I have been gay for as long as I can remember. Sadly, I have chosen to live a life that pleases others. As a young Black man, I was deathly afraid of disappointing my immediate God-fearing family by coming out, so instead, I played the convincing role of womanizing hetero, and I did this so convincingly.
Now, as a 60-year-old man, the game I’ve been playing is getting really old, but getting up the courage to out myself would only fracture lifelong relationships. I’ve known people who have come out and regretted doing so because of the stigma and lack of understanding. I am emotionally drained, so tired of living this double life that I’ve carved out so masterfully for myself. I am so tired of going about my life cloaking myself in what society deems appropriate, moving about undetected and, as many would say, safe. I pray that I will somehow find the strength to break out of this self-imprisonment, this identity-denying malaise, and to no longer live my life in shame.
Gay pride is being celebrated next month. But many older men and women who have spent most of their lives in the proverbial closet will remain so because they still cannot summon up the courage to share their identities with others.
It is commonly accepted that homosexuality finds less tolerance in the Black community. Black churches have also traditionally been unwelcoming to people with a different sexual orientation or gender identity. So, instead of fulfilling a desire to live free, many in the LGBTQ+ community continue to victimize themselves through self-oppression.
Coming out can be a very difficult process. Our society strongly enforces codes of behavior regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, and most people receive the message that they must be heterosexual. Coming out also involves facing societal responses and attitudes toward LGBTQ+ people. You may feel ashamed, isolated, and afraid.
Revealing yourself as a gay or lesbian older adult to your friends, and family is a HUGE part of the journey towards coming to grips with your sexual orientation. The coming out process can be difficult, but it can also be a very liberating and freeing process. You may feel like you can finally be authentic and true to who you are.
Individuals, however, do not move through the coming out process at the same speed. The process is very personal and can be continuing and lifelong. If you need to find your footing in the coming-out process, here are some helpful tips. Keep in mind… A closet is a lonely prison of the soul. Self-love will set you free.
- Coming out can be a positive experience—It is liberating to feel authentic with those you love and who claim to love you. You will also be a role model to those struggling with the same issue.
- Allow folks to be shocked—People need time to process the news. Be sensitive to the feelings of others. Pick the right time to discuss your coming out, and do so in a quiet place where you can talk about it. Think of coming out as a process and not an event. Keep the lines of communication open with people after you’ve come out to them – even if their response is negative. Respond to their questions and remember that they are probably in the process of re-examining the myths and stereotypes about gay people which we all have learned from our culture.
- Don’t view rejection as a negative—If you are rejected by someone you have come out to, do not lose sight of your self-worth. Remember that your coming out was a gift of sharing an important part of yourself which that person has chosen to reject.
- Consider writing—If you don’t think you can handle a verbal conversation about coming out, consider writing letters/emails to loved ones and then following up with a phone call. Writing gives people time to marinate, adjust, get used to the news, and then respond after giving it some thought.
- Stay in control of your news—If you want to come out to only one family member or friend at a time, remember to stress this request as you share your news.
- Surround yourself with supportive loved ones—If you know some will not take your news well, surround yourself with folks you trust and who will help foster an environment for you of safety and support.
- You don’t have to come out–Remember that the decision to come out is yours. Don’t be guilt-tripped into it by people who think everyone must come out. You can usually decide when, where, how, and to whom you wish to come out. At this stage in our society, full public declarations about one’s sexuality are not necessarily the best decision for most people.
- Get support and use the resources available to you.