How Out Should You Be?by Beverly Greene
Most of the time when I talk to younger members of the lgbt community, they ask me and my wife how it is that we can be so out, both on-line and in the rest of our lives. They often say that they wish that they could be as out as we are, but that it is not possible for them at this point in their lives. I can understand where they are coming from. This is a very rough position to put anyone in, especially when they are not even out of high school yet.
I often get asked how do I deal with this or that or how did I tell my parents, how did they take it, how did I deal with what happened after my parents knew, etc. Many of you may be dealing with these same questions and problems. Well, you won't find the answers here. I don't have a magical word or piece of advice from a fortune cookie that will tell you what do to or how to handle things. So, why am I even writing this, you may be asking. That is the simple part. While I can't tell you what you should do, I can give you some important thoughts of mine that just might help YOU decide what you should and should not do.
Our community has a bias in it, especially in largely populated areas, to be completely out, no matter what. This is frankly just as stupid as the bias in much of the straight community to keep us deep in our closets, never showing any affection in public, never telling anyone, just letting ourselves pass as someone who is straight. If you're not out yet, or only out in some areas of your life, you probably feel pulled in both directions, and rightly so. So, how do you balance the need to be accepted by your family, friends, and surrounding community with your need to be who you are without hiding, always afraid someone will find out? It may be a lot simpler than you think.
Despite what the world tells you, you are completely normal. If your gay, bi, lesbian, transgendered, straight, or just not sure what exactly you should call yourself yet, that is OK. There is nothing wrong with you and there is no need to rush yourself into something that you are not ready to do. If you are not ready to deal with what might be the outcome of coming out to your family, then don't do it. It's that simple. I think that our community puts an overwhelming pressure on its members to be out in order to strengthen the community, showing the world that we are large in numbers and just everyday, normal people. However, this pressure to out ourselves ignores the individual situations and feelings.
My simple advice is this: ignore what everyone tells you, including me if you don't think it is what is right for you. No one knows your situation, feelings, or needs better than you do. Trust yourself, your own judgment. Don't feel that you are "hiding" or guilty of some anti-lgbt pride crime if you are not ready to be out to everyone in the world just yet. You don't have to take out a billboard to announce your coming out to everyone within a 20 mile radius to be proud of who you are. Our community often mistakes outness with pride. Don't fall into that trap because it will only bring you down and make you feel ashamed. Pride is not how out you are, or how often you hold hands with your same sex partner in public places. Pride is not how many pink triangle or rainbow flag buttons you can get on your favorite blue jean jacket. While all of those things can show your pride, they do not equal pride. So, what is pride? Pride is acceptance and love of one's self. You don't have to be completely out to be proud, you only have to be out to yourself.
Many times, people, like my wife, know that their coming out while still living in their parents' home will only cause troubles that they just don't need, or don't have the energy to deal with, and there is nothing wrong with that. Coming out to your family is the second hardest part of the process, second to only coming out to yourself. If you're not ready, don't feel bad about it. I hear too many people saying that they feel guilty for not coming out to their parents. We have to learn to trust ourselves more, trust that our judgment is what is best for us at the time. You are not being dishonest by not telling your parents. They do not have an inherent right to know. Your emotional well-being should be your first priority, above all else and if you think that outing yourselves to your parents will cause your stress you are not prepared to deal with adequately, then there is nothing wrong with putting it off. Just keep reminding yourself that you have the right to your life, without asking their permission. If you were straight, you wouldn't tell them everyone you were dating and everything you were doing with them. No kid tells their parents everything. I mean, how many kids do you know that come home and tell their parents that they were out drinking the night before? (Just a cautious note: I do NOT condone underage drinking, I only acknowledge that it does happen.)
With the suicide rate still so high in our community, especially among our teens, we have to stop pressuring each other into doing things that we are just not ready for. I know people who have been in relationships with the same sex for years and are still not out to their parents, siblings, or even all of their friends. Why? you may be asking yourself. Well, for many different reasons...some still live at home, at least during the college vacations, some are still in high school and live at home full time, and some just are too afraid of losing their parents. There is nothing wrong with that and I personally am really tired of other people in our community looking down upon them because they feel that they are hiding, or trying to hold onto some pretense of the "heterosexual privileges". We have to understand that the love and support of our families should not ever be considered a "privilege", it should be a given. No one should be put down for still needing the support that parents and siblings give, or protecting that support if they feel that their coming out might put it at risk. While I wish that parents had been taught better, never been told that homosexuality is wrong or is something that can be "cured" with enough prayer and psychological help, this is not the world that we live in. Sometimes it is just necessary to put off coming out in order to build up your own separate support system, both within yourself and in the company that you keep.
If you're wondering where the ideas that are going to help you figure out what you should do are, then they must have got lost in all of my ramblings, so I'll put it in short form....follow your heart, trust yourself, and do what you think is best...and most importantly, NEVER feel guilty for taking care of yourself and your needs first. No one knows your situation better than you do, because only you are living it, so no one will know what is right for you to do. If you think that you still need someone to talk to at least to help you figure out what is right for you and your situation, please call your local rainbow community center, teen line, or look on the net. But don't go looking for someone to hand you the answers on a silver platter or buried in the dust of a book because that won't happen. I know that it is not easy, especially during this stage in your life, but you have the look for those answers within yourself. If you trust yourself, your judgment, your feelings, and your needs, I promise, you won't be let down!