I've recently figured out I'm gay (I'm 26) after 10 years of heterosexual relationships. I've started to date guys, but the ones I've liked best have dumped me when they learned that I'm not out to my family, friends, or at work. I'm a very private person. Why is it such a big deal to come out? I find it awkward and not that necessary.
Private in Pennsylvania
Dear Private in Pennsylvania,
The reason that it is important to come out is that it is very hard to love yourself fully when you hide. And it's very hard to love others when you don't love yourself. Therefore, the closet is lonely. No one loves you there.
Authenticity is the foundation of all closeness. If we want better relationships, we must keep learning how to be more authentic.
And all of us want better relationships.
There's a reason why they call the marches and celebrations "Pride." It is the opposite of shame. Shame contributes to what keeps us feeling separate from others and ourselves.
Coming out does take bravery. But without bravery we'd still be huddling in windowless bars, running from police, and marrying people we weren't attracted to.
Once you have secured your economic and physical safety, I urge you to get support for the step-by-step process of coming out. It's the best thing you can do for your mental health and relationships. Books, good gay friends, and gay-affirmative therapists can help you with this. And I've included a few tips at the end of this column.
Coming Out, the Sequel
Many of us are already out. But there's a part 2 in the process.
Life always brings another opportunity for growth. We are never a finished product. That includes the challenge of coming out. There is often another layer of inner homophobia to battle. The next one is just more subtle. And because it is subtle we don't always see it.
Readers, can you identify with any of these more understated experiences of inner homophobia?
* When you are pleased that your colleague tells you he had no idea you were gay.
* When your dad praises you for having straight friends as well as gay friends, and you feel great that he said that.
* When you think, for a moment, that it's OK for a store to discriminate against gay people, if it is against the owners' religion.
* You let go of your partner's hand on the beach when you see little children coming.
All of these common experiences start from an inner belief that being gay is not quite as good as being straight. It's hard to let go of these last vestiges of inner homophobia unless we take the time to see them.
Where do you hold hidden beliefs that being gay is less than -- even just a little less than -- being straight?
You won't have taken the next step of healing from inner homophobia until you are able to know in your bones that society has the problem, not you.
Coming out is hard. Here are a few tips that may make it a little easier.
With Your Parents
Parents are usually the most difficult. Do not attempt coming out to them if you think that it will jeopardize your economic, educational, or housing security. It's also a good idea to wait until you have the emotional support of a friend or relative who supports your LGBT identity.
Be prepared for tears -- yours and theirs. Be patient. It took you years to get comfortable with being gay, and so it may take them years as well. They may need support as they go through this, but you may not be the best person to support them. Be compassionate, but do not accept homophobic verbal abuse. It's toxic for you, and so you need to remove yourself from it.
At work it can be awkward to say "I'm gay." Sometimes it is easier to just start talking about your partner by name, with no explanation. When someone asks you what you did this weekend you can say, "Randy and I went swimming in the ocean," without explaining who Randy is. Your colleagues can usually figure it out from there.
You'll need to assess the culture of your workplace to determine if it is advantageous to come out. If your boss and the culture are accepting, but you are afraid, remember that staying in the closet can slow down your career advancement. Optimal career growth requires developing authentic relationships with mentors and colleagues, and it's very hard to do that from the closet.
With Friends and Acquaintances
Friends often take their cue from you. If you are feeling confident, they will feel more relaxed. So if you wait until you are feeling more self-assured in your LGBT identity, the experience will probably be better for all of you.
When you are ready, coming out will make you a better partner, a better employee, a better relative, a better citizen, and a better friend. Why? Because you will be modeling authenticity, which is how humans reach our full potential in life.
ADAM D. BLUM, MFT, is a licensed psychotherapist and the founder of the Gay Therapy Center, which specializes in relationship and self-esteem issues for LGBTQ people. The center offers services in its San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles offices, or by Skype and phone worldwide. Visit its website to subscribe to its e-newsletter and free e-class on building a better relationship with yourself. Follow the Center on Facebook and read its blog. Email Adam your questions for possible publication. (Questions may be edited.)