Why Come Out?
Some of the most difficult and important decisions in the lives of gay, bisexual guys surround “coming out”_ that is, deciding to be honest and open about our sexual orientation. The fact that you are reading this page is a sign that you may be questioning your sexual orientation or you know someone who is doing so. This page aims to answer some of those questions and refer you to other helpful resources.
Gay people are everywhere, and every day, more of us are deciding to live honestly. This is critically important to our community because the only way we will stop the discrimination we face is to reveal our true selves to our friends, our families and our neighbours. It is just a fact that someone who knows a lesbian or gay person is far more likely not to be homophobic than people that only read about us in the press or know about us from gossip. So in effect, coming out may be one small step for a gay man but it contributes to the giant leap we are making for all gay people, today and in the future.
If you are thinking hard about whether and how you should come out, you’re probably wondering, “What is this going to do to my life? Will my family accept me, will my friends still like me? How do I know if this is the right thing to do?” These are all valid questions and you are not the first person – nor will you be the last – to struggle with them.
While being an openly lgay or bisexual man in this society isn’t easy, it is so much more gratifying than being in the closet. Lying and hiding, worrying that someone will discover your secret, consumes a lot of personal energy and detracts from the quality of a person’s life. No one should be denied the opportunity to thrive and flourish as a full human being because his or her sexual orientation is different from that of the majority.
Our ‘community’* has come a long way in the decades since the rebellion at the Stonewall Inn – which began the modern gay rights movement – but it still has a long way to go. And this page can’t give you all the answers about the coming out process but it will give you some. And then it will point you toward other resources that can help you as you grapple with the life-altering and potentially life-enhancing decision to come out.
It is important to emphasise that coming out is something that you should not be pressurised into and it is important that you have some support systems in place before you do so. Not everyone is in the position to be out and proud , there is no shame in staying in while you get it sorted in your own mind, it is a personal choice.
*Community is a commonly used word to describe all men and women that are not straight and it binds us together. It not meant to imply that we are all the same in any way other than in our difference to heterosexuals.
Being attracted to someone of the same sex can be frightening _ so frightening that you may deny your feelings, or throw yourself into dating the opposite sex, just to prove you are not gay.
But then the feelings come up again. You try to put them out of your mind but you can’t. Finally, you stop resisting, and in that instant, your world changes. You discover that being with someone of the same sex feels better than being with the opposite sex ever did. But what will this mean for the rest of your life?
Certainly, life is more challenging if you are gay or bisexual. It requires that you develop the courage to honour your own experience of love above anyone else’s judgments about it. But you can do it. Millions of people have, and many say it was the best thing they ever did.
How Do You Know?
There is no one way people realise that they are attracted to the same sex. Some always know it. Some learn it at puberty. Some figure it out it in school, college or Uni. Some recognise it only after getting married to someone of the opposite sex. But whenever the feelings come up, almost everyone wonders: How do I know if I’m really gay or bisexual?
On the one hand, it’s very simple: If your strongest emotional and sexual attractions are to people of the same sex, you’re gay. If they’re equally strong to the same and the opposite sex, you’re bisexual. Of course, that is a generalisation, it is hardly that simple. Many believe that there is a sliding scale of sexuality with 1 being heterosexual and 10 being gay and most of us are somewhere in between and just what number we feel we are probably changes throughout our life one way or the other.
On the other hand, sexual orientation is confusing because most of us were raised to think of ourselves as heterosexual. Our parents, teachers and our culture told us that some day, we’d meet someone of the opposite sex and get married. No one ever said we might fall in love with someone of the same sex. That’s why we’re shocked when it happens. I can certainly recall my parents saying things like “You wait to you have kids of your own”. No girl is going to fancy you if you don’t watch your appearance” … “Oh, he’s going to break a few girls hearts when he gets older”. Strange that the last one there was closer than they could have imagined!
Unless there’s someone gay in your family, you probably never considered the possibility that you yourself might be gay or bisexual. Moreover, you probably have heard many negative stereotypes of gay and bisexual people _ but most of these are based on erroneous or inadequate information; what you need are the facts. The truth is, there are very few ‘facts’. No one yet knows what causes homosexuality. Is it nature or nurture? That debate will rage for years. In reality though, it doesn’t change anything that we don’t know how it happens.
