When you are young you explore your identity and develop a sense of who you are. Your identity is almost given to you: through social conditioning from those around us, the messages you hear (and internalise) and the belief system you ‘inherit’ from your care-givers.
My belief system was given to me from a generation and culture that was dominated by cis-gendered and heterosexual individuals. Transgender and non-binary were unheard of when I was growing up. I didn’t even know what being gay was.
So you can imagine the confusion, isolation and separation I felt when I was exploring my sexuality. I denied to myself what I was feeling and what made me feel good (and what didn’t). I refused to put a label on what I was feeling and didn’t look externally for answers. I decided to explore and live for the moment. I thought I knew who I was but it turned out, I really didn’t.
Coming out for that first time, you officially shatter everything: identity, sense of self and what you have projected externally for all those years to your nearest and dearest.
You take a leap of faith in that moment. It is pretty scary not knowing how it will go and what to expect next from the person standing in front of you. It is like being on the biggest rollercoaster you’ve ever experienced, with many hours spent deliberating and working out what to say, with no idea if you will live, or die. I know a bit extreme, but you get the idea…
You would think that when you come out, the struggle would be over. I remember thinking I would finally feel comfortable with myself and feel like part of something again, that the isolation I felt deep within would dissipate. Yet that isn’t the reality at all.
The struggle continues.
When you come out, you lose all sense of who you thought you were. Imagine – it is like all you have ever known is stripped away from you. The person you once were is no longer. And now you have uttered those words, you can’t turn back.
As you try to piece together some semblance of sense out of all this, you notice the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) negativity being directed towards you. You internalise it. And now you feel shame, rejection, fear, guilt, separation and even more isolation than you felt before. You think there is something wrong with you, that you are not good enough in some way and realise after a while, you are unable to accept yourself. That’s the last thing you expected when you came out.
Many people experience an identity crisis and struggle to find who they really are. What most people are searching for is that deeper connection to themselves that they felt as a child. Stripping away all those layers of conditioning, old beliefs, hurts, judgements and years of hiding – they are looking to re-connect to their true and authentic self.
Many turn to alcohol and substance use to deal with the underlying mental distress. The mental distress that arises from feeling this disconnection from who you really are, other people’s responses and judgements and being unable to accept yourself. Instead of dealing with the mental distress, many choose to mask those feelings of isolation, rejection, shame, loneliness and sadness.
There comes a time in your life when all your straight friends are settling down into relationships and getting married, having kids and doing the school run. You know the vision; the white picket fence, the beautifully lawned garden and the cute little puppy we are conditioned to think is the definition of relationship success.
You can’t help it; you compare yourself to others. When you evaluate your life and look at your LGBT friends, what do you see? Anxiety issues and feelings of isolation and depression. Substance abuse, excessive partying and sleeping with strangers. Body dysmorphia and self-harming.
You see your LGBT friends have disconnected from themselves and reality. The tipping point is when you realise you have too.
There is so much going on here – all stemming from Coming Out.
So, how do LGBT people get into jobs and what appears to be normal life?
We create a mask. We hide who we are because all we really want is to fit in. To be accepted. We put on this mask and present a version of ourselves that will be ‘accepted’.
And all the while we are worried about being ‘outed’ or coming out at work. Coming out isn’t something you do only once; you come out most days of your life. It becomes easier, trust me. I have come out every day for 15 years since that first instance – at work, at home, with family, friends, new people I meet, clients, associates, utility providers, hotels, medical care professionals – you name them, I’ve told them. Coming out at work – I remember that being a big deal in my head. Rest assured, it doesn’t need to take up all your head space. Simply be yourself. Don’t let your creativity and talent be restricted by your sexuality or gender.
I found the more I was forced to be someone else or hide who I really am, the more my happiness, creativity, confidence and performance at work was affected. The effort of self-censoring your behaviour is incredibly draining.
What we are doing here is creating a new identity – a false identity, just like that one you had before you came out. It isn’t real. We are distancing ourselves even more from our true self. The real you is waiting underneath. Think of it like an onion, peeling back the layers until you reach the centre, where the real and true you lies, waiting with open arms to be greeted again.
That’s the truth about coming out – warts and all.
Now, here are a few things to think about.
- Hiding behind a mask or censoring yourself is not healthy and it isn’t necessary. Remember, you have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide. There is no need to apologise for who you are.
- Be yourself. Strip away those layers of the onion to find the real you again. Take some time out, work on yourself and reveal what feels good to you again. If you are unsure how to begin, reach out to me. I’ll point you in the right direction.
- You will be coming out in many different situations throughout your life. Don’t presume you know how people will react. Your preconceptions and judgements about them may be wrong.
- At work seek out the allies, senior champions and role models. They are there to support you.
- Get involved with the LGBT Network Group at work, if have one. If not, start one! You will have the opportunity to become part of a community, raise awareness and visibility of LGBT people at work, advise management, create positive change and support your local LGBT communities.
- If you are dealing with issues of substance abuse, addictions, trauma of any kind or have any mental health concerns, seek help. Please. There are many LGBT organisations that are there to support you. Speaking to your friends, GP, local LGBT network or a search on the internet for services in your local area is a good starting point. You are not alone.
Much love to you x