This October 11th is International Coming Out Day.
An annual event to celebrate people who want to publicly 'come out of the closet' about their sexuality and/or gender.
Labels people might use when they come out include (but are not limited to) lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, non-binary, asexual and queer.
So do we need a day to encourage coming out?
I wonder what it would be like if our world was not so heteronormative and cisnormative, if we were all free to be who we are without the scrutiny and assumptions of others. Would this mean no one would need to come out, or would everyone then need to come out?
When working with clients who are thinking about disclosing who they are, I find that many find the concept of 'inviting in' very helpful instead of coming out.
Inviting in, challenges the othering process of coming out and leaves the person in control of who they invite in to support them, and who they share details with about their own personal identity.
This can feel less scary and more of a stepped process, in which the client might choose to invite in only one person or a select few, rather than meet the expectation to have to make a public announcement and tell everyone all at once, particularly on a given day.
So this National Coming Out Day, think about whether or not you want to or are ready to start coming out or if instead you would like to do it in your own time and perhaps consider inviting in as another option.
Thinking about and planning whether or not to come out is something I and other LGBTQ people share. I used to think coming out was just a one-time event: you say it and that's it; you can move forward with life.
Later I realised that it’s an ongoing process and that with every new situation, every new person you meet, LGBTQ folks have the ongoing question about whether to come out or not. I don’t mean always having to say 'oh, by the way I’m gay/trans/bi' etc. It's more about the subtle nuances in conversation like wondering whether it’s necessary to share the pronouns of your partner, and whether to use the term 'partner' to hide their gender or instead to say girlfriend/boyfriend. If you’re trans and/or non-binary you might question making a phone call for fear of someone misgendering you based on the tone of your voice.
These day-to-day things can be exhausting for many LGBTQ folks and can put some people off trusting a professional such as a counsellor. It can take a lot of courage and trust to decide to start counselling, so feeling pushed out before you’ve even made it to the first session can be incredibly demoralising.
I don't think this means clients need to come out in order to access counselling. Instead, I think it is the job of us counsellors to take time to think about heteronormativity and cisnormativity and how it can affect how we might act in the counselling room.
I’m so passionate about helping fellow counsellors learn how not to inadvertently make assumptions so that together we can make the counselling profession a safer place for our clients.
Many many people that join my workshops are heterosexual and/or cisgender so don’t have the lived experience of having to think about coming out as they have lived in a world where what people assume is their sexual and gender identity is correct. However it doesn’t mean they can't successfully work with LGBTQ clients.
I encourage all counsellors no matter how they identify to take time to explore their own gender/sexual identity. Doing this personal introspection goes a long way.
I find it fascinating to ask my workshop participants to think about how they imagine it might feel to have to come out about their sexuality and/or gender; to imagine a world where they are in the minority where their identity is marginalised.
I find the following free online short films very helpful in illustrating this.
Imagine a world where the majority of people are lesbian/gay and heterosexuals are in the minority – this is 'Homoworld'.
A rare and intimate glimpse into the trials and tribulations faced by trans folk on a daily basis.
Counsellors can learn more on my online workshops - more details can be found here.
If you are reading this and thinking about coming out this Coming Out Day, remember there is absolutely no pressure to do so. It is important you feel safe and consider opening up only if you want to.
Glossary of terms
Cisgender/cis: not trans
Cisnormative: when people are assumed to be cisgender unless corrected
Heteronormative: when people are assumed to be heterosexual unless corrected