I’ve been married for 5 years and it’s a sham.
I want to come out, but, I’m scared to death that everyone I know will turn against me.
I have two young kids – a 6-month-old baby girl and a 3-year-old boy – who I love more than anything, and I’m afraid my wife would keep me from ever seeing them again.
I read in your column last year that it’s mentally healthy to come out, but is it really worth all the pain it causes? Please help me make my decision.
Tortured in suburban San Diego
I have great respect for the gravity of your problem and your commitment to your children.
Let’s look at your situation: you probably grew up in a family and community where being gay rarely received support. On the contrary, gay children are usually subjected to intense pressure (indirect and direct) NOT to come out. The “hiding” activities we learned in childhood often persist into young adulthood. Many of my married gay/bi/lesbian clients felt too much pressure NOT to marry and saw no way possible to resist the heterosexual role. “It was so much easier just to get married,” one of my lesbian clients recently told me, “the alternative was too horrible to imagine.”
When we’re closeted, we often can’t even tell ourselves, let alone others, about our homoerotic feelings, attractions and fantasies. We’re split: we have our public and private selves. When we come out: we can integrate all the parts of ourselves together, probably for the first time. Telling lies and hiding takes an immense amount of energy. It’s very tiring to be closeted!
In the professional journal Psychiatric Times, Psychiatrist Jack Drescher wrote a terrific article: “The Closet: Psychological Issues of Being In and Coming Out”. He writes that to identify as gay is to be “homosexually self-aware, to claim a normative identity…defining oneself as gay usually requires some measure of self-acceptance.” Identifying as gay (even if only to yourself) is the beginning of coming out.
So, Congratulations! You’ve already taken steps out of the closet. What Dr.Drescher calls a “normative identity” means feeling good about who you are and seeing it as truly OK. For us LGBT people, it is “normative” to be gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered…because it is who we really are.
Before he died, Reverend Charles Lanier – the pastor of Unity Fellowship Church – told me, “God doesn’t make mistakes, your sexual identity is perfect for you. Rejoice in it: it’s a gift, a blessing from God.”
You may not (yet) be ready for Reverend Lanier’s rejoicing, but you’re on your way. It’s rough on your self-esteem to hide the truth about a crucial part of yourself: who you are physically attracted to. Years of lying about who you are chips away at your self-esteem until, as one of my clients told me, “There’s virtually nothing left of the real me…it’s all fake, phony lies.”
Constantly hiding makes it impossible to know what people really think of you and impossible to know your own strengths and accomplishments. You’re so busy being “straight” that you don’t know who the hell you really are. Praise is meaningless and avoiding blame or censure is everything. Most closeted people feel cowardly and ashamed of themselves. How could self-esteem flourish in such a mind? You become invisible, lose your true voice, feel trapped and stuck behind false fronts that YOU put up. In general, you hate yourself and who you’re pretending to be.
Okay, I’ll ease up a bit. But not much: as a therapist to the LGBT community for many years, I’ve seen the pain and damage that being closeted creates for us all. A recent study of formerly closeted gay men (Herdt and Boxer) stated that “many gay men, before they came out, were either gay-baiters or gay bashers”.
Attacking other men perceived to be gay is a way to control other people’s perceptions, e.g., “If I attack gay people, no one will think I’m gay”. A recent study saw a relationship between gay bashing and homosexual arousal, finding that “men with strong antihomosexual beliefs actually had significant homosexual arousal patterns”. The bottom line (pun intended) is what Shakespeare said eons ago: “Me thinks he doth protest too much”.
Such is the degree of our self-hatred that we may resort to violence towards our fellow LGBTers in order to “beat” the queerness out of ourselves. This self-hatred can also manifest in feeling suicidal. Many of my clients (and indeed, myself) had suicidal thoughts during the years before we came out. I had such strong internalized homophobia that I didn’t come out until I was 33. I have great respect for the pain involved in the process.
As a therapist, I can tell you that there is no single way to come out, a fact sometimes overlooked by well-intentioned heterosexual therapists trying to “help” us with our process. Coming out brings a unique mixture of anxiety and relief, joy and pain, freedom and responsibility.
And speaking of responsibility, I strongly recommend that you speak with an LGBT-friendly lawyer regarding your children and your legal rights should you decide to come out and/or leave your marriage. Go to the Internet (or the LGBT center nearest you) to find 2-3 lawyers and interview them over the phone to make sure they’re gay-friendly.
I wish you much inner strength as you make some very difficult decisions. Please know you are not alone: while many of us endured considerable pain coming out of the closet, the VAST majority of us are so glad we did.