Living as a closeted member of the LGBTQ community is exhausting. Regardless of your reasons for not coming out immediately, the inability to express your identity takes a toll on your mental health. Without an empathetic community, it can feel impossible. Although I’m now out to most of my friends and family as gay, the years I was closeted were full of isolation. They required constant strategizing to avoid unsafe people finding out before I was ready.
However, being closeted doesn’t mean you’re powerless. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re quietly queer:
1. Don’t be surprised if the guilt and questioning stick around.
Even after consciously accepting your gay, bisexual, trans, or another identity as valid, your subconscious patterns may struggle to keep up. Converting self-acceptance from theory to reality takes time. This is especially true when your entire upbringing tells you otherwise.
Teach yourself to make a habit out of recognising this internal shame whenever it appears. Make the truth as concrete as possible. You can do this through writing, repeated mantras, or by using objects to serve as reminders, just as you would for any other mental health struggle. Find a piece of queer-coded clothing or jewellery to serve as a reminder of your wholeness. This is something only you–and maybe fellow LGBTQ people–will recognise.
Messages proclaiming you’re deviant, unloveable, or broken are part of the programming you’ve grown up with. Challenging them when they appear is the only way to gradually reprogram your default.
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2. Surround yourself with messages normalising your identity.
While real-life LGBTQ friends and mentors are ideal, they are not feasible for many people. If possible, find an online community. There’s a large LGBTQ YouTube community as well, including social justice content creators, daily life vloggers, and YouTubers who vlog about their passions.
Immersing yourself in the voices of real-life queer people and LGBTQ-friendly media–not stories where being gay means an inevitable tragic death–will help balance out the erasure and negativity you experience daily. Challenging the heteronormative default will remind you happy, loved queer people exist and you are not a problem to be fixed.
3. Therapy or counselling can be extremely helpful.
If you’re thinking “my issues aren’t important enough to seek professional support”–they are. You may have no other mental health struggles, but growing up in a heteronormative community where you’re not free to live truthfully can be a reason to go.
4. When you’re able to tell a few people, they might surprise you.
Often, an emotionally healthy person will adjust to a person’s LGBTQ identity even if they were initially unsure and eventually become (more) supportive. An emotionally unhealthy person will react in a toxic way, often reflecting their own unresolved issues. As a recipient of their emotions, it does not necessarily make it easier for you. You have not caused their existing dysfunction, but rather pulled back the curtain on it.
Certainly, some people will disappoint you. Some people may pleasantly surprise you, too. You’ll probably hear more than one “I’ve never told anyone else this, but…me too.” Unlike the media, with its one token gay character per show would have you believe, LGBTQ people tend to find each other and flock together. Being open (within the boundaries of what is safe for you) marks you as a safe person to others in your position.
5. Don’t feel pressured to come out before you’re ready.
Much of the discourse surrounding LGBTQ issues idealises coming out as the ultimate, iconic queer experience. It is certainly absolutely empowering to live without hiding who you are. Before you take any irreversible steps, though, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re in a safe place. Make sure you also have a support network solid enough to deal with the fallout.
There is no shame in waiting. Living in the closet takes courage as well, and you are brave, even if the only person you’ve come out to is yourself. No one wants to stay in the closet forever, but you are the only person who can assess the best time to leave. Your physical and emotional safety comes first. You do not owe the people around you conformity, but neither do you owe it to “the cause” to come out.
Remember, you are part of a community spanning continents and centuries.
People have fought for you and your right to live peacefully and openly for years. Now, more than ever, countless people are on your side. They have been exactly where you are. They fight loudly through protests and legislation or more quietly by building families and safe places from the ground up. There is nothing better than the instant bond created when you meet someone who’s experienced the same complicated struggle as you.
We come from a vast array of experiences and backgrounds, and you are a vital part of this community. “Chosen family” as a recurring theme in LGBTQ discourse is no accident.
There is family for you here, and the isolation you feel is not forever.
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