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I absolutely love National Coming Out Day. I love hopping onto Facebook and seeing friends who I had no idea are gay, trans, asexual, gender non-binary, bisexual or pansexual come out as such. And I love seeing my friends who I knew were queer reaffirm their queerness by coming out publicly to the world. It’s great to see our community expand, and the unconditional support that we give to newly out individuals as they join the LGBTQ family is inspiring.
I can and always will encourage everyone to come out, as long as it’s safe for them to do so, and as long as they have some form of unconditional support from at least one person in their life.
Time and time again, researchers have detailed the negative mental health ramifications of remaining closeted. Once you’re out of the closet you’re less likely to be depressed, cynical, stressed or anxious.
For many people this is true. But for many others, it’s not.
Whether or not you reap the health benefits of coming out has everything to do with the setting in which you disclose your sexuality and/or gender. If you come out in a relatively (or very) supportive setting, then yes, a lot of your anxiety and depression may indeed disappear. But if you’re not supported, research has indicated that you don’t necessarily gain those mental health benefits.
Imagine this: You’re 19 years old, didn’t go to college and live in a small town in the Midwest. You’re not going to feel liberated after coming out. You’re going to feel more isolated and alone than you’ve ever felt before, especially if you didn’t receive support from your family and there are no other queer spaces or ‘out’ folks in your town.
Additionally, very little research has discussed the “culture shock” that occurs directly after coming out.
For many it takes time after coming out to find a queer crew, understand “queer culture” and get used to interacting with other queer individuals.
I remember going out with a crew of gay men right after coming out. I remember repeatedly being told I was a “bad gay” for not watching certain TV shows, knowing certain musicians or for wearing certain articles of clothing. After coming out, I didn’t want to hear that I was somehow engaging in my queerness “incorrectly.”
While this wouldn’t bother me as much now, at the time I had just embraced my queerness (as a bisexual). Having my identity erased by people who were supposed to be supporting of it was the opposite of what I needed.
What’s more, I thought I was making friends with guys, and then when I wouldn’t sleep with them, the texts immediately stopped. The invitations to hangout disappeared. I remember thinking to myself, “What type of bullshit community is this?”
Dating as a queer person can seem like a whole ‘nother can of worms. Gay and bisexual men now have to weave their way through the world of apps. Many gay men are also jaded and depressed. There are a number of difficulties with dating as a lesbian or bisexual woman, too — being fetishized by men being one of them. And dating for transwomen and transmen is often a very difficult process due to rampant misinformation and transphobia within LGB and straight communities.
Then there’s the misogyny, racism, internalized homophobia and size-ism that runs rampant within the queer community, epitomized by that all-too-familiar saying of “no fats, no fems, no *insert race here*.”
Many queer folks have a drinking problem, justifying their alcoholism as being part of “gay culture.” Also, meth. I couldn’t tell you the number of gay men I’ve met in NYC who smoke meth. Those who have been on a gay app anytime between 3–7 a.m. can likely speak to being hit up by a swarm of men asking if you “parTy.” (The capital T stands for Tina, which is code for crystal meth.)
So for many, the hard part comes after coming out, not before.
Don’t worry, though, I’m not ending the piece there. Could you imagine if I did? That would be incredibly depressing and not at all in the spirit of National Coming Out Day! As I mentioned earlier, we should encourage everyone to come out on this day and not in any way discourage them.
There is a huge silver lining to ‘coming out’ for those who don’t immediately experience the health benefits of doing so. A silver lining that makes being out and part of the LGBTQ community totally worth it.
Know this: You will, at some point, find a queer group of friends who understands you, embraces you and loves you unconditionally. These friends won’t be like any friends you’ve had before. There is something unbelievably powerful about being unabashedly and authentically you, and for others to love you for that part of yourself that you were once so afraid to reveal to others for years.
These people are more than friends. They’re your chosen family. Once you find them, your life will never be the same.
It took me two years after coming out to find my chosen family in Boston. To have a group of queer (and, yeah, a token straight) friends that “get” the real me. It took my uncle’s husband nearly a decade to find his chosen family. Now he splits his time between central Massachusetts and Provincetown and has never felt happier — or gayer.
It may take you a month, or it may take you years, but you will find your group. And once you do, you won’t regret being out. You will absolutely love being queer.
So Happy National Coming Out Day, everyone! If it’s all you hoped it would be, I can’t tell you how happy I am for you. If not, there’s no need to worry. It may just take a little more time.
Featured image by Deagreez via iStock