We all have to 'come out' about ourselves at some point.
Sometimes it can be a partial or limited coming-out to a loved one only, or just a very small number of trusted friends. I know of people who have proceeded on this basis, and have managed to find an equilibrium, a balance between what they really need to do and what is practical. It still requires courage to reveal what may yet blow their lives apart. It certainly doesn't mean that they are half-hearted: they might be making a colossal personal sacrifice for the sake of what they hold precious. To put oneself second, and others first, is in these circumstances a grave personal decision that only the individual concerned can make. If it works, it is a noteworthy achievement. There is, of course, absolutely no rule that says 'all persons with something to declare must come out, and must tell everyone'.
Others however might desperately want to come out fully, to everyone, and get their life sorted, and on track, with no holding back and no compromises made. This requires not just the willingness to take the anticipated backlash, and a determination to see it through, but also a certain technique.
What is this technique? What are the best things to say, and how to say them? What should one insist upon, to make the coming-out effective? What should not be said or agreed to?
I wish I had managed my own coming out better. I mismanaged it in the first few months. I agreed to secrecy at first, and my parents did not learn the news from myself personally. I was too easily manoeuvred into feeling guilty, into apologising, into keeping it secret, and into appeasement, all so that the important persons in my life would be spared trauma and embarrassment.
Of course, this only prolonged the agony. All that initial consideration was eventually forgotten. It made no difference. It would have been more honest, more realistic, kinder in every way, to say plainly from the beginning - and to everyone - what the position was, and where it must inevitably lead, and not get sidetracked into justifications and debate and promises to 'go slow'. The need to transition isn't a philosophical notion, to be debated at leisure. It's about self-perception, self-knowledge, the pressure these things impose, the urgency of remedial action, and the strain of not doing anything about it.
So, back to those coming-out techniques. In the last two days, I have discovered a website run by a man who had to come out, and, like me, got off to a shaky start but eventually saw what the right way was. His name is Trevor Diamond. He is a gay man, but when I read his advice - which follows verbatim - I was struck how applicable most of it was to the trans situation, especially for the younger person who still might face parental disapproval. See what you think. I emailed him, asking permission to reproduce his words on this blog, and he sent that this morning. His website is at http://www.trevord.com/. His coming-out advice is at http://www.trevord.com/out/ and reads as follows.
Remember that these are the words of a gay man, so you must consider how Trevor's advice would need to be amended for a trans coming-out. In the main, I don't think there would be any significant changes.
Trevor's Coming Out Tips for Gay Men
It is always fun to receive feedback and hear from people who have read this.
Do feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
How this started
I often meet people who are struggling a bit with coming out and end up talking about it and helping them. I found myself saying the same things to people over and over again. Basically just conveying what I have learned over the years - what I wished I would have known when I was 12!
Anyway, in June '99, Attitude Magazine was looking for three sets of gay sons and their fathers to do an article which looked at their relationships. My Dad and I agreed to do it. I decided that I'd like to get some of my tips into the interview and so I began typing up my thoughts. I just got carried away and this was the result!
I'm sure some people will feel my ideas are too opinionated. I have written them in a very black and white way - partly to get my points across - but partly because I really do feel quite passionately about them. Of course, I realise that people's situations are very different and one can't always be so idealistic - but I reckon that it's a pretty good aiming point. Perhaps something to work towards.
Someone recently said to me that after reading my guide they felt like they had "come out to their parents all wrong" and needed to correct their position on things. I was immediately reminded that in fact my coming out to parents was actually the same. I had to go back and put right my first attempt! I had kinda "peeped" out my closet at 19 and said all the wrong things to my parents. It wasn't until I was 28 that I did it anything like properly.
Just remember that it's too easy to get out of doing the big deed when you're understandably scared. Don't shy away from it. It'll be the best thing you ever did when you look back in time. So "feel the fear and do it anyway".
If you need a reason to come out - make it this. Do it for others ahead of you. You see, I've met so many straight people now who tell me the same story. They were pretty homophobic until they actually spent time with someone gay or someone they knew already and liked came out to them. I'm convinced that it's this process that breaks down prejudice more than any other and so the future happiness of generations of gay people quite literally lies in your hands.
