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Out of the Closet                                                                    A Gay Teen’s Guide to Escaping the Dark

Why Come Out?

Why would anyone want to come out of the closet? It’s a safe place where no one can reject you for being who you are. No one to call you a “fag” – or worse. It’s a place where rejection by those you care about is far less likely.

Okay, it might not really be a comfortable place. The closet can be claustrophobic and stressful. No room to breath or be who you really are. A place where you have to be extra careful about what you say and do. No way to have a meaningful same-sex relationship. You may have much to offer the world, but in the closet much of it is hidden away.

Acceptance in many communities is nearly universal now. Except in very religious or conservative communities you will likely find friends and classmates unfazed by your revelation. A common comment is that coming out "took the weight of the world" off their shoulders.

Why Not Come Out?

There are probably as many reasons to not come out. Some will apply to your situation, some won’t. If none of them apply to you, your chances of successfully coming out are quite good.

The world is an increasingly gay-friendly place in 2012, but it’s not completely gay-safe yet. Old attitudes still prevail in many segments of society, especially among older people, the strictly religious, and the poorly educated. Sociologists agree it’s going to take at least one more generation before that begins to change substantially.

Here are some reasons that you might not want to come out:

·  Parents or siblings unlikely to accept you

·  Parents likely to kick you out

·  Parents likely to end financial support for college

·  Heavily homophobic school or community

·  Too much potential for overall disruption in school or home life

·  Poor confidence in yourself or low popularity in school that can lead to being bullied, or increased bullying

There’s no sense in putting yourself or your future in jeopardy if you don’t have to. If you’re headed off to college eventually, that might be a safer place to be out than middle or high school. Most college communiities allow those with difficult home situations to be out at school, and in the closet at home. It’s better than nothing. Once you graduate and find a job, the dangers are even fewer, because you won’t be at risk of losing necessary financial support.

No college plans? Consider moving to a different community, or even a different part of the country where gays are better accepted before attempting to lead an openly gay life. Find work in a gay-friendly company or industry.

Other Peoples Experiences

Watch You Tube and you’ll hear a mix of tales of joy and woe in the hundreds of coming out stories posted there. However, just because someone else had a great or awful experience, that doesn’t mean yours will be the same. It may have been wonderful or scary for them, but coming out isn’t the same for everyone. Judge your situation on its own merits. You're you, not them.

Still want to do it?

If you believe your risk is low or at least acceptable, read on!

Eight Strategies for Successfully Coming Out

1) Choose the Right Time   Timing is everything when it comes to telling someone, no matter how likely (or not) acceptance is. Do it at the wrong time and the results might not be as good.

Don’t just blurt it out, and never do it when you (or they) are angry or upset. To achieve the best possible outcome you need to be as much in control of yourself and the situation as you can manage. Tell them you need to discuss a personal matter and want to set aside some time to talk.

If you are sure the reaction will be bad, it’s safest to come out after you are out on your own and self-sufficient – and far away, starting a new life. Losing family and old friends is always painful, but it may be the only choice if you really need to be out. But take heart. Even the most difficult people may come around in time. Don't lose hope.

Are you really ready for this? If you have any serious doubts about how people will react, or your own ability to deal with their reactions, don’t do it. You might need more preparation – and in certain extreme cases there might never be a truly “right” time.

2) Choose the Right Person  The first person you tell should be the one closest to you with the greatest likelihood of accepting you, immediately and without question. You want the first time to be a good experience, and you might need that person's support later on as you tell others. In most cases it will be a trusted friend or sibling, but I've known some kids who decided their parents were the safest. If your own parents are openly supportive of the gay community, show your trust and love by honoring them by coming out to them first. I'm amazed at the number of kids who are surprised when their parents tell them "we knew - we were just waiting for you to be ready to tell us on your own." Sometimes it's obvious to everyone but you. 

3) Choose the Right Place   Pick someplace private, quiet, and free from potential interruptions. Turn off the TV, stereo, and silence your cell phone. Allow plenty of time.

If you don’t feel safe coming out to a person in private, you might chose a public location. On the other hand, if someone is that unsafe, why come out to them at all? Is it absolutely necessary? Will they find out anyway? If so, it’s usually better to control the message yourself rather than let them find out through others.

4) Plan What to Say   Think about the things they might say or ask, and how you might answer them. Having answers ready makes you appear more sure of your self. If fact, you will be more confident, because you’ll be ready for them.

Bring supporting materials if you think you’ll need them. Brochures or articles written by respected mainstream mental-health professionals or gay-friendly religious people can be useful as take-home material.

Already in a same-sex relationship? If your parents are going to need time to get used to the idea of having a gay child, now might not be the best time to tell them about this, too. They've already got plenty to think about, and you don't want anyone blaming your partner for "turning you gay."

5) Test Your Audience   If you’re not sure how someone will react, think back to things they’ve said and done in the past. If they seem sympathetic to gays, you probably won’t have any great difficulty. But what if you don’t really know?

Some people will be antagonistic towards gay people only to deflect potential attacks by others. Inside, they may actually be more accepting that it first appears. One way to find out how anyone feels is to mention an event or news article dealing with gays. The key is to do it in a neutral or slightly positive way, so they don’t feel any social pressure to be negative. If their response is strongly negative, they might not be a good prospect.

6) Have a Backup Plan    Sometimes everything goes wrong, despite all your planning and preparations. In especially questionable situations where the consequences of rejection are dire, such as with parents, it’s important to have a solid backup plan in place. Here are three things you can do:

            a) Come out to a safe person or two well in advance. They may be able to help you make more objective decisions about how to proceed. A trusted gay-friendly school or other counselor is a great choice, or a close friend, relative or other adult.

            b) Ask them to be there for you if everything goes wrong. You may need a place to stay until things cool down. If you have a job, offer to pay something for room and board. Friends don’t mind providing moral support, but they shouldn’t have to pay for your food and expenses. To avoid misunderstandings, agree on the amount in advance.

           c) If you are really concerned, consider getting copies (or originals) of key documents and putting them in a safe place away from home. These might include your driver’s license, bank or checkbooks, birth certificate, social security card, and passport. Also consider opening a personal checking or savings account in a different bank under your own name, without parents’ names on the account.

7) One Parent at a Time?   If one parent is more likely to be accepting than the other, tell that parent first. They may be able to help with the other parent. If both parents are likely to be supportive, tell them together – it’s good family politics and you’ll get more respect.

8) Make It Less of a Big Deal    It might seem like a dramatic occasion to you, but there’s no need to communicate that to the whole world. The less drama the better with most people. If you take it in stride, others will be more likely to do the same. This is one of those times where less can be more. On the other hand, don't go so far as to treat it as though it's of no great consequence, especially with family. That could lead them to assume that it's just a "phase" or passing interest.

9) When You Can’t Avoid Being Emotional…   Sometimes it’s impossible to put your emotions away and be totally objective - like Star Trek’s Spock. Some friends and parents will be fine with strong emotions, others won’t. Try to know in advance which are which, and work hard to control your emotions when necessary.

Don’t worry if you honestly can’t help bursting into tears. In some cases it might even help create sympathy and bring the other person around, as well as act as a cathartic release for you. Conversely, phony theatrics are never a good idea, since most people will see right through them. Always be honest with your emotions.

Copyright 2009 Profriend - all rights reserved


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