardless of their orientation, they are still the same human being that they have always been. Being gay does not change a person’s values, the size of their heart, or the content of their character. Coming out gives them the opportunity to know themselves better. Coming out helps the gay person to realize that they have not changed because they are gay. In reality, it is only everyone else’s perception of them that has changed, and they do not have to accept the hate-clouded perceptions of others as truth.
Arriving at this realization is a very empowering thing, because once this is learned, two things happen. First, you begin to feel more like yourself again; realizing that you are still the same as you were before gives you confidence so that you can begin to rebuild your self-esteem. Secondly, it helps you to make a deliberate choice to reject all of the hatred that is constantly being thrown at you. Before coming out, gay people often blame themselves for the hatred and negativity that others hurl at them. They often feel that they deserve the verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse they get from others, because they were unable to “change themselves.”
Once they realize that they are still the same person, however, it opens their eyes to the fact that the attitude problem does not lie with them, but with those who are hating them. If they loved you before knowing that you were gay, then they should continue to love you after they learn of your orientation. After all, you are no different, so if learning that you are gay changes their opinion about who you are, then it is their thinking that is faulty, not yours! In fact, these people were probably never true friends to begin with, because their love for you was conditional.
So for gay people, coming out is really the ultimate act of self-love. It is a way of freeing yourself from the pain that your closeted existence has caused for you, and a way of reclaiming all of the things that hatred and fear have tried to steal from you. It is a loud and clear declaration that you refuse to be disrespected and disregarded simply because of the fact that you are attracted to members of your own gender. It may not sit well with some people, but it will always be the best medicine for the sickness of silence!