I hope my tips have some sort of universal truth to them. Don't dismiss the ideas too quickly - that's all to easy to do when you're scared!
0. You're a star
Yes I mean you......the one considering coming out!!! You're fantastic. You're brave. You are doing the right thing. I love you already.
You're thinking about doing the most important thing you'll do for yourself in life most probably. It's about really making friends with yourself. Connecting mind and body again.
1. Do your homework
The very act of coming out makes a kind of statement which often will challenge people's strongly held prejudices. Don't worry - you're right - they're wrong!! But for goodness sake make sure you know the arguments. Be able to answer confidently and deal with objections in an intelligent way. Like it or not you will become a "homosexual ambassador"! Essential reading is definitely some coming out books. It will help you be a more relaxed and assertive gay man in any case!
I reccommend "A Stranger in the Family" and "Assertively Gay" both by Terry Sanderson.
(The first one is a great "leave behind" for parents & family. It'll tell them everything you wanted to say but may have forgotten or just reiterate what you said already.)
2. Get the point of coming out
It's NOT about admitting guilty secrets.
It's NOT about shame and being sorry.
It's something altogether more positive and has two parts:-
(a) It's about no more lies. It's having a moment of truth in your life and then making a habit of truth from then on and for evermore. It's about gaining dignity and getting a life.
(By the way - no cheating - you can lie by omission as well! What you've NOT been saying also a kinda lie. So it's also about speaking up when you have previously been mute.)
(b) It's about being a full adult....and that involves enjoying sex and acknowledging your sexual needs and life as normal and desirable.
I'm going to stick my neck out here - I'm sick and tired of people telling me that guys who choose not to come out are being completely adult about it - they are "just living life a different way"...."because of their job"...their whatever. They aren't. I believe that are just scared. They're misguided. They're kidding themselves. They just intellectualise their decision. It stinks and they know it.
Now don't get me wrong here. I would *always* defend a closeted gay man's right to privacy every step of the way. I'm not for "outing" people. (Unless they're homophobes themselves - then I have no sympathy.)
Closety gay men have all sorts of ways of justifying their self destructive behaviour. One irksome and really silly one is that they tell you things like - "Being gay is only a small part of my life". "It's only what I do in bed". That's as silly as saying that eating is a small matter in life. Your sexuality pervades your whole personality in complex ways. It affects your drives in life. Your relationships. Your ways of looking at things.
These closety people are also being selfish. They are leaving us to do all the work. They are not thinking about what they can do for others who follow. Often, because you have the guts they dream about, they appear to hate you. It's not helpful. You would think they would at least be on your side. In my experience closet queens can be the worst homophobes!
Coming out is the single most useful and political thing you could do. You affect countless people around you....reducing homophobia and increasing understanding.
3. No way to "Don't tell"
Don't agree to avoid telling certain people. Out is Out.
This seems to apply especially when coming out to parents. You know - "Well darling you've told us now but nobody else need know about it." Or "Grannie and your Auntie Sadie must never know about it".
If you are being asked this kinda stuff - they aren't getting it. They are thinking "secrets and shame" and they should be thinking "let him be be free, honest and get on with an adult life".
Not only does this apply to Grannie and Auntie Sadie - it also applies in a similar way to......
The Rabbi / Vicar:
You must respect a persons right to hold their religious beliefs. You don't have to respect their homophobia. The flip side is that they must respect your right to be seperate from them and they can't restrain you as an adult or should they be making you feel lesser than them because you are a non-believer.
Personally I think organised religion is rather mentally unhealthy. I understand what people get out of it - I used to be knee deep in it myself - but I reckon there are better ways to achieve a sense of spirituality, a social environment and support network which don't involve fairy stories and most importantly are more inclusive and don't operate through guilt.
Younger Brother and Sister:
There's no lower age limit to telling. I mean - would we ask how old a child has to be before they are told their parent or older brother is Black? Jewish? Disabled? Of course not. I have two children of my own and they always knew - certainly by 4 years old. It all about using appropriate language for their age - especially talking in terms of who you love. Also helping them understand homophobia and being sensitive to any teasing that might occur and being there to support them and nip it in the bud.
