“Do it when you’re ready and have a strong support system in place,” recommends Vanice Zenon to anyone considering coming out to family, friends, or co-workers. “A strong support system can be invaluable to anyone considering disclosing their sexual orientation for the first time to others.” Zenon is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with Access Health Louisiana’s St. Tammany Community Health Center in Slidell. Her more than two decades of counseling experience has helped countless men and women break important news to their inner circle.
Disclosing your gender identity or sexual preference can be stressful for many reasons. You may feel that the news will make your loved ones disown you. You may feel that your co-workers will not accept you anymore. You may feel that your friends will abandon you. While all these scenarios could end up being true, they could also end up going in the complete opposite direction. Your family may accept the news with open arms and wonder why you would ever doubt their unconditional love for you. Your co-workers may embrace the news and love you for being open and honest with them. Your friends may end up being closer to you than ever because they realize what you said to them took great courage – a very admirable quality.
Often when speaking out about something very important like your sexual identity, people build up anxiety over the “what ifs”. The more we focus on something instead of getting it off our chest, the more tension, anxiety and stress builds up in our bodies. This stress can cause pain in the form of depression, muscle tension and body aches or even mood changes. Mental health plays just as important role as physical health. In fact, the two go hand in hand. Talking to a trained professional can help.
Having a therapist in your corner, can really be an invaluable tool when preparing to come out to friends and family. According to Zenon, therapy plays a big role in strengthening a person’s support system. The therapist can help the person considering coming out in three big ways. “First, planning is important,” says Zenon. “The therapist can role play and help you develop how you want to take the conversation with your family. Secondly, the therapist can help you build your confidence level when you’re ready to make the announcement. Finally, he or she can also teach you some coping mechanisms to rely on in case your loved ones don’t take the news well.”
Oftentimes, coming out is difficult because the person has to overcome prejudices and discrimination they’ve experienced earlier in life. A therapist can help you develop coping mechanisms to overcome those negative feelings and create ways for you to self-care and manage stress.
“When you have a plan, it helps you feel more prepared, have less anxiety and feel more positive about the ‘coming out’ process.” Zenon says another key is coming out on your own terms and own timeframe. “If now isn’t the best time, don’t beat yourself up about it because that is part of the process. Be able to not feel pressured to do something because society wants you to do it. Do it when YOU are ready and able to do it.”
October 11th is National Coming Out Day. It was founded in 1988 by psychologist Richard Eichberg and gay rights activist Jean O’Leary to raise awareness of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and its civil rights movement. October 11th was chosen to commemorate the anniversary of the second major National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights (1987).