Coming out……and the importance of community

Coming Out is an important process that is different for everyone; some experiences are difficult to hear while others are heart-warming and inspiring. Nevertheless, coming out is never easy and we can often draw inspiration from others and their stories. For many, coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ+) is a powerful way to be fully seen and heard. Whether it’s to family, friends, co-workers, or simply yourself, coming out is an ongoing process that takes self-acceptance and strength.

Why Come out?

Coming out allows the person to develop as a whole individual, allows for greater empowerment, and makes it easier for an individual to develop a positive self-image. By coming out, the person is able to share with others who they are and what is important to them, rather than having to hide or lie about their identity. Coming out frees the person of the fear of being “found out” and helps them avoid living a double life, which can be extremely stressful and demoralising. Finally, coming out makes it easier to connect with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender giving a sense of community. Outlining some of the benefits and risks of coming out is not meant to convince anyone to choose to come out or not to come out in any given situation. Rather, thinking about some of the possible outcomes of such a choice can clarify an individual’s decision by helping them determine the appropriate time for coming out and preparing them for possible reactions.

The benefits
  • Ability to live one’s life honestly.
  • Building self-esteem by being honest about oneself.
  • Developing closer, more genuine relationships with friends and family.
  • Alleviating the stress of hiding one’s identity.
  • Connecting with other people who are LGBTQ+.
  • Being part of a community with others with whom you have something in common.
  • Helping to dispel myths and stereotypes by speaking about one’s own experience and educating others.
  • Being a role model for others.
The Risks
  • Not everyone will be understanding or accepting.
  • Family, friends, or co-workers may be shocked, confused, or even hostile.
  • Some relationships may be permanently changed.
  • An individual may experience harassment or discrimination.
  • In extreme cases, one may be thrown out of their homes or lose financial support from their parents.

Importance of Community

LGBTQ+ individuals use a variety of terms to identify themselves and their communities. Individual and societal understanding of sexuality and gender identity is constantly changing. Feeling part of a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ+) community has a positive impact on mental health, emotional wellbeing and quality of life, according to new research.

Communities are a Spectrum

When there are diverse representations of LGBTQ+ people included in the media and in company organisations, society can see more perspectives within the community and form a more complete picture. Rather than reverting to stereotypes, the community becomes a full visible spectrum as we see represented so colourfully during Pride Month.

This helps support a shift in social consciousness to include people from a range of diverse backgrounds.

Positive Identity Affirmation

Another aspect to consider is the importance of healthy and positive self-affirmations. Feeling affirmation with your own identity can boost your self-esteem and give you positive role models, which is especially important for those who are still developing their sense of self. When these representations aren’t displayed, it sends that message that your identity is invisible, doesn’t exist, and isn’t important.

Burden of Representation

Whenever any minority group is publicly represented, their portrayal defines the way the community is seen and carries a “burden of representation” for the larger community. This makes diverse and visible role models even more important, or you run the risk of creating and reinforcing stereotypes, due to a lack of variety in the way that groups are portrayed.

When most LGBTQ+ characters are represented by white performers, this leads to an erasure of the people of colour within the LGBTQ+ community and can leave them and their stories rendered invisible to the rest of society.

Supporting someone coming out.

Coming out can be the best day of an LGBTQ+ person’s life. Though it’s freeing, it isn’t always easy. In fact, coming out is actually one of the hardest things a person can do in a society that harms, marginalises, and perpetuates violence against them. Despite the success stories and progress, there are still so many cases of discrimination.

Someone who is coming out feels close enough to you and trusts you sufficiently to be honest and risk losing you as a friend. It can be difficult to know what to say and what to do to be a supportive friend to someone who has “come out” to you. Below are some suggestions you may wish to follow.

  • Thank your friend for having the courage to tell you. Choosing to tell you means that they have a great deal of respect and trust for you.
  • Don’t judge your friend. If you have strong religious or other beliefs about LGBTQ+ communities, keep them to yourself for now. There will be plenty of time in the future for you to think and talk about your beliefs in light of your friend’s identity.
  • Respect your friend’s confidentiality. Allow them the integrity to share what they want, when and how they want to.
  • Tell your friend that you still care about them, no matter what. Be the friend you have always been. The main fear for people coming out is that their friends and family will reject them.
  • Don’t be too serious. Sensitively worded humour may ease the tension you are both probably feeling.
  • Ask questions you may have but understand that your friend may not have all the answers. You can save some questions for later or, better yet, you can find some of the answers together.
  • Include your friend’s partner in plans as much as you would with any other friend.
  • Be prepared to include your friend in more of your plans. They may have lost the support of other friends and family, and your time and friendship will be even more precious to them. This may include “family” times like holidays or special celebrations.
  • Offer and be available to support your friend as they come out to others.
  • Call frequently during the time right after your friend has come out to you. This will let them know you are still friends.
  • Be prepared for your friend to have mood swings. Coming out can be overwhelming. Anger and depression are common, especially if friends or family have trouble accepting your friend. Don’t take mood swings personally. 
  • Do what you have always done together. Your friend probably feels that coming out will change everything in their life, and this is frightening. If you always go to the movies on Friday, then continue that.
  • Don’t allow your friend to become isolated. Let them know about organizations and places where they can meet other supportive folks.

Once you get more used to it, you could try learning more. There are lots of books that might help you understand a little more about what their sexuality or gender identity means, and it might help you better support them. It can even be useful to read autobiographies of famous LGBTQ+ people.

These educational topics wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and dedication from our Dom(me)sLife contributors – Thank you MM

Contributors: This article was researched and written by Umlindi, edited by Mistress Michelle and published by Umlindi.

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