Children don't see any in-built reasons why people that love each other shouldn't be of the same sex. It's homophobic adults that teach them these ideas. Love is love. Attraction is attraction. Kids seem to instinctively understand that.
Don't be defeated intellectually with the "you're ramming it down our throats" thing. What planet are these straight people on?! They have been "ramming their sexuality down our throats" all of our lives in every way possible. That's the point.
You must make them see that this is not about "Don't ask don't tell". It's about living openly......like they do!
4. Equality is a powerful concept and easy to understand
Learn a lesson from Stonewall's (www.stonewall.org.uk) strategy. Equality is a simple idea for people to understand and it's hard (but how they try) to argue against it. If they do they show themselves to be prejudiced.
Keep reminding them of the parallels. "But my brother David has his girlfriends to stay. It's no different Mum."
5. There are some people you have to just tell - just accept it
I know it feels funny to say "Auntie Sadie I have something to tell you. Something I feel I have been hiding....." But the reality is that you have lead certain people on (mainly family and friends) for years. You have to put them right. The thing is - it's a one-off exercise. Once they're told - it's done. Then you only have new people to deal with. Much easier and you can develop a natural way to do it. (see later)
6. How to tell new people and when
The guideline I use is that little voice inside telling me "I know he thinks I am straight and it's become relavent to the conversation so I can duck and dive or put him right".
You shouldn't be even considering "ducking and diving". It's a no-brainer now - remember. You are "out"! Just answer honestly.
Also...don't you go letting your work change any of that. It's not worth it. Never. I once had an potential employer offer me a lucrative senior job over dinner but tell me "I have no problem knowing you're gay but the customers must never find out." He missed the point. I ate his expensive dinner....lovely it was...then I emailed him and explained why I wouldn't be taking the job!
7. Be who you want to be - but most of all be yourself
The aren't any official ways to be gay. No rules. It's a blank sheet. My advice is stay who you are. If you want to be a Julian Clary lookalike and that's your thing - then fine. But if you're the sporty lad next door - you still can be. Don't spoil yourself by trying to fit in. Find others who appreciate you for what you are.
8. It's the way you tell it
- Use the "highest motives"
Remind your parents that you are telling them *because* they brought you up to be an honest person and because you love them and have integrity.
- Don't be a pathetic apology
Read (2) again!
- Show vunerability
Don't be frightened of showing you care. You are worried by their reaction. You want their support. Crying is allowed. Emotional family scenes are fine. Do the hugging an weeping and stuff. Holding it in is not playing a trump card - that it's real. That it means something to you. The memories of how you were will start them thinking about things from YOUR point of view. Not just theirs.
- Show maturity
Be emotional sure...but try not to say things you regret. Don't lose the plot - even if it goes badly. Don't get egg on your face. They are the ones not being the model parents just now. Earning their respect may be a long-haul but you will make it harder if you lose it and tell them all to fuck off.
If you do - hey - shit happens - make sure you apologise. But ONLY for being rude. Being gay isn't something to apologise for.
9. You can't feel good about being gay if you don't feel good about gay sex
Sort it out. Stop worry about being a slapper or becoming a sexual compulsive. A little experience doesn't do anyone any harm and tends to lead to more mature relationship decisions later on. Just make it safe and always be honest with the people who are sleeping with.
Don't be frightened of letting yourself go. My motto is "If it's not dirty you ain't doin it right!". Sex is meant to be erotic. It's not a sin to feel lustful and horny in my book.
Make sure you feel comfortable with the person you are with. "If in doubt - leave it out". Don't be pushed into a situation you don't want. Be assertive. Say no if that's what you want to do.
Don't cheat. If you are in a relationship and promised monogomy...then do it. If you feel you can't make it work and want an open relationship....then discuss it and negotiate it. Do what works for you...but don't start lying again. The whole point of coming out it to drop a lying-habit.
