In my post Hope for LGBT Christians I addressed some of the first questions I’m often asked when people find out I’m a faith-based therapist specializing in fostering an LGBTQ+ safe space: why is this an interest of yours and how do you approach this topic?
In the context of this safe space, often people come out to me before they’ve come out to anyone else. After some processing and development of insights, the next item on the agenda is who to tell and how to tell them.
Why come out at all?
There is deep value in being authentic about central aspects of who we are. In order to feel known and cared for, we have to make who we are visible to those around us so they can see us and accept us for who we are. When we hide who we are, we can’t be fully seen and we often feel a sense of shame about our secrets.
For those who’ve identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer, or who are otherwise asking questions about their gender or sexuality may be helped in their journey by sharing with select loved ones or trusted friends. This is an important step in our own processing as we need others to see us and reflect back to us that they know us.
Why not tell everyone I know?
With all that said, not everyone will be a safe person to come out to. Regardless of what decisions you make for how you live your life, sometimes even simply acknowledging that you experience same sex attraction or that you have questions around your gender can be triggering for others. This can be true for any community, though often this can be exaggerated within some church circles.
I’ve heard many stories of people coming out first to those they’re closest to, which unfortunately can sometimes be a disastrous experience for all parties. Imagine the scenario of a teen coming out to Christian parents; both the teen and the parents may be processing their own feelings and the parents might say some hurtful and even abusive comments to their teen who is in a vulnerable position. Coming out in safe spaces first can help the teen be better equipped with more resources when the time eventually comes to talk to mom and dad.
How to identify your allies
I encourage people to be choosy about who they first come out to by identifying their allies and sharing with them first. This is an important step before coming out to more people, because often we are still processing our own emotions and solidifying confidence as we share with a few people for the first time. It’s important to begin by sharing with someone who you know will be able to be emotionally supportive and to help you in your journey.
There are a few ways to find out who some allies could be. First, if you know of others in your community or your peer group who are out, they might be a helpful starting point. Unfortunately, you may be the pioneer in your group or community. There are probably others around you who are still in the closet but you have no way of knowing who they are.
In the age of the internet we can spot our allies a bit more easily. Sometimes it can be easiest to come out in an online community that is clear in it’s mission statement that it’s a safe space. A few of the more well-known communities include The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), PFLAG, The Gay Christian Network (GCN), and Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network (GSA Network). Local to San Jose, there is also the San Jose chapter of PFLAG and the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Community Center in the same neighborhood as my office.
You may also find other support through social media networks. There are probably some allies in your extended online community if you look around a bit. As an example, a friend mentioned after I shared an LGBTQ-affirming post on Facebook that she looked through who “liked” my post to give her an idea of who else in our community might potentially be an LGBTQ safe space.
A word about trauma
As difficult as it is to process gender and sexuality within ourselves, the process of coming out to others can often be more difficult than any other part of the process. Unfortunately, I’ve seen people experience direct trauma from friends, family, clergy, and others as a reaction to coming out. Though I’m hopeful that the growing base of education and resources available are slowly seeping into our awareness as a whole, there are still many people who don’t know what to make of the entire LGBTQ thing, and in their process can say and do incredibly harmful things.
If you’re reading this and you’re either harboring a secret for fear of how your loved ones will react or you’ve already been hurt and are feeling alone in your process, I want to encourage you that you’re not alone. The world isn’t always a safe place, but you are welcome here and you belong here.
I know all too well how lonely the world can be for our LGBTQ friends. Depression and suicide are still rampant within the LGBTQ community. If you are in a dark space, please reach out for help. Here are a few resources for you:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (24/7): 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Project Lifeline (24/7): 866-488-7386
Photo by Todd Cravens on Unsplash