The Facts About Homosexuality
No one knows how many people are gay, lesbian or bisexual. The best estimates we currently have indicate that about 6 percent of the population is gay. However, even the most reputable estimates are coloured by the fact that many people are afraid or unwilling to be identified as gay or lesbian, even in an anonymous survey. So the true number is probably even higher. But whatever the number, the facts are the same:
Homosexuality is Not a Choice; Homosexuality Chooses You
Some people say that homosexuality is a choice to discourage you from being in a gay relationship. But think about it for a minute: Did you choose to have feelings of same-sex attraction? Why would you? The fact is: Homosexuality is not a choice any more than being left-handed or having blue eyes or being heterosexual is a choice. It’s an orientation, a part of who you are. The choice is in deciding how to live your life.
Gay People Are Mentally Healthy
Many experts since around the 1970’s have concluded that homosexuality is not e mental disorder. Nonetheless, some people might try to tell you that you are sick and that you need professional help to “change.” There is no scientifically valid evidence that people can change their sexual orientations, although some people do repress it. But because being gay is not a disorder, there is really no reason to try change yourself.
But it’s OK to seek help in dealing with the confusing feelings you might be having about your sexual orientation. Coming out is a major life decision and as with reaching any other personal milestone, you might seek professional help through the process. Just remember: The anxiety you are feeling is probably the result of family or social prejudice against homosexuality, not homosexuality itself.
Being Gay or Lesbian is Natural
You’ve probably heard people say that men are “meant” to be with women, and women with men, that being gay or lesbian goes against nature and morality. But if homosexuality were unnatural, why would it occur, generation after generation, despite strong societal prohibitions? The fact is same-sex love has occurred throughout history, in every nation and culture on Earth. It is a natural variation among humans, and if you look hard enough, you’ll probably also discover that it has occurred somewhere in your family’s history. When people say homosexuality is unnatural, they mean it is against their preconceived idea of what is natural. Take a search on the web, you will discover that many species on the planet have been proven to have homosexual tendencies, it is just part of life.
Being Gay is Not a “Lifestyle,” It’s a Life
It’s sometimes said that gay and lesbian people live a gay “lifestyle,” a word chosen to trivialise us and to imply that all gay men and lesbians subscribe to the same values, characteristics and dreams. The fact is we’re not all the same any more than heterosexuals are. Some of us have one lifelong relationship, some have many. Some wear distinctive clothing, some do not. Some are liberal, some are conservative. Some are affluent, others are poor. The only thing we all have in common is that we love people of the same sex. What is your stereotype of a gay man and do you match it? I know I didn’t! For me, gay men were macho guys with a moustache and wore loads of leather and danced to ‘YMCA’ and that was so not me. The point here is, you are what you are and what you are is as valid as what any other guy is be he straight or gay. There’s another word ‘straight’ it implies that not being straight you are in some way warped and that is what it is meant to do. The very word is prejudiced but we have to accept that for now some things are not going to change and if we use these words ourselves it reduces their impact.
Gay Men Constitute Families
Some people talk as if there are two options in life: You can marry someone of the opposite sex and become a family or you can be gay and be excluded from the definition of family. This is patently untrue and is a position perpetuated by religious political extremists who have a stake in portraying gay people as outside the mainstream. The fact is that lesbian or gay male couples are as much family as heterosexual couples.
And if you dream about having children, you can do so if you’re gay. Many gay couples have children through adoption, surrogacy or previous relationships. Some may enter into parenting arrangements with lesbian friends. Plus, all the scientific evidence to date shows the children of gay couples are just as likely to grow up happy and well-adjusted as the children of heterosexual relationships. That you are here on this site reading this suggests you probably already have children and you will come up against the issue of you not being a ‘proper’ family quite often. You have every right to defend your position as a dad. Your sexuality will not translate to your children either, that is another myth. What your coming out and being happy about it will do is enable any gay or lesbian kids you have to also be open about their sexuality and certainly to be more accepting of the sexuality of their peers.
Some of the Most Talented People Are or Were Gay or Lesbian
If anyone ever suggests that your life won’t add up to anything if you’re gay, remind them that: Plato was a lover of men. So were Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. So were Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, and James Baldwin. Shakespeare wrote about a man’s love for a man. Poet Emily Dickinson wrote about her love for a woman.
