If you live in a large city that offers coming out support groups, I recommend taking advantage of them. If you don’t have an in-person support group, the next best thing is a telephone support group (see resources.) There are things a support group can offer you that a one-on-one session with a therapist cannot, though I recommend doing both if possible.
Peer support groups can be extremely powerful in the following ways:
- It’s important to know you’re not alone on your journey.
- There is enormous acknowledging and validating going on — you’re all in the same boat with similar goals and you each have very similar struggles. When you’re sharing your story, your other peer members are usually nodding their heads saying “That totally makes sense, that happens to me too!” They may even chime in with “This is what worked for me when I was in that situation…”
- The facilitator or peer coach can help show you the “path beyond” when you are stuck. It helps to have someone there that has been through it all before because they know there is an opening on the other side. There is no way out, but through–and they will be the fearless leader walking by your side as you make your journey.
- There is great “peer wisdom” to be shared. Even in the midst of a struggle or emergence, there is a great wisdom that is generated within the group. Often the group will run itself without the need for the facilitator to interject.
- The peer group holds each other accountable to their greatness. They call each other on “playing small” and encourage each other to create a life that will bring them joy.
- Your peers get to know you in many ways your family and friends may not because you’re talking in-depth about a subject that you typically aren’t sharing with many other people. There is a bond or closeness that is created that can be like no other, particularly when in person, but phone is really good too.
- You laugh and you cry in group. It is a great release of all the pent up emotions you have been feeling.
- You can set goals if you want in group, but you will come out (or not) at your own pace with gentle encouragement.
- Homophobia tends to get nipped in the bud when the bond between you and your peers starts to form. You respect and care so much for the other people in the group (who are also coming out) so how can you look down on gay people? Some of the homophobia may have been engrained since childhood, so we work on that over time. But a large part of the self loathing involved in coming out tends to melt away amidst the love of your peers.
- You may make friends for life. Even if they turn out to be shorter term relationships, you are in the process of building a very important support network.
In our support groups we laugh and we cry. But above all we are there for each other week after week, and we accept each other no matter the decision.
Most of us are divided on the issue of being “special.” On the one hand, we want to be unique, and on the other hand we want to fit in with the rest of the crowd. The need to fit in dates back to our early tribal ancestors and is not to be taken lightly; if you were an outcast in those times you would not have survived. When we take the risk to come out, we are rubbing up against our primordial need to be loved and accepted by our clan. We are risking exclusion. Logically we know as adults that we have the means to survive without our families if needed, but it is nevertheless a scary step to take. If we are still a youth, we may risk being kicked out of our homes, or bullied. Even as adults we may be dependent on a husband or other caretaker that we now risk losing, particularly if we have been staying at home and watching the children for years. We may feel we won’t be able to provide for ourselves or our children sufficiently.
What can you do to develop multiple streams of support and take steps to grow your network of allies?
- Reach out to gay people who you know and respect. Ask if you can speak confidentially with them about your situation and ask what resources they found helpful when coming out.
- You will likely be able to find a gay-friendly therapist in your area. Social workers these days are trained specifically on issues of diversity and inclusion, which includes the LGBTQ community.
- Find a support group. In New York, Identity House offers coming out groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. There is nothing as healing as being with other people who are going through the same thing as you. You can laugh, cry and share your mutual struggles. I have also found internalized homophobia dissolves in the presence of a group of women whom you love and respect that are also coming out.
- As a coach, I am here to talk if you need additional support. I host an inexpensive and completely confidential Coming Out Group that meets in Brooklyn, New York, and am putting together a group via phone so women from anywhere in the United States can call in. Contact me at Jan@lifeaftertherapy.com if interested.
We do have to make a leap of faith to come out, but rather than rely on total trust that we “leap and the net will appear,” we can take steps to build a web of information, skills and support to make our landing pad soft. Realize that just taking a few steps means you’re already on your journey–be proud of yourself for your bravery.
What is the antidote to the fear of being different? Sharing your story with others who can relate. Relishing in the very differences that make you unique. There is no one like you. Share below what makes you unique and tell us your story!
In closing, I had a mixture of difficult times and great support when I came out. I was bullied in high school for it and the thing that kept me strong was knowing that I was helping to change the world. By bravely stepping forward and claiming who I am, I was showing others that they could do the same. Teegan and Sara have released a new song on bullying, which I thought I would share. How will your coming out make things right? How will it change the world?
Enjoy building your net!
Pope Francis made headlines and waves soon after he took office when he made the statement “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized.” (The “they” he is referring to is of course homosexuals.)
It can be particularly challenging to come out if we have been raised in a religion that does not accept our sexual orientation. In fact, it causes many of us to leave the religion in which we were raised as we no longer feel supported, accepted and nourished by it. Even if we were not raised in a particularly religious family we cannot have lived in this world without being influenced in some way by religious belief. We take heart however, that many (if not most) of the worlds religions seem to be evolving away from hatred and exclusivity into a more welcoming stance of love and inclusivity when it comes to sexual identity and orientation, as witnessed by Pope Francis and numerous churches now allowing gay marriages and even pastors.
The religions that are desperately trying to cling to the old way of thinking are afraid of change, and (IMHO) it is better to be understanding of this than angry. Change can be very frightening for us all, and yet it is a necessity of life and is one of the most beautiful things about the world we live in; Imagine a world of caterpillars with no butterflies. Metamorphosis and growth are basic laws of the universe; it is built into our DNA. For those drawn to fundamentalist religion, the world can be a tricky place to navigate since they must face many contradictions within their religious texts and explain many outdated (sinful) sounding passages that propose things like taking people from neighboring countries as our slaves and stoning a girl to death if she lives with her father and is not a virgin. But for the fundamentalist, change is too scary to face, and we may just be the biggest lesson staring them in the face. Sometimes if human beings are not forced to change, we stay within our comfort zone. Life within that comfort zone does not allow us to stretch and grow as we were meant to do. We are here to explore, play and expand!
How does understanding all of this really help us if a relative or someone we are close to insists on using religion as a reason to condemn our lifestyle? If we approach them with the attitude of wanting to change their belief system we will surely end up with much ramming of horns. The first question we must ask ourselves is “Do I accept myself completely?” If we do not accept ourselves, then we cannot expect others to accept us, and so we must practice self-love before all else. Next, we must practice allowing the other person to evolve at their own pace, and accept where they are in their journey. By accepting our religious zealot friends and family we may find that they will eventually become less judgmental of us.
I would love to hear your stories of how you have dealt with religious oppression. (Please respond below.)
In closing, from the spiritual perspective I often turn to Abraham Hicks as a resource. This is amazingly powerful if you watch it through until the end (9 mins): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_c7NWWiUnk
Peace and joy to all this holiday season!