“Coming Out.” A Process, not an event.

by Jim on March 28, 2013


The term “Coming Out” generally refers to men and women who are in the process of openly sharing, for the first time, that they like, as in they romantically or sexually like, other men, or like other women, or both.

I’m not going to be talking about whether or not “bisexual” is an orientation (I do believe that it is, but again, that’s a different blog). What I’m going to focus on here is the process of coming out in general. First up, coming out, whether it be my sexual orientation, or that I secretly like disco, is a process, not an event.

There’s even a “National Coming Out Day” sometime in the Fall (sorry, I don’t know the date off hand) in which on many college campuses there’s a closet door that many courageous men/women “jump” through a closet door that’s put out on the mall or in populated areas of campuses.

Jumping through that door is the metaphor for “coming out,” and that’s the event, but that one event is probably only part of the whole process of me accepting myself and my sexual orientation. To be clear, a sexual orientation means my romantic/sexual attraction to men or women. (I can be attracted to another in many other ways than romantic/sexual ways: I’m “attracted” to their work ethic, their sense of humor, how they have focus, etc…).

Coming Out is a process of accepting myself. A “process” means that it’s not  a one time event. It means that whatever is happening, in this case the acceptance that I’m genuinely attracted to men, when I’ve told you that I’m attracted to women, jumping through that door doesn’t automatically turn some switch inside that makes everything okay. It takes integration to fully accept my orientation, or whatever “coming out” that I’m doing.

The process can take years, even decades, and can really hurt straight families wherein the “man of the family” (or the “woman of the family”) hasn’t fully integrated or accepted his or her sexuality, meaning, that he genuinely and secretly likes men (or women). For this next part I’m primarily focusing on men who are “in process,” rather than women, but the process for women experiencing their sexual expression and evolution can also take time.

This can impact that family in a HUGE way, and can cause pain on so many levels including the “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME!!!” anger and betrayal levels that can come up. This anger/betrayal is totally normal and natural. And to this I’m offering that men are still “trained” by our culture more than not, that they don’t “have” a sexuality, that they’re just “supposed” to like (be sexually attracted to) women.

Additionally, many times men are also “trained” to not have a large emotional vocabulary, so they don’t “share” the feelings that women often will have the ability and “freedom” to share. Sometimes when men actually “show” the emotional side of themselves, women have used that against the man saying “Oh, be a man about it, you were hurt by THAT?!”

I really don’t like using the words “trained” because it’s kinda crass, but what I’m talking about when I use this term is that the young boy may not have ever been allowed to feel other emotions than anger and he may have learned that feeling sad or hurt or lonely meant that he was “weak.”

When boys learn this at a young age, it can be super hard to change that “emotional orientation.” I’m defining emotional orientation in this case as to how they relate to sharing the emotional or vulnerable parts of themselves. It’s about them learning  to NOT express themselves emotionally because they would be judged or put down for sharing or showing their vulnerability.

I would hope it’s needless to say, but it needs to be said, that when men show the emotional side of themselves it really hurts the relationship if that emotional truth is batted down as if it’s irrelevant by their partner. That actually can shut down the emotional communication that comes from the man, and it reinforces the “emotional orientation” which is to not share his inner world with you.

Regarding the actually “coming out” to the family, to the wife, to the kids, there is often an ENORMOUS amount of shame that has been long held in that simply STOPS the man from sharing. In true fact, he himself may have thought that it was a “phase” of attraction that would go away. If that’s what his culture, his religion, his family, etc., has taught him, of course he’ll believe that, so it actually can make sense that he hasn’t shared his sexual orientation…because he’s denied it and genuinely couldn’t tolerate it within himself, much less share it with his wife/girlfriend.

Recently I spoke with a wonderful man who was “found out” that he was gay by his neighbor, and his first response was how he was going to lie to the neighbor so as to hold onto his secret…and his truth…that he likes men. I told him what I’m telling you, coming out is a process, and it doesn’t happen over night.

As that conversation progressed, that man courageously identified what his internal labels and judgments were, and when those judgments came up, I acknowledged his courage for identifying them. Many would judge this man’s judgments and try to say that “it’s not this way,” or “that’s not true,” but a really helpful way actually is to let the other simply have their judgments. When that’s safe, then he can share and work with the judgments, that is, find out where the judgments came from, see if those judgments are true, etc.

I think it’s an important part of the process of coming out (or anything for that matter), to acknowledge the hidden judgments first without judging them, and then work to see how/when/where/what those judgments have impacted this person’s world view that has stopped them from more fully accepting themselves.

It’s all a process.


If you’re in YOUR process of coming out…in your sexual orientation, or in your process of accepting that you might be attracted to the same gender, or that you  manage money poorly, or that you’re this or that, or that you do this or do that, please know that it’s a process, and like clouds pass in the sky, processes pass. Hold your vision towards knowing that things can get better, and some of the negative beliefs that you have may not actually be accurate or true.

Hold the vision that you’ll cross paths with people that will accept you “warts and all,” and if it would help, go see a counselor. I’ve found that people who seek counseling are smart people. It’s not “broken” people or “crazy” people or “weird” people who go to get help or assistance from a counselor…it’s a smart person who knows that they could use some extra help, and it’s wise to go and get it to move your life forward.




{ 1 comment }

Nauru March 31, 2013 at 8:02 am

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