National Coming Out Day: Live as Your Authentic Self
The coming out process is complicated. You have much to consider when you’re considering coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or any sexual or gender identity other than heteronormative. You’ll need to become comfortable in your identity or in the questioning process. Then you have to decide how much you have to share about your identity as a member of the LGBTQIA community. Are you willing to be as forthcoming with your family members as you are with your friends? How much do you want to share with your coworkers and professional community?
If you’re moving through the coming out process, you probably have concerns about deciding your sexual orientation or gender identity, how to be sure, and how to share your truth with others. You may feel isolated and worry about encountering homophobia and other prejudice. You want to live your truth and feel safe doing so. This week’s blog celebrates the upcoming National Coming Out Day by giving you tips to help on your journey of self-acceptance and identity celebration.
Why is Coming Out Important?
Social and political forces can often make coming out a scary process. The LGBTQ community has made great strides in recent years with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the legalization of same-sex marriage. However, in many social and familial circles, homophobia and a lack of acceptance still exist.
When a person questions their sexual orientation or gender identity but doesn’t have a supportive circle to share their struggles with, it can cause issues with self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems. Coming out is more than just telling people who you are – it’s learning to love your authentic self and speak your truth.
Get Comfortable With Your Identity
People often begin by recognizing attraction to same-sex people or a pull toward a gender identity other than the one assigned at birth. You may wonder if you’re gay or bisexual or if your attraction is for a specific person rather than any particular gender. If you’re at this stage, you may experience feelings of denial or anxiety. These feelings can be even more intense if the people around you aren’t accepting.
Eventually, people who question their sexual orientation or gender identity may become comfortable with parts of themselves but not be ready to live fully as members of the LGBTQ community. They may consider it okay to have sexual experiences with same-sex partners but avoid romantic or emotional relationships. A person experimenting with gender expression may dress differently than society assumes their assigned gender should some of the time but try to fit in with the heteronormative culture other times.
It’s important to remember that sexual orientation and gender exist on a spectrum and can change during your lifetime. If you identify as gay or straight now, it doesn’t limit you in the future. Self-acceptance means accepting who you are today and who you grow into in the future.
When people reach self-acceptance, they often seek friendships with other gay, lesbian, transgender, nonbinary, or bisexual people. They understand that it is acceptable to be an LGBTQIA person and that they can live a whole and happy life whether others respect their identity or not.
Find a Support System
When someone moves through the coming out process, they will need a support system of affirming people. Having friends or family who support your mental health and honor your authentic self will help bolster your mental health. If you don’t have an affirming support system, there are plenty of resources to help you find one.
- The GLBT National Help Center keeps a database of resources by local area.
- The Trevor Project is a non-profit organization involved in advocacy work and offering support and resources to young people who identify as LGBTQIA or question their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- TransLifeLine is a peer support hotline for trans people.
- Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is the nation’s largest ally organization seeking “To create a caring, just, and affirming world for LGBTQ+ people and those who love them.”
- You can also use social media to connect with other people in your area or age group in the LGBTQ community.
- A qualified therapist can also help you identify people in your life who can be affirming and supportive and who may not be helpful to your mental health and well-being as you navigate the coming-out process.
Decide Who Deserves Your Truth and Share As You Wish
In a perfect world, no one would need to come out at all. We’d all show up dressed how we like and love who we want without explaining to the world. If that’s your preference, you can decide to live your truth without a formal coming out.
Many people, however, announce to others that they are members of the LGBTQIA community. Whether your authentic self involves who you love, the people you’re sexually attracted to, or what pronouns you prefer, you can decide when and what you share with whom. When you choose to live as your authentic self, you may share it with close friends and family first. You may share it with everyone. You may also decide not to tell certain people at all. Coming out is your process, your journey, and only you can determine who is allowed to witness it.
If you aren’t sure that someone is likely to validate your experience, here are a few tips for figuring it out.
- Ask how they feel about a celebrity who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community.
- Ask how they feel about the political climate surrounding LGBTQ rights.
- Pay attention to the way they speak about LGBTQ people and issues.
- How does the person usually handle complex emotional events? Do they get angry, shut down, or leave? This can help you prepare if coming out doesn’t go as planned.
Get Help Navigating Your Coming-Out Journey
Coming out is difficult whether you’re young or someone who has lived in the heteronormative world for decades. To navigate this process, many people choose to engage the help of a qualified, affirming therapist. A therapist who understands the intricacies of living as a member of a minority group and is dedicated to using inclusive language and practices can help ensure your mental well-being doesn’t suffer as you navigate your coming-out journey.
At SMPSychotherapy and Counseling Services, we have many therapists who specialize in working with members of the LGBTQIA community. We’re ready to help you with self-acceptance, identifying allies, and learning to live your truth. Reach out to our office today to schedule an appointment.