A Lifelong Process
The process of coming out, for the first time, to family and friends can be overwhelming and emotionally taxing. Sometimes people who are coming out describe feelings of being “drained” or have limited or no “energy.” Feelings of being drained can be compounded because we often choose to come out to the people who are closest to us. Normally when you are dealing with difficult emotional issues in your life, these are the people that you would turn to. Sometimes, these people may enter a period of adjustment before they are emotionally able to function as a support system. This adjustment period can feel very lonely for the person who is coming out.
Coming out is a courageous and often difficult choice. We often think of coming out as a single momentous event. However, in reality, coming out is more of a life-long process. Whenever we encounter new people in our lives, start a new job, or move to a new place we find ourselves wondering how safe it is for us to disclose who we are. Sometimes we feel stuck, caught between those in our community who believe that we have a responsibility to be out, and an environment that may seem homophobic and hostile. For some individuals this process can lead to a high level of anxiety. Counseling can help to alleviate and often eliminate this anxiety by examining and sorting out all the messages you hear and create about who you are.
Peggy Campolo, wife of controversial pastor Tony Campolo, and gay rights supporter, asserts that Evangelical Christians are incorrect when they fail to pluralize the moniker “homosexual lifestyle”. She maintains that there are many homosexual and heterosexual lifestyles. She states, “Madonna and I are both heterosexual women but we do not share a lifestyle and that is only because I can’t sing.”
Prior to 1990, 86% of Americans characterized themselves as Christians. By 2007 that number had dropped to below 77%. During this period the Christian community at large vociferously voiced it’s opposition to homosexuality. Some believe that this stance has had a direct impact upon the decline of the Church in the United States. Regardless of what we choose to believe or how we identify ourselves most of us grew up as Christians. Most of us were raised with the idea that homosexuality was an abominable practice and that homosexuals engaged in “sinful acts” and were to be distanced, shunned, sometimes pitied, but almost never valued, respected, and almost never acclaimed. Yet since the inception of the Christian church homosexuals have served as it’s spiritual advisors and moral compass–sometimes to our own detriment. Upon coming out many GLBT people completely discard their former religious practices and try to deny their spirituality–sometimes with disastrous consequences. Exploring ways to redefine and reclaim our spirituality can often have a significant effect not only for ourselves but our entire community.
Many straight and gay boys began to endure being called “faggot” sometime in middle school–and occasionally even earlier. For some girls gendered differences are noticed and commented on even earlier. This virtually institutionalized homophobia has significant effects the sexual and social development of someone struggling with their sexuality. Many of us often deeply bury profound feelings of fear and shame in order to create an illusion of safety for ourselves. Re-examining those painful early experiences in a safe environment can help us release our fear. After we do this difficulty work we are left with the ability reframe and redefine our true more authentic selves.
Studies have found that 20 percent of gay men are anorexic, and 14 percent suffer from the related eating disorder bulimia. Researchers speculate that there are two primary causes for this disturbing statistic. First of all is the gay culture’s obsession with the body beautiful, success, and perfectionism; and perhaps less obviously, the low self-esteem associated with the negative culture of the closet. Being in the closet inevitably leads to low self-esteem, and low self-esteem is one of the primary causes of anorexia. Finding ways of improving self-esteem can be essential for not only a gay man’s emotional health but also his physical health.
Researchers demonstrated a clear relationship between a young adult struggling with sexual orientation and suicide. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth score significantly higher than their heterosexual peers on both the Suicide Probability Scale and the Beck’s Hopelessness Scale. Regardless of a young person’s sexual orientation, suicide attempt behavior seems connected to feelings of hopelessness and disconnectedness. Finding ways to improve and fortify an individual’s social support network is an important way to reduce suicidal thoughts and behaviors in young people.