By Milton Wendland
© 2012 Diversity Rules Magazine and Milton Wendland. All Rights Reserved.
Milton Wendland is a licensed attorney and a professor of Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas, where he teaches courses in LGBT cultures, sexuality and law, and queer theory.
Dear Milton – I wanna come out because I know I should. Any tips? Marcy
First of all, you should never come out if coming out will put you in physical or emotional danger or harm your well-being.
Second of all, you should never come out just because others are pressuring you or just because you have some vague commitment to LGBT rights. Coming out is a deeply personal act that should be based on your unique needs and circumstances.
Before you do anything, I advise you to visit your local library or do some online searches to learn not only “how” to come out but also how to deal with being out. “Being out” is often far more difficult than coming out. The LGBT rights movement has done a disservice by perpetuating the idea that everyone should be out at all times and the idea that once a person is out life is automatically better. That can be true for some people but it is simply not true for all people, especially when we take into account different financial situations, ethnic and racial backgrounds, and religious beliefs.
Coming out is not a single act. It is a lifetime of acts. Think of the many people to whom we might come out: parents, siblings, children, grandparents, cousins, friends. But we also find ourselves coming out to others: teachers, students, Facebook friends, bosses, employees. Sometimes we overlook the need to come out to others like leasing agents (“you two lovely ladies will be looking for a two-bedroom apartment, right?) and drivers license examiners (“your birth certificate says male but your name is Maria?”) as well as doctors, insurance agents, bankers, and others. And of course those people come in and out of our lives as we age, relocate, change careers, make new friends, and so on.
Another element of coming out that people overlook is that coming out to someone often means not coming out to someone else. For example, many of us might feel comfortable telling our mothers but not our fathers. Or we may have one sibling who know will be supportive but another who we suspect will not. This means that when WE come out, we are also asking the people to whom we come out to either keep a secret from others or spread the news to others. Coming out isn’t just something you do; it’s also something that others do.
The time after one has come out can often be more stressful than being in the closet. The people we come out to might simply ignore our coming out. Others may go in the opposite direction and want to know every single detail of our lives. Coming out often brings out painfully rude and homophobic questions and assumptions that may be cast as concern.
Finally, it is important to remember that while most of us come out because we are in a self-accepting moment, you cannot assume that everyone will respond positively. What will you do if you come out and your parents now refuse to pay your college tuition? What if you come out and your children refuse to let you see your grandchildren anymore? What if you come out and you are fired from your job? (Firing people based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity is legal in many states!) While it is important to hope for the best, self-care requires that we prepare ourselves for worst-case scenarios. It is important to have a firm sense of yourself and to have a solid network of support.
“Inqueeries” is an interactive column where readers are encouraged to submit questions for Milton to answer!
Contact Milton directly at: [email protected].