The other evening, a friend and I got into a discussion about coming out. He remarked that he had met a number of older gay men who seemed to be of the opinion that coming out makes all of the struggles with one’s gayness disappear, or at least become insignificant. He told me that this attitude bothered him, because he didn’t feel that was the case at all. Listening to him, I found myself agreeing with his point of view wholeheartedly. Indeed, I found the claims made by these older gay men (and bear in mind that these “older men” actually fall in my age range) to be astonishing and completely unhelpful. I emphatically told my friend that I felt the attitude these men had expressed was complete garbage.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think there are a great number of benefits to coming out when a person is ready to do so. (I also think that coming out is a process that involves degrees and situations rather than an all or nothing thing, but that’s probably best left for another post.) Coming out to myself, ending the denial, and allowing myself to be the person I knew was inside of me has been one of the greatest gifts I have ever given myself. And allowing myself to share that person with those people in my life that were important to me allowed me to save a lot of time and energy that I would have otherwise wasted by trying to hide who I am and worrying about what might happen if anyone ever found out my secret. And I suspect that my friend with whom I had this conversation would agree with everything I’ve just said.
But to say that all problems surrounding one’s sexual orientation will fade away once one comes out just isn’t realistic. In fact it’s a lie, and one that could deeply hurt someone who doesn’t feel this fictional release of all troubles upon coming out. And to me, spreading such a hurtful lie to another person is reprehensible.
Truth be told, as wonderful as the coming out process is, it’s only the beginning of a larger process. And for many of us, that beginning is the equivalent of opening floodgates and letting out a whole world of hurt and confusion we need to deal with. I can look at my own coming out experience that took place almost eleven years ago and the rough road it started me down, and the very lie of these older men’s claims makes me wince.
Coming out means coming to terms with who we are and allowing other people to see who we are. In many cases, the whole reason we need to come out is because we’ve been denying or repressing who we are — often for years. That takes its toll on a person, and quite often, coming out also requires us to face the results of those years. It’s one thing to accept who we are, but it’s completely different thing to come to love who we are. Sometimes, it means rebuilding our self-perception from scratch. Sometimes, it means learning that we really are deserving of love. Sometimes, it means struggling to live in an adult world while having the emotional maturity of a young teenager. Sometimes, it means coming to terms with an unconscious mind that only found it possible to express your sexual feelings through violent dreams and fantasies. The list is potentially endless.
Perhaps some people really do have less emotional and identity issues to work through after coming out. Perhaps they never denied or repressed their feelings as totally as others of us. Or perhaps they really can heal instantly. But not all of us are like it. To us, facing and admitting our sexual orientation — whether to ourselves or to others — is merely the beginning of the next stage of a difficult journey, not the end of one.