What To Expect in the Years Following Coming Out of the Closet
Congratulations, you are out of the closet! Whether you are out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or any other beautiful sexual orientation or gender identity, you have likely done a lot of internal work to embrace your authentic self as well as external work in coming out to others. That takes a ton of courage! Take a moment to just soak that in and appreciate how it feels to be unabashedly YOU!
Your growth as an individual, and as a friend, family member, co-worker, and partner will all develop in their own ways over time. The combination of factors is endless, and it may feel a bit daunting to know how to respond as you encounter new experiences throughout your life. Think of the following as a little toolbox or cheat sheet for handling life as an out LGBTQIA+ person.
The Future Unknowns of Coming Out
Let’s get the potential negative effects out of the way first. It is always good to be prepared and aware. Knowing that you have done your homework and prepared yourself mentally, spiritually, and physically for whatever may come will just help you move through your days feeling empowered and calm.
You Will Come Out More Than Once
What?! Unfortunate, but true. If you move geographically, move jobs, meet new people, or start new hobbies, depending on your comfort (and safety) level, you will need to come out over and over again. The good news is, that it will probably never be as difficult or nerve-wracking as it was the first time. And, like many things, the more you say it, practice it, become comfortable in it — the easier it will be.
You May Encounter Disrespect
This one goes hand-in-hand with coming out over and over again. As you move through your life, travel to different places, and meet many different human beings, you are likely to encounter disrespect. THAT can’t be changed. What can be changed is how you respond to it. Become a “human reader” — in any new situation assess whether the energy and/or environment is one that is open to education or one where you need to either go into protection (of self) mode or empathy mode — because really, how sad is it that some humans on this planet can’t appreciate the beauty in other humans. Again, a practice…that takes practice.
Others May Not Understand
Throughout your life, you will come across those who may not understand or may not agree with who you are based on cultural or religious beliefs, or simply have never met an LGBTQIA+ person. This may present in seemingly benign ways such as microaggressions (“…but you don’t look queer…”) or tokenization (being put on the spot in a group setting to speak on behalf of your community). It can also present in much more obvious ways in the form of cruel statements or actions.
What I want you to remember is that it is not your responsibility or the purpose of your identity to make people comfortable or to help them understand — it is for you to be who you are.
You May Experience Bullying
Again, as you meet new people, move to a different state or country, or change jobs, bullying is still unfortunately a risk. I mentioned the idea of protecting yourself earlier. An important skill to hone is the ability to assess your safety at any given time. Part of guarding your identity is learning to recognize the 4Ws of safety — Who is around you, What is happening, When should you share (or not share!), Where are you — physically and emotionally as well as where is your exit route? These are not meant to cause anxiety, on the contrary, they are a wonderful tool to empower you and allow you to be present.
Smaller Social & Family Circle
One of the sad truths about coming out is that your social and family circle may become smaller. In many cases, this will happen immediately as you need to distance yourself from friends and family members who are not affirming. Over time, some of those loved ones may work through their own prejudices or biases and become educated allies. In the event that that does not happen for you, please know that you are not alone and that it is important to acknowledge and work through the pain that realization causes you. Clinical social worker and therapist, Alex Sobieraj says, “It can be traumatizing to know that in order to live authentically as who you are, you may be sacrificing certain relationships.” Yes — traumatizing, heartbreaking, and just deeply sad. AND on the other side of that can be freedom and empowerment. Hold on to your truth and be gentle with yourself.
Benefits of Coming out of the Closet
Now, for the good stuff! I love this quote from author Rosemary Donahue: “Personally, I’m living a life I never dreamt possible for myself. Even when I’m crying on the train home from work, confused as f*ck because I’ve gotten my heart broken, or sure that a relationship with a family member is forever changed because I’ve come out, I’m still happier than I ever was when I was denying my queerness.”
Purer Relationships and Authentic Living
When you’re not worrying about who knows what about you or who may be able to see through the facade you are trying to create, you open yourself up to the next level of relationships. All of that energy will now be available to develop closer, more genuine connections with those you love. And, as you feel more comfortable in your skin, that ability to connect will reach to others around you as well.
Feeling comfortable in your skin is really leaning into all of the different traits that make you YOU — the light and the dark, all of the nuances, every little discovery of likes and dislikes. When you step into who you are, THAT is authentic living!
This has been one of my favorite things to watch with Connor as those initial years of self-loathing turned to self-acceptance and then self-love. Not only has our relationship become deeper and more real and connected, but he has been able to form friendships and relationships with others as his beautiful, authentic self.
Better Social Circle
When you have the opportunity to spend time with those who love you and affirm you, your social interactions will be so much more fulfilling. Connecting with other LGBTQIA+ people and being part of a community can not only be a game changer, but it can also be life-saving.
Increased self-esteem is definitely one benefit that comes with time. The first few years after coming out of the closet can be filled with so much change, emotion, shifting and growth. Hitting the stage where you realize your self-esteem is higher than it ever has been is such a lovely milestone and one that you have likely put in a lot of personal work to achieve. It’s extraordinary the chain reaction of events that are set off by being honest about who we truly are in this world!
Mental health awareness and care for LGBTQIA+ people is of particular importance given the many internal and external factors that affect it including (but not limited to) shame, guilt, bullying, ostracization, self-loathing, and discrimination. Coming out of the closet and embracing your sexual orientation and/or gender identity likely alleviated a ton of stress immediately. As years go by, the deeper stressors and anxieties will become less and less. The caveat is it does take active work on your part.
A Chance to Raise Awareness
Advocacy work is a fabulous way to continue your growth as well as support others on their journey. You can volunteer for your favorite organizations, share your story, or have real conversations with others debunking myths and stereotypes to name just a few ways you can help raise awareness.
Access to Relevant Help
If you are new here, first of welcome, and second of all, check out my podcast for education, helpful information, and stories from me and from my guests that will help you feel like it’s all going to be ok!
If you need some one-on-one support, I offer that too! Click here to set up a time to chat.
If you’re not quite ready for one on one time, my digital course, Learning to Just Breathe, will walk you through the four pillars — Embrace, Educate, Empower, and Love. You will be a pro at supporting your child through the coming out process in no time!