10. Don't fall victim to "Reasons not to tell". (Otherwise known as the game of "Yes but")
There are always reasons not to come out to parents. I bet here's some of your possible excuses:-
- I need their money
- I'll get chucked out
- They are too old
- They are too ill
- They are too conservative - they would never understand
- They are religious
- It would upset them
- I'll wait until such and such a time
11. Don't wait until you don't feel scared. You always will.
Look - they're your Mum and Dad and you're about to tell them that "their little honey" likes dicks. It's gonna feel scary. Whatever. Whenever.
The point is that it takes courage to come out. You don't need courage if you aren't a little scared. It's natural to be frightened. You'll gain strength from feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
12. What you think will happen- might not happen. What you think won't happen - might happen
In my experience - however certain you are about how a given person will react - they may surprise you. You might *think* you know your Mum or Dad but you never can tell. People have more depth and complexity than we give them credit for.
13. After you have done it - it's only like the first day at school
After you've come out I reckon it's like a first day in a new school. It's scary and feels new and exciting but part of you wants to hide away - go back in sometimes even! You'll soon get used to it and don't look back.
Remember that you actually GAIN strength each time you come out to someone.
You've only just started to sort it out. You need practice at being an out gay man for some time before it feels natural.
14. Give them time
Whatever their reaction - however bad - it's only a starting point.
They'll get used to it. Give them time. You've had loads.
Things will get better.
15. Get some gay friends
Having gay friends is probably the most important thing a gay man needs in life. You need people who are like you around you for a million reasons. No one will understand things from your perspective like someone else in the same boat.
16. Prepare for the worst ... but remember it normally doesn't happen.
A close friend you can go over to. Stay with? Remember, if you are a young person who has become homeless because of your sexuality there's special charity who can help - the Albert Kennedy Trust. Others like Shelter, etc are very sympathetic too..
17. The earler you do it - the more of your life you get back
Don't waste your life. Do it now. Society has already cheated you of some dignity - get as much as you can back.
I've met 14 y/olds who have come out these days. Bravo for them. They are my little heroes. (Did you see the story of the 16 y/old who is sueing his school for failing to adequately protect him from bullying? Wow.) They are being gay men for all of their adult lives......just in the same way as a straight guy sees himself as straight for all of his adult life.
18. Realise that (in general) the parent's bond to the child is strong.
It's a big big thing for a parent to reject a child. They may be angry they may react badly but the odds are on for them coming to terms with it all and healing the wounds in the longer term......if you want it enough.
Even if you don't reckon you have a good relationship with them - it may even be the turning point.
19. Try to make them the first ... or at least one of the first people to know
Don't let them find out through others. It's so rude and hurtful. You'd kick yourself if they are fine about it and are simply hurt that they discovered it through others.
20. Don't wimp out. Always remember you are a man - just a gay man
Tell your parents. Don't construct a situation where they ask or find out by "accident".
Show them that you may be a "poof" but you are still a bloke.......or as my Mum would say in her best Yiddish....."be a mensch".
(a) The Gay Times left on bedroom floor trick ain't too polite.
(b) Sticking as many pin-ups from "Sugar" on your walls as you can coupled with and taking ages in the bathroom, etc etc aint a way forward. [Nobody's stopping you doing this of course - but it ain't a substitute for a simple conversation.]
(c) Having your Mum or Dad walk in on you and your boyfriend shagging is not a good way to tell them either.
Have the guts to tell them properly - they changed your nappies didn't they?
21. Do them together if possible
Hard one this. It's best if you tell them together if at all possible. That way there's no competition between them. But I can see that there may be times when a person is much closer to one parent or simply won't see the other for ages and it needs to be done one at a time.
Fine - as long as you don't agree to "not tell the other".
22. After you've told them - use the more sympathetic one to get the other to be more positive
Let Mum or Dad - whoever is more ok about it all fight some of your battles with the other.
For example - I knew that my Mum was in charge. It was obvious that if my Dad wouldn't play ball she would withdraw sex, washing, ironing and cooking. Impossible odds for my Dad!! Sorted.
23. Use the media
Watching films like "Beautiful Thing" and "Get Real" with your parents will really help your case. Get them on video.....essential I'd say. They are funny, great films and very entertaining.
Take them to plays. Point out stuff on T.V. Buy them books. Point out Web Sites, articles in the papers....whetever.
