The Other Side of Coming Out
Posted by Jessica MacGilvray on Aug 7, 2011 - 3:33:30 PM
WASHINGTON, D.C.—I recently saw an excellent video about a transperson’s coming out to his father. Just in case anyone doesn’t know what coming out is: it is the process of telling friends, family, co-workers and the world at large that one is identifying oneself as LGBTQ. Many coming out stories are about conflict. Many are about resolving conflict. Some are about anticipated difficulties or barriers that did not actually materialize. They are often the personal accounts of people who have experienced great drama with the full gamut of tragedy, anxiety, humor, anger, forgiveness, love, hate, defeat and triumph. Whole books have been written about coming out.
The video I saw (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EA20558xyk entitled, Dear Dad, Love Maria on the TransCultureTV channel Film created by Vince Mascoli http://dweebcomic.pacdudegames.com/ is a poignant and sensitive portrayal of one person’s life experience. It does a really good job, in simple terms, of letting someone from a different background and orientation understand the life experience of the author. Such accounts are by their nature subjective. One is expected to identify with the principle character: in this case, Maria.
But no story of human conflict and intrigue includes only just one person. What about the other people? What about Maria’s Dad? People who are coming out usually concentrate on the effect coming out will have on them, not the effect that their coming out will have on other people.
For example: the father, in Dear Dad, Love Maria might have been from a very large family, or might have had several children who died, of which Maria is the sole survivor. These kinds of circumstances might have led him to have a really powerful personal need to see grandchildren in his future and having a child who is a transwoman is not the ideal vehicle for this. Thus, the news that your child’s being LGBT can be crushing blow to a parent, especially when it is dropped on you unexpectedly, with little or no warning.
This is not very fair. If you are LGBTQ, you have come to your sexual or gender identity through a process that took time, quite a bit of time; years sometimes. During that process, you acclimated yourself to the changes you found in yourself much more gradually than anyone being come out to gets to do.
When you come out to people, you are asking a lot of them. To be fair, there isn’t really a good way to come out to many people gradually. That usually makes things much more awkward and embarrassing. This is why conventional wisdom says, when you’re ready, tell everybody and make a clean break. It makes sense, but it is hard on people who are not intellectually or emotionally prepared for this kind of bombshell.
Coming out should be a time of understanding and consideration. Patience is required. Reflection and consultation with others may also be necessary - on both sides. I know several people who lived in the closet for many years and they are unanimous in saying that they never really understood themselves until they came out. We all look within ourselves for answers but we find understanding through the interactions we have with other people. Coming out is an important part of that process. It is sad when it breaks friendships and family relationships. Many people spend years grieving for people who left their lives when they came out.
But don’t be afraid. Living for years in fear of the reactions of others is almost always worse than the reality of their actual reactions. Don’t intimidate yourself. When the person you care about reacts badly, take it in your stride and let forgiveness be your first and last response. It is harder to recover from words of pain and anger if both people say things they later regret.
So, for those of you coming out, have some understanding of the difficult task you are setting for the people you come out to. They have tough issues in their lives, too. Be kind and give them time to find a consensus in their hearts. While asking others to not be judgmental, be not judgmental yourself.
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