11 October is International Coming Out Day, to draw attention to the subject of coming out as a non-heterosexual. On this day both famous and non-famous people are encouraged to come out, in order to boost the visibility of LGBT people in different layers of society. Originally, Coming Out Day was mainly focused on gay and lesbian people, but later years have seen a broadening of the term to various forms of coming out.

Different

People generally come out because they feel that they are ‘different’ in some way, and want to be open about this to their environment. Everyone experiences some big or small coming out moments during their life. As a kid for instance, the coming out that your mother’s famous chowder makes you sick to your stomach. Or in high school the coming out that you prefer to play in a band instead of joining the football team. Some of these may seem trivial, but others are more serious. Coming out about your sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or mental condition, for instance.

It may seem odd to lump these issues together, but the process people go through is comparable; you are facing a certain feeling or issue, and are afraid that your environment will judge or stigmatize you for it if you are open about it. Of course the consequences differ based on the type of coming out; you are far less likely to lose people when you come out as being a fan of a certain football team, compared to more sensitive subjects. For this reason, some people choose to spend a long time in the closet with their feelings.

Effects

There have been a number of studies on the effects of coming out or staying in the closet. These are mainly focused on being in the closet as a gay or lesbian person. Studies show that people who remain in the closet generally have lower self esteem and face a higher risk for suicidal thoughts and depression. Coming out generally lowers these risks, although it does increase the risk of bullying for students. There have also been some studies about coming out with respect to your mental condition. The main conclusion from these studies were that being open about your mental condition generally lowered complaints related to the experience of stigma and the stress of keeping feelings hidden.

I came out as gay at the age of 17 and – luckily – I did not experience a lot of problems. I was not the first person to come out as gay in the family, and my friends and colleagues also reacted positively. After coming out I realised that I am more comfortable being open about my sexuality to others. However, I do have friends that had to come out in less supportive environments, either due to religious beliefs or a general lack of understanding. Some of them ended up losing friends or falling out of touch with their family. But eventually they also found a group of people that accepted them for who they were, for instance through the COC or other meeting groups.

Coming out can be a scary thought, but in my experience people that you know and trust are more likely to react positively than negatively. Next to that, talking about your feelings also helps you to better understand them and be at peace with them. What’s on your mind this Coming Out Day?

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Jan Kraaijeveld

Hi, I'm Jan, a blogger and a business analyst at Sense Health. In my spare time I like gaming, cooking, reading and traveling. I also like to write about stuff I find remarkable or interesting. I have a background in business economics.

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