If you have been or currently are closeted, you know from experience that it’s not a lot of fun.
There’s a good reason why we refer to it as being “in the closet” rather than “in the large two-bedroom loft with tall ceilings”: Being forced to keep secrets about one’s sexuality and/or gender identity from others can be a suffocating and isolating experience for everyone involved.
Having to listen to the comments your (less progressive) friends and family make when they assume there are no members of the LGBTQIA+ community around. Having no desire to advertise your availability to potential dates of the same gender, you want to date people of different sexes. The threat of being outed to people you don’t want to tell about your identity by the one person who managed to figure it out. Lieing to oneself or only telling half the truth.
Also, I could go on.
What’s worse is that hiding away isn’t even an option.
No one would look out into such a gorgeously diverse and accepting world and decide to go into hiding.
People choose to hide their identities because they believe that doing so will protect them from the hostility and prejudice they may face in the open world.
However, many of us find comfort in the hidden safety of our closet identities. Because of this false sense of safety, it can be difficult to recognize the cumulative effect of being closeted on one’s mental health.
There is no foolproof method for dealing with the pressures of being in the closet, especially given the wide variety of circumstances that land people there. Nonetheless, there are some things that can lighten the load or keep it from piling on.
1. Create Safe Havens Where You Can Be Yourself
The most obvious option is to join a support group or discussion board specifically for the LGBTQIA+ community.
This is a partial list of queer-friendly groups and organizations around the world.
The fear that “someone might say something transphobic/homophobic/otherwise crappy to my face” can be somewhat alleviated when you’re in a truly safe space.
But that’s not exactly what I have in mind when I talk about making room for genuine expression.
What I also mean is making an effort, however large or small, to be as true to who you are as possible in any given situation.
Engage in a pastime that comes naturally to you, whether it’s making gourmet meals, eating junk food, writing for hours on end, reading lesbian erotica (if that’s your thing), chatting aimlessly with your best friend, painting what you can’t put into words, running, or playing video games.
Make time for anything that doesn’t involve hiding your identity or keeping your back to the wall.
This may appear simple, but it isn’t.
Have you ever had that epiphany right before bedtime where you realize how much tension you’re holding in your body that you don’t need? It takes self-awareness to recognize tense muscles and release tension caused by the usual stresses of daily life.
It’s just as simple to bring the stress and anxiety of being in the closet into places where one should feel safe and comfortable as it is to bring the joy and freedom of being out of the closet.
When I sat down to write during my more private years, I had the distinct impression that someone was watching over my shoulder, waiting to pass judgment on what I had to say.
I had become so accustomed to worrying about being rejected or “found out” that I couldn’t learn to unwind in the very environment I had designed to do the opposite.
Putting that aside helped me remember that this was my territory, and I could be as queer, weird, unworthy, amazing, or boring as I liked in it.
A safe haven should be created if possible.
Tear down some barriers. Whatever it takes, carve out a space for yourself where you can be authentic.
Even though some people can’t imagine thriving without claiming personal space, others can make do without it.
It’s not always possible, but when it is, it’s a welcome reprieve from the defensive, precarious routine of closet dwelling.
2. You Cannot Control the Hostility of Others
Remember that other people’s reactions to your sexual orientation or gender identity, or to the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole, aren’t your concern while you’re in the closet.
It is not your responsibility to hide your true self from society out of fear that people will reject you. If anything, hiding from their ugly, frightening bigotry in the closet can be a relief.
Participation Group 2
The things people say to shame LGBTQIA+ people into silence are not true: your sexual or gender identity is not a selfish choice, nor is it disgusting, nor is it abnormal, nor is it confusing, nor is it an abomination.
As a result, whenever you feel yourself internalizing shame (which can happen to the best of us), it’s important to question that feeling.
Discover that you are participating in or implicitly accepting homophobic or transphobic language or attitudes. You may feel remorse when your family members insist that you have a traditional, straight wedding when you have no intention of doing so. If you ever feel bad about yourself because you think you’re different, take a moment to remind yourself that everyone has their own unique experiences and perspectives.
Put those ideas to the test.
This is not the case.
You probably are awesome, and if you aren’t (or don’t think you are), your sexuality and/or gender have nothing to do with it.
3. Not Everyone Has to Come Out
On the flip side, there’s the possibility of shame associated with coming out too soon.
Yes, it can be a source of comfort and hope when talented, successful people we look up to come out.
However, if those gifted and successful people had the good fortune to come out when they felt ready, they probably considered a number of factors, such as their relationships, finances, and personal safety.
The decision to come out is a personal one, and you are under no obligation to do so if you ever decide that the risks involved are not acceptable.
You are just as “brave” as the most public members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Even the most outspoken LGBTQ people probably spent some of their lives in the closet or under the radar before they were able to feel safe enough in their careers to come out publicly.
I am not attempting to downplay the importance of preparation, self-awareness, and bravery in coming out when facing hostility. That’s no laughing matter.
It’s not a good idea to hide who you are if you identify as LGBTQIA+ in a world where prejudice still exists.
You shouldn’t feel bad about yourself for being in this situation.
4. You could be surprised by other people – or not.
It’s important to remember that even if you have good reasons for not coming out, those reasons aren’t necessarily indicative of what would happen if you did.
No one can predict how others will respond to you coming out in every possible scenario.
Some people will disappoint you, some will surprise you in a good way, others will say they already knew, still others will forget you came out the first time, and the list goes on and on.
It’s a waste of time and energy to stress out about what might happen after you come out of the closet while you’re still inside it.
You can’t know what’s going to happen, good or bad, because you can’t read minds or examine every possible outcome.
But you can prepare yourself for outcomes that may be better or worse than you anticipate.
And you can adjust to either circumstance.
Having said that, you should know that the stress of living a secretive life is no different from the stress of living under any other circumstances.
You are the best judge of what works and what doesn’t for maintaining your equilibrium, as well as your own personal strengths and resources.
How have you dealt with the pressures of hiding your sexuality from the world?