Coming Out is Not Just One and Done

 

Coming out is a complicated process within the LGBTQ/queer community. Coming out is when someone within the queer community discloses their identity to others. These experiences can be complicated for a variety of different reasons. 

Coming out can be complicated for people due to an internalized process known as internalized queerphobia which is an individual internalizing the messages (covert or overt) from their culture, community, family, and friends around queer identities. Generally speaking, the dominant cultural narrative is not one of overt support of queer identities. 

A common misconception around coming out is that you do it once or twice and then it’s over. That is DEFINITELY not the case. As a queer person, coming out happens often and is a process that continues throughout your life. Everytime you meet someone or have a new stage happen in your life or your relationship it creates another opportunity to come out.

 

What Does that Look Like?

Just like in our brains we replay what we do not heal from our childhoods, the same things show up in the coming out experience. If you initially have a difficult coming out experience or have lived in a community that does not support the LGBTQ+ community this will likely come out at each major juncture or time you have to come out.

News flash: our community and culture has only recently been remotely inclusive so most queer people have underlying messages and meanings that have been created as a result. These underlying messages or meanings that are created begin to impact the way queer people think and see themselves consciously or unconciously (internalized queerphobia). 

 

Wait… what?

So basically what I am saying (from my experience in the field) is that when queer people come out on a day to day and then in large moments of their life it activitates those pathways created around internalized queerphobia from the course of their coming out experience. 

When you are going through a new stage in your life or having to come out again and again, the pathways from the original experiences you have around coming out or around disclosing a vulnerable identity are likely to reactivate. 

Example time. So often times during the initial coming out people can be rejected by people and/or they may also have their boundaries violated. Ask most queer people and they will tell you 100000 inappropriate questions that they were asked when they came out (who’s the man/woman? Who’s baby is it? Who’s on top? What do you even do? What parts do you have? The list goes on and on).

Yes. People do ask these things. So when a queer person begins to move towards a new stage of your life or begin to engage witih a new community… these boundary violations happen again. This often triggers experiences similar to when this has happened before. If you have had a particularly challenging coming out experience (rejection, abandonment, shaming, violation of boundaries, dismissal of identity) and this has not been processed through, this can all erupt again for you. 

 

Coming out and Trauma

Often in my practice, I see clients have some level of regression each time they take these steps. These steps can be something minor like coming out to someone from their past to marriage, to having children, to losing someone, etc. The regression can show up in a variety of different ways like increased anxiety, irritability, or more extreme through reacting in trauma (the flight, fight, freeze, or fawn response). 

In many, coming out has been traumatic to varying degrees whether it is their coming out or the coming out process of their partner(s).

coming out

I believe this to be because it activates their internalized queerphobia (unconscious process) and any remaining struggles that they experienced during their coming out (conscious process). This can happen to varying degrees depending on the significance of the internalized queerphobia or the un-healed parts during their coming out. When people are responding from a place of trauma, they are often unaware of the impact they have on themselves or those around them. 

This may seem really confusing, I totally feel and hear that. What I am trying to encourage people to consider is the long term impact of how internalized queerphobia and the ongoing coming out process impact queer people’s quality of life over the course of their life. There is not enough awareness of this impact across the world or an understanding of ways to support the queer community in a real way. 

 

Prevention: A Call for Community Healing

This is the systemic impact of being a marginalized community, the multitude of layers of complexity that can be created is a crap storm for individuals and those around them. Working together to heal ourselves, our cultural beliefs, and supporting those around us can help lessen the blow to the queer community and those they love.

Prevention would be the best medicine. That would require a systemic change in the way we as a community, see, support, and engage with the queer community. It would be creating a culture of inclusivity, support, learning, and access. Prevention requires the community to do things differently. We have ample evidence (through multiple marginalized communities) that this system doesn’t work.  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

If you know someone that would benefit from this information, feel free to share it. 

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