By Steven Petrow
Originally published on Advocate.com October 10 2011 6:00 AM ET
Question: Two of my friends have come out on Facebook — one of them by changing his profile to say that he’s “interested in men” — and another with a status update, “Yep, I’m gay.” I’m actually considering coming out on Facebook as part of National Coming Out Day, but my best pal says that’s not good coming out “manners.” What do you think?
Answer: I certainly see the allure of coming out on Facebook with a status update. I’d call that “one-click outing” — as efficient as shopping on Amazon. Making your announcement to so many people at once could be liberating, especially as part of National Coming Out Day, which is on Tuesday. And perhaps most appealing is the assumption you won’t need to have the same conversation over and over. Social media is so pervasive these days that some of us are even making YouTube videos with our coming out messages.
But I’m with your “best pal” on this one; a Facebook update – or a tweet or a video — isn’t the most endearing or respectful way to let those closest to you know something so crucial about who you are. A current poll question on my website about this very issue shows “coming out on Facebook” losing big time.
Talk to your other friends who are out and I’ll bet you’ll find no substitute for a one-on-one chat with parents, siblings, your dearest friends, and anyone you really care about (and vice versa).
Not to mention that every time you tell someone about your sexual orientation (or gender identity) you get better and more comfortable at it. Consider it good practice.
Granted, these are not always easy conversations (my own folks played the therapy card from the get-go). But they can also be enriching. I still remember when I first told my grandmother, who was then well into her 70s. Sharing my “secret” allowed her to tell me hers – that back in the day she had a back-alley abortion because she and my grandfather couldn’t afford a second child. That cemented a bond of trust between us that wouldn’t have happened otherwise – and certainly not if we’d “talked” via Facebook.
Since there’s a lot more to coming out than just the manners, I asked Dr. Martin Binks, a noted psychologist formerly with the Duke University Health System and now in private practice, for his clinical perspective on issuing an announcement on Facebook or any social media for that matter.
“Disclosing anything of this emotional importance in such an impersonal way may eliminate the opportunity for meaningful discourse and mutual support and understanding,” Binks says, “especially with true friends. It’s often better to work through the issues that may be driving you to disclose online and speak with your friends directly.”
As longtime readers know, it’s rare that I side with tradition or “old-fashioned” means of communication (like, actually talking), but I suspect you’d come to regret just checking the box that says “interested in men.” And trust me – that wouldn’t save you from the endless conversations about it. Expect plenty of messages asking the same questions over and over – as well as some finger wagging asking, “Why didn’t you tell me first?”
Instead this year’s National Coming Out Day could be an opportunity to start the conversation with family and friends. Email or text them and say, “There’s something important I’d like to talk with you about.” Don’t make it sound too ominous – you don’t want them to think you’re ill – but be serious enough that they accept the invitation. Remember, every time we come out we change the stereotypes straight folks have about LGBT people.
By the way, after you’ve told your nearest and dearest, yes, you have my permission to come out to the rest of the world online. Just don’t forget that anything you post, tweet, or email is forever. There’s no going back in.
What’s Your Advice: Is It OK to Come Out With a Facebook Update? Offer Your Take in the Comments Below.
STEVEN PETROW is the author of Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners and can be found online at www.gaymanners.com. Got a question? Email him at [email protected].