Get a Grip: Help available for the coming out process
The Northwest Herald - 9/3/2017
Why, you ask, since being gay is not a mental illness, am I discussing this at all? Because, dear reader, although being gay, lesbian, bi or trans isn't classified as a mental problem, the process of self-acceptance and finding a way in society often creates confusion, depression, anxiety and stress, which are mental health issues. In fact, individuals engaged in sexual identity processes are almost twice as likely to commit suicide as individuals who are heterosexual. Why? For one thing, homosexuals are discriminated against.
The fear of being "different" is realistic. People have been bullied, injured, even killed as a result of being gay. Families sometimes reject homosexual children or try to change them by force. In the past, when a son or daughter "came out," they often were put in mental hospitals and given electroshock "therapy" to "change them back." Thank heavens that no longer is acceptable!
Coming out is a four-stage process that can occur at any age, although it most often occurs in adolescence. In the beginning, the person recognizes he or she is "different." One young woman described it this way: "In junior high, I noticed my friends would get all giggly and weird when a boy came into the room. I didn't understand it. That didn't happen to me, and I thought it was stupid. Later, when I realized it had something to do with being attracted and wanting the boys to be attracted back, I thought something had been left out of me when I was created."
Stage one begins when the individual is attracted to someone of the same sex. They begin to realize their "difference" has to do with sexual attraction. However, they also may believe it is only this particular individual they fancy. At this stage, they are only "out" to themselves and the person they are attracted to.
Stage two begins when the person realizes it is not just one person that arouses their sexual interest, but this is a general orientation. At this point, they may seek out others who also are homosexual and start to dress, act and socialize in such a way as to attract others like themselves. If age-appropriate, they may seek out gay bars, social groups or organizations to explore their dawning identity. They are able to speak freely in these groups, but only may share their self-knowlege with close friends or family members. Or, in some cases, they are appalled by this self-discovery and go into deep denial. This is called ego-dystonic homosexuality and creates mental problems because it results in self-hatred. This hatred may be projected onto other homosexuals. Some seek therapy, but many are in such denial they refuse to discuss the subject.
Stage three begins with acceptance. The individual has established a social group and has begun to come out to straight friends, family members and others, but still remains closeted in some important areas of life, such as work, school, etc. During this stage, problems with acceptance by others may cause breaks in important relationships, grief and anxiety. Many stay in this stage for years. They live two separate lives. They may introduce a partner as a "friend" or "roommate," but seldom as a life partner or spouse, except to their gay friends and the few heterosexuals they feel they can trust.
Stage four occurs when the person has incorporated a gay/lesbian identity. They live comfortably with themselves at work, with their friends, colleagues and even, perhaps, their hairdresser, dentist and dog groomer. At this stage, if anybody else has a problem with who they love, the problem belongs to that individual ? not the homosexual. During this stage, if they require therapy, it usually is for a relationship problem or for any of the same reasons anyone else seeks therapy.
If you are struggling with some of these issues or if you know someone who is, the following resources may help:
McHenry County Pride. A support group for gay and lesbian adults ages 18 and older. Meets weekly from 7:15 to 8:15 p.m. Thursays at Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 5603 Bull Valley Road, McHenry. For information, visit www.mchenrycountypride.com.
PFLAG (Parents and Friend of Lesbians and Gays), McHenry County Chapter. For information, call 630-415-0622.
Gale Harris is a licensed clinical social worker with more than 25 years of experience in the mental health field. She works in private practice with Woodstock Therapist, LLC. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.