The Coming Out Journey – Sharing Your Secret
Now that you’ve made it through the first and most scary phase of coming out to yourself, you are ready to move on about the business of living your life in the truth. For many people this also means beginning to unravel all of the lies, masks, and smoke screens that you have put in place to protect yourself from suspicion. For some, this means removing all of the, “beards,” those people of the opposite gender that you kept around to look the part at social events, family gatherings, and at work. For others, it might mean considering a divorce. In our new book, “American Heroes Coming Out From Behind The Badge,” Sergeant Pete Thoshinsky writes about having to make this same decision. At the age of 44 and after marrying a woman, Pete came out. His new-found partner was in a similar situation, but also had kids. Although the pain of a divorce is nothing to take lightly, it is certainly better than continuing to live a lie and to lead on those you still love. Think your decision through carefully, but know that every day you continue to lie is one more day of pain that you, your spouse, and your children will have to suffer through.
Living your life in the truth means that you will no longer lie about who you are. It means that you will stop making up stories about the dates you had, the “hot women” or “hot men” you are chasing, and that you start thinking about sharing who you really are with those in your life including friends, family, and co-workers. It would be easy if you could just go to work and to be able to keep your private life totally separate. However, the reality is for almost every job, especially one in law enforcement, it just doesn’t work that way. Think about it. What’s the first question you or your co-workers ask on a Monday? “Hey, how was your weekend? What did you do?” Almost every work place has some social activity at some level, so even if you never attend these events, at some point you are going to be asked or wondered about. Living an authentic life means not only being honest with yourself, but with others close to you. Of course, this leads to the next phase of the coming out process which is to share your secret with others.
If you think that coming out is a once-in-a-lifetime event, let me tell you from experience that it is not. In fact, you will likely come out every day for the rest of your life. Now it certainly won’t be as dramatic, scary, or emotional as it is the first few times you tell people, but the reality is that, straight or gay, people come out with their sexuality in the normal course of business. Whether it’s in the pictures you put up on your locker or desk or who you talk about sharing your life with, we express our sexuality in the normal course of life’s business. I’ve talked to several friends now who have told me that they don’t ever “come out” to anyone. One friend told me, “if you talk to me for five or ten minutes about who I am, you will discover on your own that I”m gay. The most important people in my life are my partner and our son. I almost always have something to say about us.” And this is so true. In today’s age, gay and lesbian people are “out” everywhere, even in law enforcement. It is a huge event in your life, but in the big picture, it’s probably a bigger issue for you than most others. The older you are and the more lies you have to unravel, the more individual conversations you might have to have. But, you don’t have to throw a coming out party to share your secret.
Here are some thoughts about the first few people you tell. First of all, think about those people in your life you care most about. Who has earned the place in your life to be among the first to know your truth. Think next about who is most likely to support you. Don’t set yourself up for the expectation that everyone will embrace your news, but do pick one person who is most likely to listen and accept you unconditionally. In our books, I recommend first building a network of gay friends, people you can talk to about coming out and how to do it. This network can also support you when you feel most alone. Once you do identify the person you want to tell first, set up a quiet and private place to talk. The Thanksgiving dinner table is not the place! A party is not the place. The locker room or police department briefing is not the place. Make sure you have enough time to really talk and to listen. Don’t make a game out of it and be careful not to create such drama around the set-up that you create more anxiety for you and the recipient of your secret than is necessary. For me, the best place to talk is over a meal in a restaurant that is not crowded or too noisy. Don’t get drunk before you begin sharing and remember, you’ve known the truth about yourself for a long time. The person you are telling may just be finding out. Be ready for any reaction, but don’t be disappointed when you hear, “Yeah, I know. What took you so long to tell me?” Go slowly and share you secret at a pace you feel comfortable with, but understand that once you do tell someone, you can’t expect anyone else to keep it a secret. It’s not fair to say, “I’m going to tell you something about me, but you can’t tell anyone else” and then hold the person accountable if they slip – it’s not fair.
I recommend making a list, in order, of who you want to tell thinking about how the people on your list associate with each other. And don’t be afraid of letting the word get out on its own. You don’t have to make a formal announcement to everyone in your life. Reserve those special times and sharing for those people closest to you or who you need to unravel a lie with. Let nature take its course, but know that you can never again lie about or deny who you are. You must make a commitment to life your life in the truth from this point on.