Julie Answers: How do I overcome my anxiety about coming out?
Elly asked: How do I overcome feeling anxious about telling the people in my life that I am dating a girl? My girlfriend wants me (she/her) to stop hiding our relationship; only my immediate family knows. How should I mentally prepare for this change? Additionally, I am already a very private person, so I rarely tell my friends personal matters, making this even more difficult. I know my close friends from when I attended a religious elementary school, so once I tell them, this news will likely spread very fast, and I imagine attending community events will be uncomfortable from that point forward. I am torn between my relationship and my privacy. I would hate for this to be the reason why our relationship fails, but I have been dreading this moment since I knew I was queer.
Wow, I can only imagine how scary it feels to have come to this crossroads, this potential turning point. No matter the situation, just the idea that the time has come to face an experience you have been dreading …That is a daunting prospect and is a huge weight to bear. Here are a few things to reflect on as you contemplate that.
You said only your immediate family knows you are queer and dating a girl. Does that mean they are supportive? I would be very happy to hear that they are, that you are not in the heartbreaking position that so many queer people from religious families find themselves in. No matter how much judgment you feel, anticipate, and fear from the outside world, that acceptance is something to hold on tightly to. I’m curious also about how these family members feel about you coming out to your friends and community. I imagine that they are either supportive, or that they have the same fears you do about being judged. If they are more comfortable with the idea than you are, I would try to really rely on them to remind you that you have a right to be open about who you are and hold your head up high, no matter what kind of disapproval you face, because you are on the side of right, equality, justice, and love. If they are also struggling with the “what will people think?” issue, I recommend trying to connect online with other queer people from your religion who have come out. I suspect there are many who can share their own stories and experiences. Maybe some of them were rejected by their communities, but I’m sure others have been surprised by how at least some of the people they grew up with were able to open their hearts and minds to accept them.
When you think about how you have been dreading this moment since you knew you were queer, what specific thoughts and images come to your mind? Is it that you think your friends will be shocked? Do you picture them viewing you as a stereotype, no longer seeing YOU as the unique person you are but instead seeing you through the distorted lens they are accustomed to seeing queer people through? That they will preach about sin and fundamentalist teachings? Or maybe all of the above, or something else entirely? Maybe the answer to that lies simply in the fact that you are a private person who is selective about what you share with people in general. The unfairness of the position you are in has got to hurt. After all, straight people are not forced to reveal the private details of their lives just to be honest about who they are, and they don’t have the burden of hiding a huge part of their identity in order to maintain basic privacy.
As you grapple with whether you can do this or not, I recommend that you spend some time visualizing yourself in that vulnerable situation of having come out to your friends. It might be helpful to have your girlfriend or someone else you are close to be with you as you do this mental exercise. Really go there, try to imagine the looks on their faces when they find out or when you walk into community events. Maybe imagine the rudest or most ignorant things someone could say, and steel yourself for that. Imagine what the anxiety and dread feel like in your body — is your heart beating fast, is your face hot, is your stomach tight?
Now the second part of this visualization exercise is to imagine someone else being on the receiving end of this disapproval and judgment. Think of your role models, the LGBTQ people you most love and admire. One by one, imagine them walking into that situation. What thoughts go through your mind when you see them being judged and rejected? Does it make you angry? Does it make you want to stand up and defend them against prejudice and ignorance? Do you feel like they’re being denied the honor and respect that they deserve? After you have gathered all of those feelings, put yourself back in their place and try to feel the same strong convictions on your own behalf.
The bottom line is this… There is no denying that it is not fair that you are in this position. No one should be forced to be a “poster child” for their identity; no one should have to give up their privacy in order to convince others to open their closed minds. But nevertheless, the world being what it is, you are in that place. It is both a burden and an opportunity. Prejudice is a terrible thing. Fundamentalist religious judgment causes so much pain and suffering in the world. If you choose to come out, that courage may have a ripple effect that you can’t anticipate.
I would like to recommend this TED talk:
It is one of the most heartfelt and moving of these I have seen. Morgana Bailey, the woman presenting, basically comes out to everyone watching. And apparently even people close to her did not know that she identified as a lesbian until this moment. She talks about what convinced her to take the risk and come out. She relates how she felt when she learned that someone who knew her pretty well had voted against marriage equality in a recent election. It made her wonder — if this person knew that she was queer, would that have changed his views at all? Would it have put a human face on a “category” of people he could easily dismiss when they were an anonymous “other”?
Over the past twenty years, really picking up in the past decade, people who had anti-LGBTQ prejudices, for religious reasons or otherwise, have personally known more people who are openly LGBTQ. It is much easier to be prejudiced against nameless, faceless people who you view as different from you. It is much harder to know a person, know they are queer, and apply the same judgment to them. Yes, I know that, sadly, some people are still capable of doing this. Some people are rigidly locked in their views and will never change. But for many, many straight people, prejudices have melted away the more LGBTQ people they have personally known. So you could possibly have a significant impact on the community you grew up in. At least some individuals may be more welcoming and accepting, leading to a few more steps on a long road to the day in which no one has to dread the moment they reveal who they truly are.
I wish you all the best, and I hope your relationship with your girlfriend survives this crisis and becomes stronger than ever.