Sunday, January 21, 2007

Come out, come out – wherever you are…

Every gay person has to face the task of ‘coming out’. For most, it’s not an easy thing to do. After all, depending on where you live, the repercussions can be pretty bleak. Most of us fear rejection. It is always a relief when this does not happen!

Over the years, I have been fortunate to have had great responses from most of the people I’ve come out to. Although, one wonders if we selectively choose to tell those who we feel will accept out lifestyle. Whether that’s true or not, when they don’t reject you, it’s a wonderful feeling of elation and freedom. In most cases, the person I’ve confided in has said they’ve suspected as much for quite some time. To this, I’ve always responded: “But, why didn’t you say something to me then?” The stock response is that they didn’t feel it was their place to do so. They’ve said that they knew when I was ready, I would tell them and they’ve often been waiting many years for that moment.

And I guess, when you think about it, this is the order that this ‘coming out’ should follow. We need to be ready to tell people about this thing that often ends up defining us, and we need to be strong enough to endure, if the response is not all warm and fuzzy.

I’ve had a few of those too. Bloody hell, they’re not fun. For me, undoubtedly the most intensely negative reaction was from my mom. In short, she sent me to a shrink and then told me she loved the sinner, but not the sin! It wasn’t a very helpful response for a 17-year-old.

Below are a selection of a few coming out scenarios. Please add yours by way of the comments page, or by emailing them to me on herstory@eastcoast.co.za, and I will add them.

The good:

These are usually close friends. The kind of people who respond - as mentioned above – that deep down they always knew you were gay. They’re often the scariest to come out to, as their opinions mean the most. You know that if they don’t accept you, it will forever change your relationship dynamic. If they do, it will change it for the better. These are the people who love you unconditionally and who support you no matter what. They’re the kind of people we need to surround ourselves with! In most cases, I instinctively knew who fitted into this category. It was wonderful - albeit nerve-wracking - coming out to them. Finally, you were able to be yourself. The majority of people I’ve chosen to come out to have fallen into this category.

The next two categories are often where relatives fit in. You know the saying: you can choose your friends…

The bad:

They have no idea what to say to you when you tell them you’re gay. They try to make all the right noises, but their facial expressions or tone of voice betrays them. They’re battling to deal with the concept of their friend / family member being a homosexual. What will others think of them, by way of association? These are sometimes the most dangerous, as you’re never quite sure of where they stand.

The ugly:

Boy, oh boy. These are the ones that make you wish you’d never ventured out of the closet. They’re toxic. They’re judgemental. In my experience, they often come from strict religious backgrounds that govern how they view gay people, and can be utterly destructive in their efforts to get you to renounce your ways. Let’s just say the love is not unconditional. In extreme cases, their extreme aversion may be a way of hiding their own latent homosexuality. These are people to steer clear of. With them around, you generally won’t ‘feel the love’!

Depending on your personal circumstances, and the kind of people you’re surrounded with, it’s often easier to come out when you are old enough to: a) have left home; and b) support yourself. I always wished this had been the case with me.

1 comment:

YM said...

Someone once gave me this useful tip about coming out: We need to remember that it's taken us years of angst and internal debate to finally come out. It may be unreasonable to expect the person we've just come out to to digest, process and respond in a millisecond after we've presented them with our big news. They may also need some time to re-assess everything they've ever thought about you and struggle with their pre-conceptions/ prejudices etc versus their love/ friendship etc for you.