On Coming Out
Overwhelmingly, society is not accommodating to an LGBTQ identity. In fact the hostility that exists in response to the existence of LGBTQ individuals crosses the spectrum from tacit silence when witnessing homophobia to all out violence against individuals, to entire swathes of the populace condemning the community’s very existence. This is the atmosphere most LGBTQ people are born into and brought up in the midst of. Unless individuals are lucky enough to have been born into a family that is accepting and sensitive to their childrens’ differences - the onslaught begins in the very spot a child is supposed to feel safest – right at home.
Isolation is unique to this minority - African American children don’t need to muster up the courage to eventually tell their parents that they are black for fear that they will be hated for their difference, disowned or thrown out of their homes. LGBTQ children do. The latest evidence backs this up – more than 40% of runaway homeless children are LGBTQ identified - (See The Williams Institute 2013 findings for this and other staggering statistics -
This is immensely disproportionate in that purportedly up to only 10% of the population identifies as LGBTQ. Teen and young adult suicide attempts display the same disproportionate numbers. The tragedy is that successful suicides are marred by shame-based silence and cover ups by families that will not air dirty LGBTQ laundry after the fact for fear of ridicule and stigma - so the proportionality of the numbers of such suicides are simply not known or reliable. My fear is that they are staggeringly high.
It is not surprising, therefore, that LGBTQ identified individuals exhibit trauma responses associated with their sense of safety in the world. Why shouldn't they? - It is a world that is built to bully them. This is the field upon which they must then come out and pronounce themselves - as the very people society has deemed acceptable to condemn?
Coming out requires a paradigm shift in the thinking of an LGBTQ individual that is tantamount to walking out of a bomb shelter in the midst of a war.
It is beyond mustering up courage, it is about discarding, in one feel swoop, all of the defenses that up until that moment we had erected in order to survive. It is a ritualistic purging of all armor that paradoxically erases the need for it.
This is why this process is intensely personal, can be terrifying and whenever possible requires support, understanding, and love. Practically it also may well require planning, timing and strategy. For example, it may not be wise for a dependent child to come out prior to their 18th birthday or before they have a safety plan in place that gives them alternate forms of moral, emotional and financial support.
While I use the term Coming Out as if it were a single event, it is indeed a process where layers of homo-negativity, installed by experience, fear, shame get discarded - much like the armor that protected us early on. This occurs at every step of coming out and continues throughout the adult life of LGBTQ individuals.
In fact many of the consequences of having had to erect this “bomb shelter” to survive, come to roost as adults. The defenses we had put in place, including systematic self-negation, now have become maladaptive to forming a sustainable sense of self.
Indeed: "We see gay men who have never been sexually or phsycially assaulted with the similar post-traumatic stress symptoms to people who have been in combat situations or who have been raped: says Alex Keuroghlian, a psychiatrist at the Fenway Insitute's Center for Population Research in LGBT Health.
It is a testament to the courage and resilience of such individuals that they seek out support during every part of this process. It is with this mindset of respect and admiration that I work with my LGBTQ clients – you are survivors.