Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-gender, queer and two-spirited (LGBTQ2) people who keep their sexual orientation a secret carry an extra burden that takes a massive toll on their lives. I have first hand experience being a bisexual person of colour who was in the closet for a decade and recently came out my immediate family, extended family and friends at the age of 34 years. Keeping the secret makes our world feel dark as we are hiding a big part of ourselves from people we love due to the fear of being rejected or abandoned. This makes us feel angry with ourselves resulting from not having the courage to be ourselves. Often times we even end up lashing out unnecessarily to those that are closest to us such as friends and family.
Uncovering and coming face to face with a truth regarding our sexual orientation is a life changing moment at any age. Coming out to ourselves is an extremely liberating experience, but also terrifies us to our core. We immediately feel a plethora of emotions hitting us simultaneously. We feel excitement because we finally know who we are; denial because this truth can’t be true; and confusion because we are not sure how to make sense of the learned views and values relating to homosexuality from our religion, ethnic community and country of residence. These views and values are often conflicting. All of this is overwhelming and compounded further because society teaches us to repress our emotions. Not knowing how to proceed, we ignore our newly discovered truth.
During the initial stages of figuring out our sexual orientation, we often feel embarrassed. We realize we are different from most people in society. Standing in our own space alone feels lonely. One option that feels enticing during this time is to play a double personality where we watch what we say in public so we can blend into society. Initially this seems manageable, but as years go by, we feel more and more resentment building inside of us. The more we repress our feelings, the more they arise with more intensity and flare. This is our soul’s way of crying for help. It bothers us that in society there is a space for heterosexuals to be and act freely without having to ponder the consequences. In the world of closeted individuals, we are constantly watching what we are doing rather than doing what feels true to us.
After years and sometimes decades of being in the closet, we suffer to the point where we metaphorically can’t breath. This is our breaking point and we commit to changing our circumstances at all costs. We recognize that who we are matters and we don’t need to hide. This is point where the journey of self-acceptance begins.
The journey of coming out to ourselves, our families and our communities takes immense courage, reflection and determination. There is no right or wrong way to come out. Drawing from my own positive coming out experience, below are some approaches to make the process a little easier.
- Create safe spaces in your world where you can share openly what you are going through and feeling. Examples include connecting with friends and family members or reaching out to LGBTQ2 support groups.
- Attend personal growth workshops or events where you can connect with like minded people, share what you are going through, learn how to be the best version of yourself and see that you are not alone.
- Seek help from professionals such as counsellors who can assist you make sense of your emotions, answer your questions around your sexual orientation and help you explore the best way to come out given your circumstances.
- Remember that each person you come out to will need to go through their own coming out journey if they choose to engage in it.
Sometimes it can be hard to know how to support someone who comes out to you as being LGBTQ2. Here are some supportive strategies.
- Understand that we live in a society where being heterosexual is the norm and individuals who don’t fit the norm need to make a safe space for themselves within their world where they can be honest with who they are and with those that matter. The alternative is pretending to be someone else simply to blend in.
- Remember the individual hasn’t changed because of their sexual orientation. You simply know a little more about them.
- Recognize that it is an honour that the LGBTQ2 individual trusted you with this very personal piece of information. Thank the individual for trusting you.
- Inquire about how the LGBTQ2 individual would like to be supported given the fact that the needs of LGBTQ2 individuals are different.
- Ask questions or for additional information from a place of curiosity, honesty and respect.
By embracing our sexual orientations, we can live a life where we feel free to be true selves in all spheres of our life. The process shifts our world from being dark to colour.
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