TV, Radio, Books, Plays, Films, Web, Papers, Magazines
You may find that they really love it. My Mum will often read my Pink Paper for example.
24. Use your friends
In the nicest possible way of course...
...pick a gay friend or two that your Mother & Father would like and get them over. Let your parents spend low pressure time with them. If you can organise it - go shopping with Mum, go out to dinner, whatever. Get them used to people who they like who are also gay.
Famous ones are especially useful here! (Apologies to any who may be reading. I love you really. Honest I do!) But let's face it - they somehow add credibility to the whole affair. That's why it helps people so much when they do come out themselves!!!
Anway - now repeat the exercise with the more unusual ones who will be harder for your parents to accept. Don't sanitise the thing for them - just get them used to gay people starting with the easy ones.
25. Get involved with doing something more for others
Join Stonewall. Volunteer to work on switchboard. Become a THT "buddy". Write an article for the School Magazine (and argue with them when they won't publish!). Help a friend come out. Whatever it is ... helping others is a positive thing to do, makes us feel good and actually helps us connect with ourselves somehow.
26. HIV and AIDS
Don't freak. It isn't easy to get HIV. Just know the score and stick to the current advice. In short - you can have a healthy, horny - and busy - sex life without being at substantial risk from HIV.
Read the current literature from THT and local Health Authority initiatives.
Find your local GUM / Sexual Health Clinic and get regular sexual health checks (inc HIV if U feel better having it) Also - get the jabs you can get for for Hep A / B etc.
27. You have to come out again and again - all your life
You will be coming out to people over and over again. Eventually you get practiced at it. It's becomes more like just "correcting something they didn't get right about you" and not the big event with deep breaths.
Every time gets easier.
Of course you don't want to become one of those people who shake your hand for the first time and practically say "Hi. I am Peter and I am Gay". However, you will probably find yourself correcting someone's idea that you are straight pretty quickly but quite naturally.
I don't worry about timing. It just happens.
e.g. Today I was asked by a neighbour what I did this weekend. I told him I'd been to Leeds to see the Mr Gay UK competition. (He asked. I answered.)
At dinner with a customer...."So Trevor, you married." I'd probably say "No...but I'd love to be if only I could find the right guy. And you?"
Make it normal. Be direct. Make it seem an ordinary fact which you have no problem with and that isn't a secret. Public information in fact.
28. Use the "G" word
How may times have you heard someone say "Well when he told me he was - I was so surprised" or "I knew I was at about 14".
Was what? Can't they say GAY for goodness sake. It's the same people who look around the room to see who might overhear as well.
The more you say Gay the easier it will be.
Remember Out means Out!
A LITTLE SUMMARY
What it takes:-
(1) A decision to be "out" - not 1/2 out, not "Out to some" but completely out.
(2) Courage. Not waiting until you aren't scared - cos u will ALWAYS be. Believe me. Anyway -you don't need courage if U aren't scared. Being brave is about tackling something you *are* frightened to do but know is good for you. [1st day at school]
(3) Some gay friends and good times spent together.
(4) Books, films and information. e.g. The books "A stranger in the family", "Assertively Gay" - Terry Sanderson. The films "Get Real" and "Beautiful Thing". Get some knowledge, understanding and do some thinking about gay politics and to the damage done to our personalities because of how we are made to feel as gay teens and young adults.
(5) Some self-respect
So there you have it. If you have started to come out, and it isn't going well, or if you have yet to take the plunge, the above advice may assist. I hope you won't shoot this man down. I think he produced a very helpful guide as to the approach anyone might take in any kind of coming-out situation, not just gay or trans. The key ideas for me were honesty, taking control of the process, and being adult and natural about it all.
There is still the question of coming-out to new people in your life, after the first mass disclosure is over. Trevor touches on this at tip 27. But it's a big subject, and there may be a difference here between being gay and being trans. Gay persons don't generally look 'gay' but trans people often do look 'trans'. I am assuming that my own transness is easily detectable. If anyone wants to discuss it, and they seem friendly, then I will be ready to speak. If they don't notice, or may have but clearly don't care, then I will let sleeping dogs lie, unless closer acquaintance and looming intimacy prompt a declaration.