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A need to be ‘out’?

With the coming out process still often done to announce to the world that one is part of the LGBT community (something that heterosexuals do not do to announce their heterosexuality), is this “telling the world I’m gay” still relevant?

Cliff Marvin Chew was 16 years old, then in his fourth year in high school (specifically after prom), when he came out. At that time, though, he only told select people that he’s gay – “At first, (just) to my best friends,” he said, “then before graduation, I told my other classmates through a three-page letter I wrote on the back my math notebook.”

Fortunately for him, “my classmates accepted me since they said they felt (my being gay) since we were all young, and I am not of the ‘palengkera’ type that they don’t actually like, anyway.”

Though he was somewhat out already, Cliff nonetheless largely kept his sexual orientation to his family. “Were there times in the past that (I) wanted to come out? Yes, but I was afraid to, (since) I might be rejected. So I chose (being) sheltered, instead of coming out.”

Sometime in January 2012, though, Cliff became more pro-active in telling the world his true self. “I posted pictures pertaining to equal rights for LGBT people, including one with Anne Hathaway’s speech supporting his brother for being gay.” By then, “my mom knew (for sure), and she (has been trying) to understand what I am going through.”

On why he finally decided to come out, Cliff said that “it was hard for me to express my ideas when thinking of the ‘WHAT IFs’.”

Cliff Marvin Chew initially largely kept his sexual orientation to his family. “Were there times in the past that (I) wanted to come out? Yes, but I was afraid to, (since) I might be rejected. So I chose (being) sheltered, instead of coming out.”

OUT & ABOUT

Coming out – that move to announce to the world that one is part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community – has been subject of analysis for years now. And what it does can affect the person to come out him/herself, and those around him/her.

On the one hand, that coming out is “good for you” has been repeatedly noted. In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Homosexuality, researcher Emily Rothman, et al. noted that coming out as gay, lesbian or bisexual to one’s parents, especially supportive ones, can “significantly improve their mental health, while reducing their propensities for substance abuse”. Rothman and company surveyed 5,658 adults between 18 and 64 years of age, and 75% of their respondents (who already came out to their parents when they were, on average, 25 years old)

Rothman was, in fact, quoted as saying by PsychCentral that “given the high rates of suicide and self-harm among lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth – and the high costs of treating mental-health and substance-abuse disorders — it’s critical that we understand what we can do to promote better health for LGB kids.”

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Also in 2012, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released the results of a survey of 10,000 LGBT youth aged 13 to 17, with the study noting that respondents who were out at school and to their families reported higher levels of happiness than those who didn’t. HRC’s study involved 91% of LGBT teens who are out to their close friends, 61% out in school, and 56% out to their families.

As reported:

“Those who are out to immediate family are more likely to report being happy (very/pretty happy) than those who are not out — 41% of those out to immediate family report being happy; 33% of those not out to immediate family report being happy. Those who are out at school are more likely to report being happy (very/pretty happy) than those who are not — 40% of those out at school report being happy; 33% of those not out at school report being happy.

“Those who are not out to immediate family are more likely to report being unhappy (pretty/very unhappy) than those who are out—21% of those who are not out to immediate family report being unhappy; 16% of those who are out to immediate family report being unhappy. Those who are not out at school are more likely to report being unhappy (pretty/very unhappy) than those who are out —21% of those who are not out at school report being unhappy; 16% of those who are out at school report being unhappy.”

The Human Rights Campaign released the results of a survey of 10,000 LGBT youth aged 13 to 17, with the study noting that respondents who were out at school and to their families reported higher levels of happiness than those who didn’t.

There are other studies, of course, all pointing to the pros of coming, and being out to the one coming out him/herself.

On the other hand, there is also the benefit of coming out to the non-LGBTs. As early as 1996, for instance, Dr. Gregory Herek from the University of California at Davis, and Prof. John Capitanio reported in an issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that gays and lesbians who come out of the closet to their heterosexual friends and family members help to create more positive attitudes toward homosexuality.

Herek was quoted as saying that “heterosexuals with a gay friend or relative have significantly more favorable attitudes toward lesbians and gay men as a group”. True, “simply having personal contact with a lesbian or gay man does not necessarily affect heterosexuals’ feelings about gays and lesbians”, particularly since – as Herek pointed out – coming out also carries risks. But still, “heterosexuals tend to hold favorable attitudes if they know two or more gay people, if those people are close friends or immediate family members, and if there has been open discussion about the friend or relative’s sexual orientation”.

