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COMING OUT: An Act of Self Love

By Barbara McDowall

'Coming out has been described as an earthquake that shakes the world not only of the person coming out but also of everyone around him or her.  It has also been described as less a declaration of sexuality to the rest of the world than a personal act of self-love.'
~ Betty DeGeneres, Love, Ellen: A Mother/Daughter Journey

Self-love is at the very core of a gradual and steady coming out process.  I liken it to a beautiful butterfly emerging from the confines of a cocoon.  The time spent in that cocoon is essential.

This process will require taking a deep look at who you are and what you believe about yourself.  It starts from within, beginning with the self and ripples outward to family, friends, work, school and society.  Sometimes it begins with a little voice that whispers in your ear; sometimes it is a feeling in the pit of your stomach when you feel an attraction for someone other than what you have been taught is the 'norm'.

Coming out requires nothing less than getting to know all of who you are, the good and the not so good, the truth and the lies.  As we begin the journey of integrating this new piece of who we are, we must take inventory of our thoughts and beliefs as they relate to being gay, lesbian, bi or trans.  We need to clear our internal house of its clutter.

Unconsciously, we have adopted the myths, stereotypes and lies that we have absorbed about the gay community.  We realize for the first time we are now considered part of this maligned and despised minority; we are now one of 'them' - a stranger in a strange land.  This fear and ignorance can limit our progress.

Our own understanding of the gay community and what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender must be revealed.  We can do that by educating ourselves.  Accurately understanding the definitions and terms related to gay, lesbian, bi and trans people and reviewing our own level of attitude toward the community.  Where are we on the continuum?  Do we feel repulsion, avoidance, appreciation or nurturance?  Where have our beliefs about the 'other' (lesbian, gay, bi, trans) come from?  The responsibility is ours to sift through and shed any beliefs that do not support who we are. 

Values are essential in defining our authentic self.  They are unique to each individual and define who we are.  Clarifying those values provides an excellent guide to decision making and more importantly, living those values every day will lead to self-confidence and personal empowerment and freedom.

Next, inform yourself of the current legislation at the federal level (Charter of Rights and Freedoms) and the provincial level (Ontario Human Rights Code).  Seek out the policies already in place in the workplace and in schools at the Board and school levels.  Know your rights and be prepared to stand up for them.

Most often the Bible has been used to abuse lesbian, gay, bi and transgender people.  Know what the Bible really says about homosexuality.  Discover the truth that we are all God's children and 'wondrously made'.  There are numerous resources, books, videos, etc. that will provide you with accurate information.  You may want to reconnect to a spiritual community that celebrates who you are and encourages, challenges and supports you in becoming more fully the person you were always meant to be.  Also, take the time to define your own spirituality based on personal exploration and study.  Don't trust anyone else's word.  Find out for yourself.

By doing the work, you will have laid a foundation that will be essential in supporting you in coming out.  The more you know about yourself and the community, the less you will be at the mercy of others.  The more you come to love and accept who you are, the less power will be given away to others. 

As human beings, we have more in common with our straight brothers and sisters than we do differences.  As we share conversations with each other, we come to the understanding that the same challenges that exist in our relationships also challenge our straight brothers and sisters.  We share the same concerns about our neighbourhoods, our city, our province, our country and the world.  We want to make a difference, we want to help our fellow man, we want our families to grow and succeed.  We want to live a life of meaning and fulfilling and to have work that is meaningful.  We spend time with each other; we come to understand that we are more similar than we have been lead to believe.  As we seek to understand, we in turn will be understood.

Once the creation of a foundation has begun, you may decide it is time to share who you are with the significant people in your life.  Some may choose to write a coming out letter.  This method is particularly effective as it allows the author to refine the message by eliminating blame and emotion, thus giving the message a clear chance to be heard.  Some may choose to sit down one on one in conversation with those they care about or feel need to know. 

Remember to share your story with love, compassion and patience.  Not everyone will respond in the way you hope.  Some will offer their understanding and support immediately; others will need a little time.  Remember that as we come out, in some cases, we put those we tell into the closet.  They may now have difficulty being candid with their friends and colleagues about you. 

Take the time to educate yourself about the rest of the community, i.e. gay, lesbian, bi and trans.  Learn about the rich diversity contained within our own community.  Eliminate fear and ignorance about the 'other' and actively promote community building that will ensure the impact a unified community can have as a force for healing and growth in the world at large. 

Get to know all the community has to offer, e.g. accepting spiritual communities, dances, concerts, workshops, etc.  The more you know the easier it will be to discover where you fit within that community.  Don't let others make that decision for you. 

Some may find it helpful to have a guided coming out experience in the context of a small group.  It is an excellent way to gently begin the process, to learn and share in a safe and confidential space and to be encouraged to take the first baby steps necessary to being your authentic self.  It can also provide an excellent community of new friends that can encourage and challenge each other along the way. 

One of the most profound acts of self-love is contained in coming out.  Date, get to know, fall in love with, and make love to yourself.  Love yourself enough to be all of who you were meant to be in the world right now.  Love yourself enough to get all the truth and information you will need to support who you are and don't be held back by the misinformed opinions of others. 

'Know thyself, and the truth will set you free' reflect the ancient wisdom that can be called upon to affirm your journey of self-discovery.

Coming out is a powerful act of self-love that changes the world.  To paraphrase Kate Clinton:  'Every time one of us comes out, we give this tired old world another opportunity to grow.'

Authentic Living