Two good books on this topic are Outing Yourself by Michelangelo Signorile and Coming Out an Act of Love, by Rob Eichberg, Ph.D. Both are available at Amazon.com.
If you choose to do so, coming out of the closet may be the most challenging, difficult, and stressful experiences of your life. If a gay man wants to become an honest, whole, and an open human being (comfortable with himself and with others) then it is necessary to come out.
Many gay men are out in some aspects of our life, but not in other areas, such as at work. The reason is that we fear that we’ll lose our job, if discovered. So, the workplace is one of the last ‘compartments’ of our life where we become authentic and honest.
What should I consider before coming out? It is important to assess whether it is safe to come out in your particular environment. If you live in a very conservative, antigay community or a rural area, coming out may present risks – the risk of losing your job, your home, and maybe even create the potential for physical danger.
What about my family? Whole books have been written about coming out to your family. The married, gay man has not only a wife to consider, but often times children, parents, and close relatives. Your approach in revealing your authentic-self should be carefully considered and different for each of those family member categories. The next important aspect is to choose an appropriate time, place, and appropriate words for the person with whom you are sharing a most important and profound detail about yourself. The coming out words you’d use with a wife are certainly different than those you’d use in talking to your children and different from those for use with your parents.
What about my friends. General experience has shown that in your coming out some friends will ‘drift away’ However, like other life transitions, new doors will open and new friendships will form.
After I’m out? Most importantly, after you are out, you will stop worrying about being ‘discovered’ by friends, family, or co-workers.
When should I come out? Some men exaggerate in their mind what may happen on coming out and use that worry as a reason for avoiding it. They conjure-up obstacles that are worse-than-they-truly-are and thus delay being honest with our family and friends. These men are confined by his fears, attitudes, and memories, all of which serve to make coming out so difficult. Bottom-line, come out when you are comfortable in your own skin. Do it for yourself, not for others.
Factors keeping men in the closet? Do any of the following apply to you and are you ready to confront then through change?
- Fear of closeness to other human beings
- Painful memories of unrequited love
- Societal disapproval
- Marriage vows
- Religious heritage
- Fear of disease
More thoughts to consider:
The book Created Equal: Why Gay Rights Matter to America, by Michael Nava and Robert Dawidoff (St. Martins Press, 1994) can be very helpful in the coming out process. Here are some quotations from their work:
- The feelings that prompt ordinary people to love members of their own gender against the grain of convention, and the decision to honour those feelings, are different for every person. The decision to accept one's homosexuality occurs in that interior space where a person's deepest truths reside: the core of personal liberty. (p. 15)
- Gay people can hide. But the condition of hiding or passing is a surrender of freedom, of identity and ultimately of life itself... The unsuspected homosexual trapped in an unwanted heterosexual lifestyle pays the tribute of his or her own life to the system of oppression. Such a person courts dysfunction, misery, and shame without escaping intolerable oppression, and special vulnerability to prosecution. (p. 18)
- Coming out is more than an acknowledgment, acceptance, or even announcement of one's sexual identity. It represents a continuing process founded on an act of compassion toward oneself . . . . That act is the acceptance of one's fundamental worth, including and not despite one's homosexuality, in the face of social condemnation and likely persecution. Coming out is the process by which one arrives at one's values the hard way: testing them against what one knows to be true about oneself. Gay men and lesbians must think about family, morality, nature, choice, freedom, and responsibility in ways most people never have to. Truly to come out, a gay person must become one of those human beings who...want to be true to themselves . . . . Once they have their own authentic self, they will not want to lose it. (p. 26)
- Attempts to stop being gay leave people spiritually and emotionally wounded...but no straighter. (p. 45)
- Gay people don't come out because it is fashionable, popular, easy, safe, mandatory, or conventional; they do it to be true to themselves (p. 103)
- While remaining in the closet is prudent survival strategy, it also makes closeted gay men and women hapless collaborators in their own oppression. (p. 115)
- Most lesbians and gay men are ordinary human beings . . . . Most of them never wanted to be outlaws or to be faced with the choice of being true to themselves or lying about their lives in order to get by without being scorned, rejected, or physically attacked. They do not relish having to make public disclosures of private matters simply to win the right of privacy that everyone else takes for granted. (p. 159)
Coming out is an ongoing process. You should expect it will likely span several years and perhaps even the rest of your life.