Friday, September 2, 2011

Question About Coming Out

I recently saw this question asked to Joe Kort, a relationship expert, on and wanted to share it with you.  It's quite an interesting question.
I am going to be a senior in high school this year, and luckily I’m out of the closet. However…I just moved to another school. While I know that my sexuality is my business, and mine alone, being in the closet sucked. So…should I come out “again” at my new school? Or should I just hold out for the year and keep certain secrets, well, secret? —Anthony
Dear Anthony,
This is a good but tricky question.
While I am always one to lean more toward coming out of the closet, I am also always conscious of safety factors—both emotional and psychological.
I have seen it go both ways in high schools: teenagers come out and are embraced by their peers or they’re humiliated and ridiculed.
I often see it work out better for the teens who choose to come out when a gay student has a history with other students in his or her school – they’ve gone to middle school and elementary school together, for instance. When other youth have known you for a long time and have had many different kinds of experiences with you before knowing that you’re gay, it may be easier for them to accept you.
When you come out without your fellow students knowing you at all, all they see is gay and not who you are.
This is the risk you are taking by coming out as a new senior in a school where most of the kids have most likely known each other most of their lives.
I like to distinguish between privacy vs. secrecy. People tend to confuse the two and they are very different.
Privacy is a choice you make that considers your boundaries and personal choices and preferences when deciding how much you want to share about yourself . It doesn’t involve feelings of shame.
Someone might decide not to expose how much money they make for a living, political views, real hair color, or sexual fantasies and behaviors. No because they are ashamed of these things, but because they want to keep things personal for individual reasons.
Secrecy involves shame and a feeling of being damaged or flawed and tends to come into play when someone is hiding something not by their own choice. Secrets keep us sick, say some 12-step groups, and it’s true - the more you hide things about yourself of which you are ashamed, the more you will tend to act out problematic behaviors.
Shameful things often include histories of sexual abuse, weight gain or loss and addictions.
It sounds to me that if you decide not to come out that it will be a matter of privacy and not secrecy – because as you are already out!
So before you come out in your new school, I want you to make sure that you will not be risking your physical safety. Perhaps you could schedule a counseling session with one of the counselors and get a feel for what he or she thinks about the situation based on the students in the school.
But be aware that the counselor may have their own homophobia as well and the advice may be prejudiced, depending on how ga- informed and friendly they are.
I think Kort makes an excellent point about privacy v. secrecy.  The advice that I would have given Anthony is to be himself.  I wouldn't go around announcing that I was gay, but I wouldn't try to change who I was to hide it either.  Just let things progress naturally.  I can say this, I hope that Anthony has a good school environment.  Often, students espouse the fears and hatred that they hear from adults and in high school most of them have not become the person they will be, they have not formed their core identity yet, and their belief structure is still a work in progress.  If Anthony lives in a more liberal atmosphere, then the students will often reflect that in the way that they treat people.  However, if Anthony lives in a more conservative (Bible Belt) atmosphere,  then the students will often reflect that conservatism in the way that they treat people as well.

One commenter responded: As a teacher (retired), I would strongly urge anyone considering to come out at school, whether a student, teacher or other school community member to determine first if your school has a toxic, tolerating, accepting or celebrating atmosphere for LGBT and Questioning persons. If your school is toxic, you will not get any support and may be blamed as the cause of your own trouble. On the other end of the spectrum, a celebrating school welcomes both students, staff and parents who are from the LGBT community – and you will likely even find a Gay-Straight Alliance at that school. Tolerating schools and accepting schools fall in between the two ends of the spectrum. In a tolerating school, you may find limited support but will be told to keep your sexuality to yourself. In an accepting school, you will find staff who will stand up and support you, but only in a celebrating school are you likely to find teachers who are also “out.”

What advice would you give?


silvereagle said...

Privacy vs secretcy--I would advise privacy for the student for all the reasons stated.

queer heaven said...

Anyone who knows me or reads my blog, know I think every single guy should be out. But I do agree with all the above advise for this young guy. Highschool kids can be cruel!
On thing I do not agree with that Joe Kort said was
"When you come out without your fellow students knowing you at all, all they see is gay and not who you are."
Wait a minute....!!
Gay IS who you are... who else are you?

Pinocchi0 said...

Hmmmm... I'm preparing to go for half a year to Japan and work there... and wonder if I should come out there... I think it may be the better idea not to do it... In Germany I'm out of the closet, so I shall probably have a strange feeling being in the closet again...

What do you think?

JoeBlow said...

I agree, silvereagle.

QH, yes, being gay is a large part of me, and it is my sexuality, but not necessarily who I am. If I were asked to describe myself, I would first say that I was a teacher. A teacher is really who I am. I think that everyone should be out and proud of who you are, but it can be quite dangerous for some kids.

Pinocchi0, I have been mostly back in the closet for two years because of where I live and my job. I am still who I am, that will never change. My advice for you would be to gauge the situation one day at a time and see how the others might react. If you just be who you are, it won't matter whether or not you officially proclaim your sexuality to others to keep private. Just don't be ashamed of who you are.

queer heaven said...

Joe... I guess we will disagree on this one. If I were asked to describe myself I would say " I am a gay man who works as an event planner."

JoeBlow said...

QH, I don't fault anyone for identifying as gay first, but unfortunately for me, as a teacher, that can cost me a job. I hope that one day that changes. But sometimes, it's quite alright to agree to disagree. It's what makes us humans and allows for interesting dialog.