The idea of
coming out is actually older than many realize but it has taken nearly one and
half centuries for concept to become widely spread and experienced.
In 1869 the German homosexual rights
advocate Karl Heinrich Ulrichs talked about coming out as a means of
emancipation. Ulrichs claimed that invisibility was a major obstacle toward
changing public opinion, he urged homosexuals themselves to come out. How true this was. It has been the visibility
(coming out) of out, proud gay and lesbian people which has influenced
acceptance and equality more than anything else. Ulrichs concept was
groun-breaking and way before it's time. But it has to begin somewhere.
In his 1906 work Kultur (The Sexual Life of
Our Time in its Relation to Modern Civilization, Iwan Bloch, a German-Jewish physician,
encouraged elderly homosexuals to come out to their heterosexual family members
In 1914, Magnus Hirschfeld revisited the
topic in his major work The Homosexuality of Men and Women (1914), discussing
the social and legal potentials of several thousand men and women of rank
coming out to the police (as it was illegal) in order to influence legislators
and public opinion.
1944 .The first
important American to come out was the poet Robert Duncan by using his own name
in the anarchist magazine Politics, claiming that homosexuals were an oppressed
In 1951, Edward Sagarin published
his landmark The Homosexual in America, exclaiming, "Society has handed me a mask to wear...Everywhere I go, at all
times and before all sections of society, I pretend." Donald Webster
Cory was the name he published under, but his frank and openly subjective
descriptions served as a stimulus to the emerging homosexual self-consciousness.
1969 Stonewall Riots. Gay
liberation was birthed.
Today, more gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are out
than ever before. Research has demonstrated that being in the closet is
unhealthy for the individual. Many of the challenges currently faced in the
LGBT community could be attributed to the long term impacts of internalized
homophobia (living in the closet). Coming out is often seen within gay and
lesbian communities as politically healthy, even a duty or necessity, arguing
that the more out gay people there are, the harder it will be for opponents to
misrepresent, marginalize, and oppress. This is of course very challenging in
countries like Africa, the Middle East, other Islamic nations as well as parts
of Eastern Europe such as Russia where penalties of imprisonment or death still
The act of
revealing a closeted person's orientation against his or her wishes is known as
"outing" them. Sometimes
it is used to prove a political point, or demonstrate a contradiction between
private lifestyle and public stance. Outing someone is like ripping a butterfly
from its cocoon. You can damage them for life and rob them of THEIR life changing experience of liberation. For a
successful emergence THEY have to struggle through the cocoon of fear and
shame. THEN they can fly.
The process of resolution (coming out)
take you through the process that I went through. Its not the same for everyone
but like Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ process of grieving, most people pass through
each stage at some time no matter how briefly. Problems develop when people
become stuck in one place and can’t move on.
- Unconscious – (I don’t know
I'm gay, straight or anything. I'm just a kid)
- Awareness awakens – (I'm different to the guys or girls around me. I'm thinking
about and finding myself attracted to the same sex. Could I be gay?) Research
shows that the average age when people have this awareness is around 13-14
during puberty. That makes sense because it is of course a sexual
orientation we are talking about. For some there is a period when they
become aware but they don’t have a word for it. Some have this awareness
even younger – particularly in hindsight they see how it was always the
same gender that attracted them or got their attention in movies or that
they we fascinated with same gender bodies instead of opposite etc.
- Denial (I’m not gay,
I was drunk, I’m bisexual, I was just horny, it’s just a stage, I was just
experimenting). Sadly some people get stuck here for years or even
- Rejection (I can
change it, I can overcome it). In this stage people fight, pray and do
whatever they can to get rid of it so they can be "normal".
- Suppression (I can
control it, monitor it, it’s my secret, no one need know). Trying to
push this fundamental part of you are down is like trying to hold a beach
ball underwater. Over time it becomes tiring and eventally it can pop to
the surface or even scarier you may get outed.
- Hatred (this thing
is too strong for me, I hate my gayness, therefore I hate myself). During
this stage the most damage is done to the individual. It's called internalised
homophobia (self-hatred). Living with the internal conflict or hatred of
the gay self (dissonance) will eventually impact
us either psychologically (e.g. depression), emotionally (distancing and
unable to have intimacy or strong friendships) or physically (stress
related illnesses e.g. high blood pressure, insomnia, ulcers etc)
- Acceptance (Healthy
& unhealthy, I accept it, I'm fine with it now, or I reluctantly
accept it). It’s wonderful that so many young people today are coming
out and accepting their homosexuality. There is also a group, like I was
for years, who have accepted their sexuality but only reluctantly. There
is no great sense of pride. They would prefer to be heterosexual and as
long as that remains in their thinking, they can never fully embrace their
true selves and enjoy the sense of freedom that brings. They exist with a
subconscious belief that life is unfair, they still live with a sense of
shame. I have met people who have accepted their homosexuality but still
believe they will inevitably go to hell because they "gave in"
to their homosexuality. Imagine what that thinking is doing to their
- Celebration (I love
This is the beginning of living a life of authenticity and
congruence. The person who celebrates and embraces their sexuality lives a
powerful life that transforms those around them because no one can deny
what you have………a wholesome and profound love of self. This is where the term "gay pride" would be particularly relevant. Some straight people don't get the concept of gay pride which is understandable because they have never had to endure years of gay shame.
days there are lots of community and online support groups to help people
through this process.
vast majority of those I have worked
with, one on one, through this process have had good outcomes whilst many experienced
way better than they ever expected.
© Anthony Venn-Brown
Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b, Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony’s autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning', details his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and was one of four finalists for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award. He is also the founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.
Labels: coming out