What is Coming Out?
Many people don’t understand what is involved in coming out (disclosing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity). Most envision it to be like walking through one doorway, a single time. But it is far from that simple. Maybe for a few celebrities who can come out in a national publication, it only involves one disclosure or interaction, but for most LGBTQ individuals, coming out is a life-long process repeated again and again. This process can be filled with stress and anxiety as the LGBTQ person contemplates who it is safe to come out to and when.
The decision to come out is one of the defining moments in an LGBTQ person’s life. Let’s look at what is involved in coming out, how an LGBTQ individual may feel or think during the process and why LGBTQ individuals are susceptible to risks of addiction and substance abuse.
Understanding Oneself Requires Understanding Our Culture
For many LGBTQ people, based on the world they see around them, they only know one way in which it is ok to live, and that is heterosexual. The dream they have heard since infancy is to fall in love with the opposite sex, get married, have children, and live happily ever after. But LGBTQ people grow up feeling different. They know they don’t quite fit in, something seems off and they sense it is them. They often feel less than others. They believe, and are often told by those who are close to them, that being straight is how their lives are supposed to be.
Many LGBTQ individuals feel as if they should be like everyone else. Not fitting in, struggling to fit in and even trying to understand how they think and feel can lead to feelings of deep shame. Many spend years hiding and denying they are LGBTQ from everyone, including themselves. Being LGBTQ can be so foreign to them that they don’t have a way to understand who they are.
Our society is very much oriented toward heterosexuality, it is a given. So young LGBTQ often don’t have a concept of anything other than heterosexuality. Fortunately TV, movies, books and public discussion about LGBT rights are changing this. But it is a slow change. And growing up feeling and thinking differently from everyone else can be lonely. It can also be tragic. Suicide among Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual teens is 4 times higher than non-LGBT teens. Bullying (9 out of 10 LGBT teens report being bullied in the past year at school because of sexual orientation), gay-bashing, discrimination (it is legal to discriminate against LGBT individuals in 29 states), violent anti-gay hate crimes (including murder) are still happening around the country. Is it any wonder LGBTQ individuals struggle with accepting their sexuality or their true gender?
Why Come Out?
For someone who is questioning their sexuality or gender identity, the first person they have to be honest with is themselves. Not being your true self leaves you susceptible to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide.
So, the first step in coming out is to come out to oneself internally, accepting one’s own sexuality or gender. Although this may seem to be an easy thing, it is usually not. There are many pressures on LGBTQ individuals to not fully accept themselves as being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Bullying, fear of being harmed or killed, fear of being disowned by family and friends and fear of discrimination are all real possibilities for many. It can often seem easier to deny a part of themselves instead of facing these consequences. However, denying one’s true self leads to an incredible amount of stress, anxiety and additional fear. If we are not ourselves, we cannot form real relationships because we know the relationship is not based on our real selves.
The benefits to truly being oneself outweigh all the real and imagined risks of being LGBTQ. However, when someone is struggling with self-acceptance, the potential risks and consequences of coming out can seem enormous. For those struggling with sexuality or gender identity, it can be helpful to read what others have experienced. There are a number of great books on the subject of coming out, including the classic “Coming Out: An Act of Love” by Rob Eichberg.
And one final reason to come out: It Gets Better. It really does. Truly being oneself is worth the risks. Thanks to Dan Savage and Terry Miller for creating the “It Gets Better” videos and book. They have brought real awareness to the issue of coming out and bullying and have provided inspiration to millions.
It is important to realize that the period of coming out prior to full self-acceptance can be very lonely and very stressful. Many LGBT individuals turn to drugs or alcohol to ease the pain and suffering they are experiencing. To help these individuals with their addiction, most find it best to seek an addiction treatment program that understands and caters to the unique needs of LGBTQ persons. New Hope Recovery Center’s “New Hope With Pride”, is such a program. You can reach us at 888-707-4673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also be interested in reading: Addiction Recovery and Self Esteem
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