coming out is about the person outing themselves

Credit: NY Civil Liberties Union

I want to talk a bit about the comment I made in my post yesterday that I wasn’t able to come out to my mom because she passed away before I did. In fact, I think I knew for a long time that I was gay but I also knew that as a teenager, that was not going to be something I was going to tell anyone. I wasn’t going to tell my friends or family because the risk of rejection was very high.

So I want to talk about the process of coming out for me and say clearly, that coming out isn’t about the person you’re coming out to. It has nothing to do with them and has everything to do with the person who’s coming out. I think this is news for some people, they think that the person coming out is looking for their approval or at a minimum, recognition of the fact that they’re coming out. While for some this is true, I’m pretty convinced that the process of coming out is about the person being seen and heard. It’s about the person speaking their truth to themselves first. Then, once they have accepted their own truth, they start to think about telling other people. If they’re lucky, they have supportive people around them that they know, from either being gay themselves, or saying accepting things about gay people in the past, that they are safe people to come out to. If you don’t have someone like this in your life, or you’re in an isolated or remote area or small town, this is really tough. This is why so many young queer people in rural, remote or small communities risk homelessness to leave to find other people who accept them.

So coming out is not about the person doing the listening. It’s about the person who’s outing themselves, being seen, heard and accepted. These are three different and important components: seen (e.g., I see you for who you are; heard, I am listening to what you’re saying and am paying attention; and, I accept you for who you are unconditionally). If someone is going to out themselves to you, this is what they’re hoping for. Most of us get 1 of 3 or 2 of 3. Especially with our families, we’re damn lucky if we get 3 of 3.

The fact that I couldn’t out myself to my Mom has nothing to do with her, or what she might have said or done. This is totally hypothetical and if you know me, you know I hate hypothetical situations. So the point of me saying yesterday that I didn’t know if I could have come out when I did, is about me looking back 20 years and not thinking that me, at 22, would have been able to stomach even the idea of rejection. It’s not to say that I wouldn’t have done it, I might have. I’m a pretty tough broad. But the point is to say that when you’re a woman and your mother dies young, you have all of these what ifs in your mind for a long time. What if she had loved me unconditionally? What if she had not died early, would I have done x, y, z? Those what ifs aren’t just in my head; those of us who’ve lost our mothers young all have these thoughts whether we admit it or not.

So if you self-identify as straight and someone in your life is perhaps struggling with their sexuality and they, maybe, possibly, want to come out to you, don’t ask them if they’re gay. Don’t ask them if they think they’re straight. Please, dont’ tell them it’s a phase that they’re going through and they’ll “grow out of it” (I got this one several times). Don’t ask them if being gay has anything to do with you. I also got this one several times.

Be open and kind and don’t immediately start talking about yourself and how open and kind and accepting you are. When they tell you that they’re gay or bi or trans or questioning or two-spirited or a lesbian or asexual or however they identify, just listen and be cool by not making it about you, k? xo Janet

Published by Janet Gwilliam-Wright

Feminist and queer. Professional teller of truths. Slayer of personal demons.

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