The Pro's and Con's of Being Out in High Schoolby Beverly Greene
Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine who is still in high school about her dilemmas of being completely out or not. I was not out in high school, but it did get me thinking about all of the pro's and con's of being out at this period of a person's life. Of course, this is not a possibility for some of us, since our personal awakening doesn't happen until much later, but there are others who live in secrecy during these years, afraid to come out because of justified fear of what might happen.
One of the best possible outcomes of being out in high school would be the obvious, you will get the chance to meet others like you instead of feeling completely left out of the rest of society. A person would also get to start accepting herself privately and publicly much sooner than a lot of us do. Those are two very important steps and should not be overlooked or discounted, especially when you look at the astronomically high percentage of gay and lesbian teens who attempt or actually commit suicide each year. However, sometimes, being out at this time in one's life is just not possible.
In addition to the prospect of finding and socializing with peers in the rainbow community, being out at such a young age also might give a person more time to learn exactly what our community is, what is stands for, and to figure out how she fits into that community. We all have to understand where we come from in order to understand not only how far we have come, but how far we need to go. Just like any other group of people, we have to remember those who have fought for our right to be who we are and understand why they felt such a long, hard fight was well worth it. None of us fit into any preconceived slots about what we should be like. We are all different people with different wants, feelings, gifts, and ideas, just like everyone else. We all have to find our place where we can do the most good not only for the community as a whole, but more importantly, for ourselves.
Another wonderful outcome of being out could be forcing those around us to look at see us as normal, everyday people who just happen to be different in one small way. People fear what they do not understand. I would and will venture to say that most of the bigots who think that gays and lesbians (and others) do not deserve basic human rights do not call a single gay man or lesbian a friend. A lot of the very understanding and accepting straight people do actually know someone who is gay or lesbian (or bi or transgendered) on a personal level and can easily understand that we are people just like everyone else. We all have a responsibility to try to make the people around us understand us as a community a little better and through that, become more accepting.
Unfortunately, being out in high school also has a lot of down sides to it as well. A lot of teens are ridiculed for any number of different reasons, and gay, lesbian, bi, or transgendered students are just prime targets for those idiots who don't have enough brain cells to think of better things to do with their time. Hate crimes are high in the teen years for all students who are not white, straight, male, rich, etc. So, coming out in high school does have its risks. And hate crimes of any kind are not the only risk a teen runs coming out at this stage in their life. There are plenty of risk that come from the inside.
We all think we are invincible in our teen years. We are all rebels without a cause and are going to live forever, but even James Dean didn't get away with that attitude for long. It is all too tempting for gay and lesbian teens (exactly like straight teens) to have unprotected sex "just this once" or "only with this person, right now" only to find out months or even years later exactly the cost of that one night was. The reason that teenage and early 20-something women are the fastest growing group in contracting the HIV virus is exactly this attitude. No matter what age or situation, we all have to be grown up enough to take care of our own personal safety.
Another possible down side to being out in high school is the risk of one's family finding out second hand or before the teen is ready for his or her family to know. Some people never come out to their parents or at least not until years after they came out originally just because of fear of abandonment, emotional or otherwise, fear of total rejection, disappointment, or any number of other responses parents can have. It is sad to know how many parents don't accept their children as the same person they were before just because they happen to know one more thing about them. And being out in high school greatly increases the chance of a person's parents finding out before the child is ready. Some are lucky enough to know that they can come out to their parents and not be kicked out, beat up, put down, or isolated from any type of affection. They know that if they have a bad day at school because some bigot gives them a rough time that they can go home and talk about it with their parents. But, unfortunately, most gay or lesbian teens do not have this basic necessity of life. Support is very, very important in the coming out process, and if someone can't get it from their parents or siblings, coming out in high school will be very difficult to almost impossible.
So, now I guess I'll tell you all exactly what I told this young friend of mine:
No one can tell you what is best for you or your situation. When and how to come out is a decision that every person has to make for themselves, no matter what age they start. Everyone has to consider the pitfalls as well as the possible wonderful outcomes of being out and weigh them for their individual situation. No matter when or how you decide to come out, or even if you already have, surround yourself with as much support as you can, and let the rest of world follow suite.