When I think about a coming out process for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, it is associated with courage, freedom, strength, challenge, expansion, and gain, as well as pain, insecurity, fear, loss, and rejection. First, I said "process," because it's not a one-time event or act - it's a continuous journey that lasts for as long as one lives. Second, the process clearly has positive as well as negative consequences, which certainly depend on each person. This blog concerns the process of coming out.
Coming out process involves disclosing one's sexual orientation (i.e., gay, lesbian, or bi) or gender identity to the self, family, and/or friends or acquaintances. Initially, individuals come out to themselves, recognizing and accepting their gender identity and/or the sex to which they are attracted. Then, they decide to come out to others, whether they are family members or friends/acquaintances. The latter decision depends on a safety factor, that is, individuals decide in whom it's the safest to confide.
If you identify as heterosexual and if you are a cis-individual (i.e., your gender identification matches the sex assigned at birth), you don't think about it much while going about your daily business. You don't think, "Do I appear straight?" "Should I tell this person that I'm straight?" "How or when should I tell that person that I'm straight?" "Should I tell them that my biological sex matches my gender identity?" "Do I pass as a woman/man?" "If I tell them how I identify, will they reject me? Will they get aggressive with me? Will they harass me? Will they kill me?" If you take a moment to imagine that these questions are very much applicable in your daily life, how does it feel?
Every day, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals make a conscious decision to disclose or to not disclose their identity to others. They constantly assess the environment and people. Some individuals may be out only to themselves, some to only family members, and other only to trusted friends. Every time individuals decide to come out, it's a risk, which can result in both positive and negative consequences. From the community I learned that if an individual has a strong, positive attitude about their identity, it helps to come out to others by protecting their self-esteem in case they are rejected or judged. However, I have yet to meet one person who does not experience at least some amount of anxiety or caution about their disclosure.
In sum, I would suggest that counselors take the following points into consideration:
• Be constantly aware that coming out never stops unless one decides to never come out or retreat from the process.
• Do not expect your clients to be completely comfortable with the process, even if they have come out to many individuals in the past.
• Honor your clients' courage to come out on a continuous basis. Recognize their strength.
• Be cognizant of the messages that you send out to the world - your words, attitudes, body language, etc. Check your heteronormative assumptions and make sure that you express positive attitudes toward any sexual orientation or gender identity. If you have negative attitudes, it's time to do some introspection in order to avoid unethical practice.
________________________________________________________________________ Evelyn Pavlova is a counselor and an Ally, whose preferred population is LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, invisible minority, asexual, and ally) individuals. Her areas of interest are eating disorders, mood disorders, mindfulness, and spirituality. Read more about her new counseling journey atwww.curvyroad.weebly.com