LGBTQIA Disclosure: What Coming Out Means for Personal Freedom

Two young men talking on the stairsHow much are you willing to share about who you are, especially your identity as an LGBTQ+ person? How much of your life story are you willing to share at work, in your community, with family, or even in a new relationship?

As an openly gay therapist who is very transparent with my life experiences, I find it interesting to learn how people determine boundaries regarding how much of themselves they will share. This decision and the reasons behind it is often a subject of exploration in the therapy room, especially with LGBTQ+ individuals.

I first became curious about disclosure when, through my work with members of the HIV/AIDS community, I witnessed the personal journeys taken by many individuals as they chose whether to share their status. When it comes to disclosure, people tend to have their own comfort levels, and this level is often based on self-esteem and self-image. Most of the people I worked with based their ability to disclose on how they viewed themselves in the world and whether they were influenced by the story of shame.

This story of shame is one of the key pieces keeping people from feeling free to disclose certain pieces of information about themselves, whether this information is their HIV status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. This story of shame can be formed by our own feelings of being “less than” and believing there has to be an apology attached to who we are and our LGBTQ+ identity.

As LGBTQ+ individuals, we are part of a societal minority, and it can be challenging to see ourselves as part of the fabric of the dominant hetero-centric social construct. Even with the major leaps in exposure for non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people in film, television, and other forms of media, most of the images people are exposed to celebrate heteronormativity, or the normalcy of heterosexuality. This reality can often leave those who do not fit the narrative feeling marginalized and outcast.

Marginalization can become a foundation for shame and internalized homophobia. Some individuals who do not align with the dominant social story may develop feelings of self-hatred, and feelings of shame often increase when an individual is ostracized from family members, the community, religion, or friends.

Lessening the importance of what other people think about us is an essential step in the process of moving away from shame and toward acceptance.

Shame is also based on the idea that in feeling less than, we are giving another person or group of people a position of power over us. Waiting for other people to approve of your life story is a powerless place to live from and can leave you with a diminished sense of personal identity.

Lessening the importance of what other people think about us is an essential step in the process of moving away from shame and toward acceptance. Everyone develops their own perceptions regarding the people they meet. These perceptions may be based on familial and cultural influences, and though they may alter, they cannot be controlled by others. By realizing this, you can learn to lessen the power these opinions and prejudices may have over your personal sense of well-being. Realizing other people’s reactions cannot be controlled may help quiet feelings of shame and have a positive impact on the process of learning to express yourself freely and openly.

This process can take time and will likely be influenced by experiences occurring as this new skill is developed. It may become extremely difficult to risk sharing when disclosure is met with rejection and cruelty. If, on the other hand, disclosure is accompanied by positive experiences, sharing is likely to become a more natural and easily accessible skill.

The challenge lies in continuing to practice disclosure, no matter the reaction received. Some people are not able to disclose, and some may not wish to, but for some, learning how to disclose is an important process. Disclosure can create a more open and accessible sense of self in relation to your LGBTQ+ identity, which can spill over into all aspects of life. If you are comfortable with sharing your story, it may be easier to interview for a job, ask for a raise, invite someone out on a date, or become closer to friends and family.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by John Sovec, LMFT, therapist in Pasadena, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Matty

    Matty

    April 20th, 2016 at 10:42 AM

    In many ways I believe that it all comes down to how the outing came about. Did you willingly open yourself up and tell everyone about your preferences and relationships? Or is this something that you did not wish to disclose and somehow it all came out anyway? I think that how you feel about others knowing plays a big role in how it impacts you. If you wanted to tell everyone then I would presume that it has to feel like a great weight has been lifted off of you. But let’s say that you were not ready to come out and people found out anyway. I think that that could be terribly difficult for pretty much anyone.

  • wade

    wade

    April 21st, 2016 at 8:16 AM

    The sad part is that there are still so many people out there who are afraid to disclose because they do not know what that means to their family relationships as well as their job. SMH that we even have to worry about that still but that is reality for many.

  • Alice

    Alice

    April 21st, 2016 at 11:39 AM

    IMHO, a lot of this is going to be about what you personally are looking to gain from this experience.

    Are you wanting love and acceptance from the others in your life? Or are you simply ready to unburden yourself and lift away some of that heaviness that going aorund with such a big secret can lead to.

    Not everyone is going to like your lifestyle, but you know what? I don’t like everyone else either and the choices that they make but that alone does not give me the right to hate them for something that is theirs and that makes up who they are.

    It is a time like this that can really show you who you can trust and who it might be time to rid yourself of.

  • cynthia

    cynthia

    April 22nd, 2016 at 12:52 PM

    Guessing that this is why you see more LGBT youth and young professionals migrate to larger more urban areas, where fitting in wouldn’t have to seem like such a struggle like maybe it is in their hometowns.

  • TeresaJ

    TeresaJ

    April 23rd, 2016 at 10:22 AM

    I get so mad when I feel like someone is being forced to do something that they are just not comfortable doing yet. We all have our timelines for what feels like a good time for us and what makes us feel safe. You don’t have to feel like you have to disclose anything about your life until you are personally good and ready.

    I have a very good friend who was outed by a very mean and spiteful person and it cost him his job as a result. This was before this was as widely accepted and I saw how he very much suffered as a result. Why should I even begin to thin that it was right to ruin a life like that?

  • Ollie

    Ollie

    April 24th, 2016 at 2:08 PM

    There is this false sense out there that this is the twenty first century, you should be able to feel okay letting people know if you are gay. It isn’t always that way though. My parents know but I have told very few other people outright. It’s not that I am not proud of who I am but I think that is many ways I am pretty scared of what other people around me will do or say if they find out. It’s chicken, I know, but I’m not ready, and just because you may be doesn’t mean that you should push that on me.

  • samantha

    samantha

    April 25th, 2016 at 7:23 AM

    Geesh I would never want to be one of those people who gets pleasure from hurting someone else.

  • Harris

    Harris

    April 26th, 2016 at 10:24 AM

    It must feel like a literal weight is lifted off of you when you can just be open and honest about the person that you love.

  • Virginia

    Virginia

    April 28th, 2016 at 7:59 AM

    There has never been a better time for any of us to speak out loudly and clearly about who we are, what we believe and who we love. If not now then when? The more people who come out and feel empowered then the easier it will be for others who may not feel that sense that it is time for them to share. I don’t think that you have to infringe on the rights and boundaries that others have placed for themselves but this could be a great time to help another person who is struggling to step forward and feel free as well.

  • XXX

    XXX

    April 8th, 2017 at 6:52 PM

    When I disclosed my sexual orientation and attraction to the woman I crushed on ( a psychology professor) she took it as being inappropriate and wanted me to drop all communication with her or she would call the police. I felt sick and unaccepted and became greatly depressed. My education in psychology and Gender and cultural studies helped me find a supportive community to express my identities and come to terms with who I am.

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