What do you mean by “come out”? When a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person (LGBT) tells someone else (family, friends or colleagues) about their identity, the process is called ‘coming out’. Why is “coming out” important? Can’t my LGBT identity remain a secret all my life?
Coming out is not a compulsory process. There are many people who choose not to come out at all. However, most of these individuals may feel left out of family, friend or work relationships because they are unable to talk about themselves openly.
This frustration sometimes leads to depression and the belief that they have to lead “double” lives, keeping their “real” selves hidden from the world. By coming out you may feel more free to talk without holding back any details of your life. Are you saying that “coming out” to parents is simply a matter of telling them? No, “coming out” is a process – of making your parents (or friends or colleagues) understand your identity, of explaining what being LGBT means in terms of your attractions or your gender, and of clarifying doubts or concerns about your life. Be prepared to answer really personal questions that you may or may not be willing to explore – many people ask insensitive questions like “Are you impotent?” or “Were you abused by someone, is that why you’re like this?” You have to make an effort to understand that most people are deeply conditioned to believe the things they do. Anything outside of traditional roles of male/female or heterosexual relationship is considered “abnormal”. You are probably the only LGBT person that they know, and you are going to have to help them understand.
Isn’t “coming out” a “western” upper class concept? Don’t the rest of us have more to lose when we come out? While the terminology may originate from western literature, the experience itself fi ts across class, race, gender, religion and other categories. Every person has a different motivation for coming out. For some, it might be to avoid getting married conventionally; to be open about their attractions; to feel that they are in control of their lives and so on. For others, coming out may be a response to threats which might jeopardise their family. Losing friends, being disowned by families, being terminated from their employment, facing harassment at the workplace, facing violence etc. are all experiences that men and women from across different class backgrounds talk about. Meet a counsellor and share your anxieties so that you can fi nd ways of dealing with these issues. The advent of cable TV and access to the internet have both opened up Indian families to larger realities.
Shouldn’t every LGBT person come out to make people more sensitive to our issues? In certain cases, people may choose not to come out for a long time. We know of LGBT who came out to their family and friends when they were in their 60s or 70s. Many individuals belong to families where conservative religious beliefs are prevalent. For some others, the threat of violence from members of the family is very real. Still more are worried over loss of employment. A large number of students do not come out to their family members because they are economically dependent on them. They may not come out to friends for fear of being harassed or marginalised.
Isn’t coming out unrealistic in India?
Speaking about being LGBT may be diffi cult in the Indian context, but ultimately “coming out” is about becoming comfortable with yourself. Consult a counsellor if you need, practice if you have to, perform role plays with friends. But don’t assume you know what the reaction is going to be. However, make sure you have a strong support system in place: supportive friends, the LGBT community, good counsellors and so on. Preparation is always key to coming out. The process can be long and, for some, painful. But it can also be completely liberating. (The writer is the Executive Director of Swabhava (estd 1999) an NGO working with LGBT issues in Bangalore, and is also Counsellor on the Sahaya helpline (estd. 2000) for LGBT people. Write to him on email@example.com or call on 080- 22230959)