This is a hard question for me to answer. Having some significant mental (and physical) scars from my own coming-out, it is not something I often look back on fondly. That said, I’ve come a long way over the years and I wish I would have had the options most gay people have today.
Q: How do you recommend coming out to your family/friends?
A: As I sat down to write this, I realized I’ve touched on it in a variety of ways over the years. I guess it took someone asking before I could tie it all together in one cohesive post.
First off, I hate to break it to ya but there is no one-size-fits-all answer here. Everyone has a different situation. While I am a big believer in openness and honesty, you have to weigh that honesty with self-preservation. If you are dependent on another, financially or otherwise, it is not always easy to take the high road. However, once you’ve reached a financial stability in your life, fear of survival is no longer an excuse.
From my own experiences growing up in a very rural secluded area, my view of gay people was the limp-wristed, feminine stereotype. While not representing said stereotype, I clearly recognized some traits in myself. It scared the shit out of me at the time.1 I spent many years trying to convince myself I wasn’t really gay. I had no desire to wear women’s clothing/makeup so I couldn’t possibly be gay. I just had this odd sexual attraction to men I couldn’t control no matter how much I wished it away or beat myself up over it. I continuously tried to control my thoughts, feelings, and impulses to no avail. My burgeoning sexuality would not be denied and no matter how hard I tried, I could not “convince” or “change” myself into being 100% straight.2 The mental anguish I put myself thru was intense and severe. On top of that, I felt guilty for not being able to control myself and this only made me feel worse. It wasn’t until years later I began to realize my failed attempts to ‘fix’ myself were total irrational bullshit
So, the first thing you need to accept and resolve in yourself is that you are not a bad person. You do not need to punish or chastise yourself for expressing a perfectly natural impulse (to you). Whether society has yet to realize that simple truth or not, you have an inalienable right to exist and be, just like everyone else. And for cracker’s sake, do not fall for the foolish notion you have to conform to a higher standard just to obtain the basic rights given to everyone else. We do not need to hold ourselves to a higher standard to obtain equal treatment.
Once you come to terms with accepting yourself, you need to realize you are not alone. While being gay still carries stigma in society, we are more vocal and visual than ever before. Yes, we still have a hard road ahead of us, but we have more rights than anytime in modern history. Not only that, the age of technology and the internet has made it easier than ever to reach out to others. On a side note, your sexuality on the Kinsey Scale may vary based on genetics.3
Please understand your refusal to act on natural impulses does not make you a ‘convert’ no matter how hard the religious fundies try to say otherwise. Teaching yourself to hate or deny your id is wrong and unhealthy at best. The real damage often comes from trying to force yourself to be something you aren’t, straight. Not only do we end up hurting ourselves, we also hurt people around us.
I won’t tackle the religion angle here other than to make one point. The fundamental failure in religious interpretation is the failed assumption sexuality is a choice vs genetic. Science (and nature) has consistently shown sexuality is tied as much to our genetics as anything else. And frankly, how much gall does it take for someone who is straight to try and tell someone who is gay its a choice? So because you (as a straight person) can’t identify with being gay, it must be a choice? Oh yeah Watson, brilliant deduction skills there. /sarcasm.
Back to the topic. Ultimately, you have to do what you think is right for you. I would argue you will spend more amounts of time more trying to hide it than you ever would dealing with the issues that come up over being honest. Hiding behind fear is not the answer. To borrow a phrase, “fear is the mind-killer”. It will cripple you and potentially do irreparable harm to your mental/physical well-being. IMHO, you cannot deny such a fundamental tenant of your existence. To do so only works for so long. Eventually the id finds a way to express itself, be it emotional or physical. Oh and don’t think for a moment living a ‘straight’ life with discreet encounters on the side makes you any more straight. You are only deluding yourself. Chances are high, your family, friends, coworkers, etc probably already know or suspect. Humans have innate senses and often put things together whether it be on a conscious level or not.
I have a firm belief the driving force in society changing peoples minds is each of us living openly and honest. People quickly realize we aren’t that much different when you get right down to it. Yeah, we enjoy same sex relationships, but otherwise we are pretty much the same. Our only ‘agenda’ is to have the same basic rights afforded everyone else under the law, free of persecution; the pursuit of life, love, and happiness. We have the same goals, ideals, hopes and dreams.
So that is my answer. Take it as you will.