Imagine you had a secret so close to your heart that not even your closest friend or family member have any idea you’re hiding it. Imagine your secret has the power to tear your family apart, ruin lifelong relationships, prevent you from being promoted or even from securing a job. Imagine holding a secret which dictates the way you speak and every nuance of your behaviour, one little slip up could let the cat out of the bag and you’re on your own, quite literally.
The question may allude to a spy thriller or a criminal in hiding however this is the reality faced by an entire segment of society, affecting our friends, family, colleagues and those in our care. Coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer can be the most stressful and difficult thing a person in such a position will ever have to do and whilst the afore mentioned consequences may hold no basis in reality, the threat alone is enough to keep many people in the closet.
The reasons for remaining closeted are varied and potentially complicated depending on the individual, be it their upbringing, religion, ignorance or simply a lack of understanding of who they are. Coming out can be terrifying and in many cases, that terror might be avoided through the education of those around us.
Ask what the eleventh of October means to the people around you and it’s a sibling’s birthday, a wedding anniversary or perhaps the start of a last ditch attempt at a summer holiday, however I’m confident you won’t hear “oh, it’s national coming out day, of course”.
To most, National Coming Out Day isn’t a concern, it’s another one of those days you read about in the Metro on your commute to work, or it appears on your Facebook feed between Trump memes and kitten posts however it’s unlikely to strike a chord unless you have a personal investment in the idea of “coming out”.
Founded thirty years ago, National Coming out Day is an exercise in positively approaching homophobia in places which traditionally are deemed safe spaces by the heterosexual/straight community, spaces which should be deemed safe to all people who might work or live there. The premise is simple, find a comfortable way to come out to a friend, colleague or family member in the spirit of openness with the ultimate goal of fostering understanding and acceptance where otherwise, these qualities may be lacking or non-existent.
It can be difficult to imagine a loved one’s reaction to the news that you’re gay, the weight of judgement crushes all and any optimism that you may be accepted and loved just as you always have been and is replaced with dread and anxiety so powerful, it can prevent a person from coming out until later in life, not at all or in too many instances, can contribute to a person taking their own life. Imagine the idea of not being loved by your parents or of bringing such shame to those you love that every decision you make is shaped in order to prevent that very thing from happening which as a consequence, confines you to being a caricature of yourself for as long as it takes to find the courage.
Looking away from our work place and towards our customers it’s also important to focus on similar issues they might face. Coming out AGAIN as retiree for example, someone who has lived his adult life as an out gay man has reached his twilight years and is moving to a nursing home, a facility designed as a safe and comfortable space to see out the rest of his days in peace and happiness. Upon entering the home he is faced with residents even older than himself imbued with the morals and values from a bygone era, ignorant to the LGBT community and scathing at the very idea. Coupled with care workers who’s ideals and values do no align with those of the new resident, this place quickly becomes a personal prison where freedom of expression is available only to those to
conform to the status quo. Safety, comfort, peace and happiness may quickly become an idea lost to the reality of their new found circumstances.
I am optimistic that in our lifetime, such bigotry and judgemental behaviours might become a thing of the past, after all we are the future generation of care home residents, we are the ones who will open our arms and our hearts to new residents coming from all spectrums of society in every variation of gender, sexuality and race.
Remember, people come out every day of the week, they’re faced with many different reactions however one thing almost always present is a sense of relief and a new found freedom, unburdened by a lifelong secret, looking at the world through new eyes and with a new perspective. I’ve been thought the process personally and speak from the heart when I say, I’ve never been happier.
I lived for many years fearful of my Dad’s reaction (Mum was a breeze, “oh right, no bother son, thanks for letting me know”) and not because I was afraid of him, I wasn’t, I simply did not want to disappoint or embarrass him. In the end I understand that he loves me unconditionally and he proudly extends that love to my partner and also my friends many of whom are proud to be a part of the LGBT community.
Perhaps I’m fortunate to have been blessed with parents who hold their children above imaginary lines of prejudice and simply ask that we do anything in life that makes us happy, always respectful of those around us. I cannot speak for those in a less favourable situation however I can say with absolute certainty that when you welcome likeminded people in to your life, you will reap the benefits of living your best out life.
I’m hopeful that having read this far, you will be encouraged to consider the positives of coming out and if that’s you, understanding that I and everyone like me will celebrate your honestly, bravery and you for simply being you.