More recently, musicians such as the late Stephen Gateley of Boyzone, Boy George, George Michael, Elton John, David Bowie and K.D. Lang … many others will emerge in the passage of time.
Coming out means identifying yourself as gay, or bisexual. The first and toughest person you have to reveal this to is yourself. Then you can deal with friends and family. For many people, the coming out process is difficult. But most people come out because, sooner or later, they can’t stand hiding who they are any more. Once they’ve come out, most people have to admit: It feels much better to be open and honest than to lie and hide.
Coming Out to Yourself
“When I was growing up, I felt there was something about me that made me different from other kids. But I didn’t have know what it was,” Have you ever thought that?
“I had a few crushes on guys, some were really cute. Inside, these feelings were right and normal. But at the same time, I didn’t have any way to process those feelings because I didn’t know any gay people or know that I knew them. I felt that I would risk something if I expressed my feelings.” Sound familiar?
Coming out to yourself means recognising and accepting that you’re primarily attracted to the same sex. But how do you get from recognition to acceptance? It helps to talk to someone. But who? And what should you say?
Coming Out to Others
Some people come out when someone asks them if they’re gay. Others make a point of pulling people aside and saying, “There’s something I have to tell you.”
If you choose the latter option, ask yourself: “Who is the most open-minded and caring person I know who is also the least likely to be shocked, threatened or put off?” This might be a friend, a relative or a teacher. Tell that person you have questions about your sexual orientation, or you’re trying to come to terms with your sexual orientation, and you’d like to talk. Say you’ve come to them because you trust them. The important thing is … if you have a wife and kids, be sure that the person you choose is not going to go running to them because ‘they’ feel they have a right to know. Whoever you choose needs to understand that this really is between the two of you, they may never tell anyone else and if they cannot handle that, don’t tell them.
If you don’t already know someone like this, consider talking to a school counsellor, a therapist, or a member of a gay and lesbian student group. Gay Support Groups exist across the UK and in many places across the world. Most have telephone support lines and you don’t have to visit or call a local group, any would be happy to speak to you. You might seek out nearby churches or synagogues that minister primarily to lesbians and gay men. And there are many gay youth and coming out sites on the World Wide Web.
Of course, the most difficult thing for a gay dad to do is to come out to his kids and for that you need to go back to the faqs and read the section on ‘coming out to kids’ in there.
Testing the Waters
You can get a sense of how accepting your friends and family are by the things they say, or don’t say, when the subject of homosexuality comes up in conversation. You might try to bring it up yourself by talking about gay issues in the news – such as debates over equal rights in the workplace for lesbians and gays, gay vicars, gay people on TV. If your friends’ or your family’s reactions are positive, chances are they’ll be more accepting of you. But keep in mind that it’s easier for most people to accept gay men and lesbians in the abstract; it’s a bit different when it’s “my son” or “my daughter” or even “my best friend.”
When you’re ready to come out to your friends, you may be lucky enough to have some gay or lesbian friends to help you. But heterosexual friends can also be staunch supporters. Choose carefully as you reveal this fundamental part of yourself. Many gay people find that the friends they thought would be most judgmental were the first to drop them, while those who seemed unlikely allies offered the strongest support. Along the way, you might lose a few people whom you thought were friends. But you’ll learn many valuable lessons about what the word “friendship” means.
What you will probably find is that the new friends you make in your new ‘out’ life will more than compensate you for those people you thought were your friends before.
Most of the time, your current straight friends may appear cool about it but slowly they will drift away. It’s not because they don’t like you anymore but more that they just don’t know how to relate to you now. Before it was all football, tits, beer and sex but now they feel dead uncomfortable bringing up sex, they may well assume you have no interest in sport because you are gay (they may well be right). They are just not ready to start talking about cute guys and curtains. You just need to decide whether you want to carry on and word through the awkwardness or whether to just let them go.
Spirituality and Coming Out
Many people find strength and support from their faith as they struggle to come out as gay or bisexual. At first, this might sound like a contradiction, since so many organised religions teach that homosexuality is wrong or immoral. But most religions also teach that God is merciful.
This is an experience many people go through. Faced with a conflict between their religion and their feelings, many people come to realise that the God they truly believe in could never condemn people for loving. Some people find their spirituality even helps them come out.
There are many churches that openly support and welcome gay men, just look out for them and ignore the other ones that have no idea who God is because they have been corrupted over the years by prejudice and power.