Ask a fifth-year: Coming Out at Lawrence

Dear Will,

I’m a gay guy and I’d like to come out to the Lawrence community. Lawrence is pretty friendly to the LGBTQ community, but I’m not sure how my friends will react—especially my guy friends. Should I come out, and how should I tell them?

-Closeted in Colman

 

Dear Closeted,

I was in this position a year ago—and when I give you advice, I’ll be pretty honest about what I went through while considering the fact that your circumstances are probably vastly different from mine. Nevertheless, there are definite things you can do to ensure that it’s an empowering and fulfilling experience.

First, think about what “coming out” means practically. Are you just looking to tell your close friends? If you want to truly come out publicly, you have to make sure you are prepared for everyone in your life to know. There’s no watertight way to contain it if you’re not asking every single person for their discretion, and as long as you’re working in any capacity to keep it a secret, you won’t get the empowering benefits of a true coming out.

If you decide you’re ready for this big step, you then need to consider how you’ll actually accomplish it. Instead of telling a few people and letting it slowly leak out, I believe in the importance of providing a way for people to give you active affirmation. I did this, for example, through a Facebook status.

You may not like the idea of coming out over a Facebook status, but it provides a way for people to respond and give their support, which I believe is a crucial part of coming out. Public acknowledgement and acceptance can be very empowering and help you embrace life as an openly gay person.

I’m tempted to assure you that Lawrence is a very accepting community. I have never worried about discrimination or hate while I was here. However, it’s a constantly changing place, with hundreds of new people coming in every year, so while you should never be ashamed of who you are, be prepared to find opposition in the most unexpected places.

You also seem to be worried about being treated differently by others—your “guy friends,” for example. Sure, there may be awkward moments where your well-meaning friends adjust to talking about your sexuality, but having people treat you differently is actually part of the process.

By “treating you differently,” I mean acknowledging, respecting and helping to eliminate the pain you’ve experienced by living a huge part of your life in secret. Because there is a system of privilege and oppression that we face, it is absolutely important that our allies seek to acknowledge and eliminate ways in which we are oppressed.

Congratulations on this huge step in your journey! I’m confident in saying that no matter what happens, this is absolutely for the best. Keep reminding yourself that coming out shouldn’t be about the people who oppose you, but rather a time to gain the support and acknowledgment of people who support and love you.

 

With much love and respect,

Will

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