And so – yes – coming out, and being out is good for the push for the acceptance of equal rights for all (particularly LGBTs).

Until being LGBT becomes a non-issue, however, timing coming out is important.

OUTING PROCESS

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Richard Niolon, Ph.D., in The Stages of Coming Out, forwarded a “basic model” of the coming out process.

  1. Self-recognition as gay” is when “more than just an awareness of attraction to members of the same sex, it involves confusion, some attempt at denial and repression of feelings, anxiety, trying to ‘pass’, counseling, and often religious commitment to ‘overcome’ sexuality. Eventually, acknowledgment and acceptance of one’s sexual orientation develops. There may be some grief over ‘the fall from paradise’ and feelings of loss of a traditional heterosexual life”.
  2. Disclosure to others” follows, usually with the sharing of one’s sexual orientation with a close friend or family member the first step in this stage. And while “rejection may cause a return to the ‘Self-recognition’ stage,” Niolon noted, “positive acceptance can lead to better feelings of self-esteem.”
    This is, in a way, the “coming out” as widely known. And while “some gays and lesbians come out in ‘gentle’ ways, admitting they are gay if asked but not volunteering it; others do it in ‘loud’ ways, proclaiming their sexuality to others to end the invisibility of being gay,” Niolon said.
    Also, as this stage progresses, “a self-image of what it means to be gay develops, and the individual studies stereotypes, incorporates some information about gays while rejecting other information”.
  3. Socialization with other gays” follows, when the person realizes he/she is “not alone in the world, and there are other people like him or her”. This is when a “positive sense of self, indeed pride develops, and is strengthened by acceptance, validation, and support”.
  4. Positive self-identification” is the stage that “entails feeling good about oneself, seeking out positive relationships with other gays or lesbians, and feeling satisfied and fulfilled”.
  5. Integration and acceptance” eventually happens, when “an openness and non-defensiveness about one’s sexual orientation” happens. As Niolon noted: “One may be quietly open, not announcing their sexual orientation, but available for support to others nonetheless. Couples live a comfortable life together and generally seek out other couples.”

True, “simply having personal contact with a lesbian or gay man does not necessarily affect heterosexuals’ feelings about gays and lesbians”, particularly since coming out also carries risks. But still, “heterosexuals tend to hold favorable attitudes if they know two or more gay people, if those people are close friends or immediate family members, and if there has been open discussion about the friend or relative’s sexual orientation”.

LIFE CHANGING

When he came out, “my mom and I had a conversation and we both cried,” Cliff said. “She told me: ‘Mag-ingat ka lang, kasi karamihan sa mga katulad mo alam nating niloloko kaya piliin mo ‘yung tao na hindi lang kung ano ang meron ka ang habol sa ‘yo’.”

Cliff’s sister’s advice was somewhat similar. “She knew (of my being gay) since high school, but she did not question it. She just said: ‘Basta huwag ka lang gumawa ng bagay na ikakahiya mo’.”

While his other relatives may or may not know, Cliff’s perspective has changed. “It doesn’t matter to me (if my cousins, and my titos and titas knew).” Since he came out, Cliff said his life somehow changed. “I felt free and I can now express (myself) a lot. I can talk in front of many people. I gained confidence,” he said.

Cliff added: “I think coming out is a choice and has its right time.” But “believe in me, your family knew of it before you even tell them, they just need confirmation from you guys.”

Having outed himself through Facebook – a more modern approach than, say, sitting down with people one knows for the telling – Cliff believes the form of tool used matters. This is especially true since “what I was after is (not just my family, but) the bigger audience. I did not want their sympathy, but their acceptance and, yes, gain their respect. And now I am able to converse with them.”

The frame of mind of the 23-year-old young entrepreneur, who finished BSBA Major in Marketing Management at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, has changed, too. Aside from promoting and wanting to branch out his restaurant (Balay Isidra), Cliff is now eyeing for bigger things. “I promised myself I need to save money so I can build a home for elders, especially those LGBT lolos and lolas here in Mindanao.”

This move, of course, started with self-acceptance.

And with coming out.

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FURTHER READING
Herek, G.M., & Capitanio, J.P. (1996). “Some of my best friends”: Intergroup contact, concealable stigma, and heterosexuals’ attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22(4), 412-424.

Herek, G.M. (1997). Heterosexuals’ attitudes toward lesbians and gay men: Does coming out make a difference? In M. Duberman (Ed.), A queer world: The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies reader (pp. 331-344). New York: New York University Press.

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