The process of coming out
"Coming out of the closet" is an on-going issue in the life of virtually every gay person. Coming out has to do with how we perceive ourselves, with how we deal with our sexuality, with how we structure our lives, and with how we present ourselves and our loved ones to our families, to our friends, or to the world. There are many stages in the process of coming out. Most of us move through that process time and again. Coming out is not simply telling one's parents, joining a gay organization, having a lesbian or gay love affair, or moving to the "gay ghetto" in a large city. Coming out is a life-long process by which we constantly deal with the acceptance and integration of our gayness within a partially repressive and hostile society.
Quite understandably, some individuals are very private people who consider sexual orientation to be an extremely personal matter. But not unlike the heterosexual persons who have no qualms about wearing wedding bands, embracing in public, or discussing a vacation with a loved one during coffee break at the office, many of us have come to see that we have both the need and the right to openly and publicly celebrate and share the loving relationships which are part of our lives.
For some lesbians and gay men the process of coming out is a relatively easy one -- there never is any great difficulty in recognizing or accepting homosexual feelings. For many others of us the process in its initial stages is often far more painful. We may struggle with very great difficulty for a very long time before we are able to affirm ourselves as gay people, to say nothing of sharing that fact with those whom we love. Unfortunately, there are still some people who live in situations where reality simply demands that their sexual orientation be kept a well-guarded secret.
We live in a society in which we have been consistently indoctrinated with the worst myths, fears, and stereotypes about homosexuality. We were consistently told as young people that it is not OK to be gay. Indeed our society is structured in a way which often assumes that everyone both is and ought to be heterosexual. Within such a context it is not surprising that many people -- be they young or old -- have experienced the gravest difficulty in accepting their homosexual feelings or orientation. The guilt has been unwarranted. The pain cannot be justified. The occasional suicides represent a tragic fact. The homophobia which so affects the feelings and behavior of non-gays towards us still has a very damaging effect upon the ways in which we may perceive ourselves.