Something unique to non-heterosexuals is this idea that we must “come out” and share our sexual orientation in order to eliminate societies default assumption that people are straight. In my personal experience, coming out has proved both useful and necessary in a variety of situations. My immediate family did not suspect that I was gay. Many friends were unsure. People can’t always tell at first glance. Coming out to people clears up the confusion and questions.
I suspect reasons for delaying coming out vary from person to person. The fact of the matter is that coming out is scary and LGBT people weigh many factors each time the decision is made.
- How will coming out affect my relationship with this person?
- Will this change the dynamic of our friendship?
- Will this person still accept me?
- How will they react? Do they already know?
The question of whether or not a person already knows can be particularly unnerving. If you suspect the person has absolutely no idea, then the decision to come out to them becomes even more sensitive. You have no idea what will happen after you tell them. Will coming out make them look at you differently? Sometimes you want to casually remind them that you’re still the same person in hopes of minimizing that impact.
If family and friends express that they have had suspicions, I’ve found this can feel strangely comforting. It is like the person already knew but wanted confirmation. It seems to lighten the blow of the information and reduces tension from the conversation. I’ve found these discussions to be the easiest.
What I haven’t had to deal with until recently is something slightly different. Coming out to people who I know already know that I’m gay.
In case that sounds a little confusing, allow me to explain.
Take my family, for example. When I came out to my parents awhile back, I know my dad turned around and told several of my family members what I had told him. While my extended family knowing is not a problem as far as I’m concerned, the fact that they didn’t hear it from me is. To this day, I still haven’t had this conversation with most of them and as I think about the future, I continue to weigh this frustrating family dynamic in the back of my mind.
If I come out to them and they act surprised, I’ll know they’re pretending. If they ask why I waited so long to tell them, I’m not sure I’ll have an answer. Even if they showed some form of disapproval, I’d probably be more upset by the fact that I know they have felt this way for as long as they have without being able to talk to them about it. As someone who pays a lot of attention to the way people react, this makes me feel very uneasy.
Regarding friends and acquaintances, it can be challenging to remember who you’ve come out to. Many times people will already know and you may not even be aware of it. This uncertainty has forced me to adopt an “everyone already knows” mentality where in many instances, I decide to skip the step of ‘coming out’ altogether and immediately bring up guys I have dated or had relationships with.
They say coming out is a continuous process that never ends.
I agree but only to an extent.
I think the “everyone-already-knows” mentality becomes more acceptable and easier to adopt with time. There will always be situations where it simply won’t work though. Particularly when you meet new people, it can be tricky to bring up. When you consider relationships, it is inevitable that more people will either find out or figure it out on their own- especially in the age of social media where anyone can see that picture of the date you went on last weekend. So to what extent do we need to come out to the people we know already know? It seems there are times when it can be casually brushed over in conversation and other times when the conversation must still happen. It’s a messy and complicated issue.