Common misconceptions about the coming out process

6 Feb

To say the coming out process is confusing and gives rise to a slew of misconceptions is like saying a root canal is uncomfortable. Sure the statements are accurate, but they don’t really convey the depth of truth each holds. The misconceptions about the coming out process are as varied as the people that are come out to. While the people being come out to are generally pretty good about the whole process they do often share some common quirks during it which are at times comical and at others pretty aggravating. Whichever they are it cannot be denied that sooner or later every gay person is going to encounter a few of these most common misconceptions about the coming out process.

Some twenty years ago a comedian named Dom Irrera did a skit about coming out that pretty much hit the nail on the head when it comes to how many people think of the coming out process. While the observation changed in his routine over the years the general gist of it went a bit like this: “What is turning gay? How does someone turn gay? Is it like some lumberjack went out in the morning and said ‘today I’m going to go knock down some trees’ and came back saying ‘oh this place is a mess! It needs some curtains and candles!” It sounds silly but that’s how a lot of people think it works. There are people that honestly believe a person wakes up and one day decides to just be gay, or that a person turns gay as if it were like the process a werewolf goes through. It’s thinking like that which helps explain why when a person comes out there are so many confused thoughts about what coming out really means.

One of the most common things is to believe a gay person is instantly attracted to everyone of the same sex now that they are out of the closet. Imagine that for a second and consider if a heterosexual person is attracted to every person of the opposite sex. Of course we know that’s not true but it is something I’m willing to bet every person coming out has dealt with. Almost invariably someone will say something along the lines of “well we’re still going to be friends but you know I’m not like that.” What makes it even funnier is that when the person is assured you aren’t attracted to them “like that” they get a look of relief followed by brief, but perceptible disappointment.

Another misconception is that often times people will look back and replay every innocent moment of their history with the recently out person and look for some deep “gay secret” hidden within it. For some reason there are people that just can’t get that friends are friends and it’s not all about sex and attraction. I recall attending a high school reunion in which my gay status was obviously affirmed by attending with my wife in which a friend asked “remember when we ran together and all that changing in the locker room…What was up with that?” I was confused as all I recalled about the locker room was that I changed clothes there. For some reason this person was convinced that there must have been sideways glances at naked bodies stolen everyday, or that maybe even it was being around all those naked bodies that somehow turned me gay. People like this often see the coming out process as if it was some kind of attempt to dirty a shared past or in a roundabout way send out the “hey I’m available to you” signal.

Of course there are countless more like the coming out process being a warning shot of sorts to let everyone know to beware you’re gay as if it was the same as hanging a “Beware of Dog” sign on a fence. They think suddenly the gay male will lose interest perhaps in the interests they once had and suddenly turn into some stereotype of gay Hollywood behavior like the character Jack on televisions Will and Grace. To the other extreme some view a persons coming out as a plea to be set up with every single person that is in the rolodex because that is what coming out is all about after-all right?

A classic although far from the final misconception is that the coming out process is a cry for help in which the person is looking to be spiritually, mentally, or emotionally saved somehow. These people will take a moment that is already difficult and make it worse by diving into the bag of myths to start asking if you were abused or if there was some trauma that caused you to suddenly be gay. These are generally the same type of people that see the coming out process as the gay person trying to burden them personally with what they perceive as the problems of being gay rather than a great show of trust and respect.

Each is terribly wrong, but shares the common thread that somehow the person being come out to makes the moment about them and not the newly out person. It is a bit of egotism at play at times, and at others it’s fear or some inherent need to find an explanation other than a person is simply homosexual. No matter what it is these misconceptions about the coming out process survive and repeat them self everyday. If you’re gay be ready for them and if you’re straight try to remember the coming out process is not about you, you’re just lucky enough to be a part of it.

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