General Uncertainty: How to Survive in Spaces Where You Can’t Come Out
For gay, bisexual, asexual, trans or intersex people, coming out can be many important things. Few could call coming out an important “moment” given that, for most of us, coming out is a constant process rather than a single, defined moment, since we have to come out repeatedly to multiple people, facing their different reactions and dealing with different outcomes. Some of them may be negative and make the process harder, others will give us a positive boost during our journey and remind us that there are people who love and accept us the way we are.
How the journey of coming out flows, with its conflicting feelings and different processes is, of course, different for everyone. In each environment and period of our lives, we have to ask and re-ask ourselves the same questions: do I have to come out here, to those people? What about my parents, my friends, my workplace, my church? Do I want to do it? Is it safe? How will they take it? How will I deal with the aftermath?
The most vital thing to remember is that no one knows better than you, as a judge of each situation, whether you should, need, or have to come out. No one should be able to convince us to do something we feel uncomfortable, or not ready to do. No one knows better than us our lives, our needs, our relationships with those around us, and our limits. Only you should be the judge of whether you want, need, or are able to come out to certain people, at a certain moment, in a certain context.
Some people in the LGBTQI+ community are very lucky as to have a smooth coming out process, with more or less supportive people and environments surrounding them. Other people however never had it that easy. Some of us may still be in the closet, others may be out to some people but not to others.
Some of us may identify certain contexts in which we know, for our own reasons, that we can’t come out – whether that means for the time being, or forever. We are not talking for the general uncertainty, fear, and doubt that might accompany many coming out situations. We are talking for those situations where someone might simply know that it is not, either any circumstances possible, to come out without causing more harm than good to themselves. There is also the case of leaving the possibility of coming out open for the future, but consciously deciding that you are not ready to do it yet, or that your life is easier and safer the way it is, and you’d rather keep it that way for the time-being.
There is a lot of pressure into coming out, and while it is, of course, ideal to be out and feel free to everyone, that isn’t always possible, and we have to respect the boundaries of everyone who doesn’t wish to be outed to their family or workplace. Your family may be coming from a country or culture where being gay or trans is considered as immoral, even illegal. Knowing your family well enough, someone may feel certain of their negative reaction, and choose not to undergo this process. You may still depend on your family financially or emotionally, and thus decide it’s safer for you to stay in the closet. You might really need to keep that job, but know that they won’t accept you.
While it’s always preferable to surround ourselves with understanding, accepting people and find ourselves in safe spaces, it isn’t always possible. Unfortunately sometimes we have to compromise. It’s okay if you don’t wish to come out. You know better than anyone why and your reasons are valid. Sometimes it’s a matter of measuring our needs and priorities, and deciding what comes first. What would be a definitely-coming-out case for one person, might not be for the next one. If you feel like living in the closet is impossible for you, and you definitely need to let it out no matter the consequences, that’s a really brave and wholesome decision! If you feel like maintaining your relationship with your parents until you move out is more important, that’s also a very brave and honest decision!
Of course, having to stay in the closet may cause general uncertainty, conflict to many people and its psychological effects are not the best. Having to hide your identity, your real name and pronouns, who you are as a person, who you love and want to have a relationship with, might cause extremely negative feelings to those of us in the closet, given that we need validation, a sense of community and of acceptance in order to feel full in life.
So, what can we do to survive in environments where we can’t come out?
- Don’t allow anyone to tell you what to do.
As mentioned above, don’t allow anyone to put pressure on you when it comes to coming out or staying in the closet. Coming out is your decision and yours alone, and you don’t owe anyone your own, personal truth.
- Make plans for the future.
Sometimes, when we find ourselves in an unpleasant situation, making plans to work for a better future might really help. If the only thing you can do is be patient and wait for your independence to come, or for a better job to be found, you might as well prepare for it, maybe bring it faster. If you wish to distance yourself from an unsupportive environment, or make the ground more solid for a revelation to be dropped, you can try working in that direction. Planning about what can make your situation better will give you extra motivation and a drive to pull through.
- Find a supportive circle.
Seek support and recognition in other environments. Not all environments will be equally supportive, but it’s important to find a circle of friends and allies, online or offline, who will validate your identity and support you through your decisions. Even if you can’t be completely yourself everywhere and with everybody, you need to have a space where you will feel safe to express yourself honestly and demand respect for your identity. For example, if you don’t feel ready to disclose your gender identity to your parents yet because you know they will not be supportive, it is perfectly okay to seek validation through the use of your correct name and pronouns from your friends, and demand the support you deserve.
If you feel alone, don’t hesitate to try your local LGBT group or organization, usually a place where you can meet other people like you, volunteer to the community, and make friends. If you can’t find such a group, the internet is always there for you, full of people who understand you and are willing to respect your experiences.
- Seek professional support.
LGBT people who face homophobia and transphobia in our society, especially if they lack a supportive environment, tend to experience mental health problems. Psychological support can really help when we feel lost, trapped, or invalidated.
Reaching out can be hard, and takes time. There are several organizations that offer free or cheap mental healthcare for LGBT people, as well as hotlines you can call to speak about your issues. Don’t deny yourself the help you deserve!
- Take your time
Things might get better. People change, people grow. But if you feel like the ground is not safe yet for your coming out, you don’t have to do it just yet.
You have a right to identity, respect, safety, and time. In any case, we’re rooting for you! You are strong, you are brave, you are honest. Take care of yourself first!