Let’s Talk (Again) About Coming Out
If you pay attention to such things you will no doubt have noticed that today is/was National Coming Out Day which I wrote about last year as well. This time around,though, I’d like to dig a bit into the unspoken implications connected to this even – which I freely admit I contributed to last year (and probably will again, somewhat, in this post) – the unintentional pressure applied to the closeted when what is meant is encouragement.
I’ve seen a few comments on social media today that rightly observed that just because a day is set aside to provide emotional support and encouragement to those contemplating coming out, that we should be careful to not present the national conversation in such a way as to sound scolding towards those who don’t or can’t, and I’d like to over-analyze that just a bit. It seems to me that in any act of coming out, there are four levels of consequences which have to be anticipated and evaluated, and thought given to their relative weight in the decision to reveal your true nature to the world. Even though I’m aware that in the broader culture “coming out” has a stronger gay/lesbian connotation that a trans connotation, I’m going to frame this within the context of my own experience as a transsexual woman.
The first layer is the wholly positive effects. For a person who’s suffering from severe dysphoria, depression, or just malaise due to being closeted, the very act oof freeing yourself from the mask and stepping into the light has an undeniable a purely positive effect on one’s mental health and quality of life. Seen in isolation of other effects, this part of the outcome borders on sheer unadulterated joy. Beyond that, for some individuals recovering a positive outlook on life has a positive effect on their relationships with others and when family or friends are found supportive this further increases the quality of life for both the individual and their loved ones.
The second layer are the neutral effects. There’s not much to say her except to acknowledge their existence. Some parts of one’s life go on apace regardless of whether you are out, or closeted.
The third level is one I’ll call Tolerable effects. These are negative outcomes, by definition, but things which the individual finds to carry less weight than the positive effect above. For example, perhaps you have a relatively deep natural voice as I do, and you find it near impossible to have a phone conversation without being called “sir” constantly. I don’t like it, it is disturbing and sometimes angering to me every time it happens but…I’d rather accept the existence of this problem as not have transitioned. For a much more serious example, what if you fear losing your job? or being divorced by your spouse? Is that outcome something you can persevere through, or a “deal breaker”? Different individuals will have different answers. Which brings me to…
Intolerable effects. This will not be the same for every person contemplating coming out. For some it might literally be physically unsafe to do so (a teen living at home with a potentially abusive parent for example), for others, it might mean a loss of income which prevents them from supporting a dependent who relies heavily or entirely upon them, for still others, the potential loss of the ongoing relationships (with a lover, or a child) might be more than they can bear. It is certainly not the place of any among us to insist that the closeted individual pay a greater price than they can bear in this ugly world that DOES levy a surcharge on the act of revealing yourself. Between this third and fourth level different people will reach different conclusion about which of their potential losses fall in which group.
With that said – Come Out. If you can, if you, personally, do not file anything major in the fourth group that you JUST CAN’T endure, come out. And be cautious not to put into Group Four what you really ought to be putting in group three. Is there some “best friend” in your life that you expect to reject you? Are you really willing to make yourself miserable for maybe even the rest of your life in order to not lose someone who’d be so willing to lose you? That’s just one example, but hopefully the point is made. Coming out is not something to be done for light or transitory reasons, but neither is it something to be rejected for light reasons. Why?
Beyond your own mental health – WE NEED YOU. As I wrote last time, progress on issues like equality s made in very large part on the backs of the non- person actually KNOWING and hopefully caring about a member of the oppressed class. The public opinion on equality for gays and lesbians shifted in direct relationship to the percentage of the population who affirms they actually know someone who is gay or lesbian. The same does and will apply to trans people. As I write this there are still too many (by far) non-trans folks don”t (knowingly) know anyone who’s trans.
Particularly in this day when the powers that be are obsessed with legislating us out of existence, the time has never been more urgent for those who would be oppressed to stand up for themselves and, in so doing potentially pull some much needed allies into the fight as well. Think about it.
Photo by Micadew