Imagine living in a closet. I would think it feels lonely, there is little freedom to move around, and the chances of meeting someone you can share your life with becomes much less likely, unless they open the door. The term “coming out of the closet” is very apropos in that the real life experience of those living in the closet is stifling. We all know (and don’t know) people who live in constant fear of being tagged as gay. Professionals who are competent and normally in control of their lives can become shaken and insecure if they give away personal information that could lead someone to conclude they are gay.
I have worked with individuals who not only hid their sexuality at work, they also felt they were not able to disclose their true selves at home. Imagine how difficult it would be for you to feel so isolated. Depression and anxiety are huge problems in the LGBT community. Living a life where you feel that no one truly knows you is devastating. A 2011 study conducted by Social Psychology and Personality Science concluded that coming out creates a much healthier mental environment if it happens in a supportive setting. Living the life you were meant to live openly and authentically is always ideal. It will increase your sense of self-worth and decrease stress. Unfortunately for those who live in hostile environments, coming out might make life even more difficult.
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So the question for each individual has to be, “Who am I safe to come out to and when?” The majority of gay people may not be out in every part of their lives. If one is not protected in their professional lives, they may choose to be closeted at work but live a life outside of work that includes a support system and community of like-minded people. Some, on the other hand, may live in a very conservative environment but have a co-worker they trust and feel comfortable with. It’s important for everyone to feel like part of a community. Finding even one person with whom you can feel safe will increase your chances of living longer and being happy.
Fortunately, in many parts of the country laws protecting LGBT people are finally being passed. Teachers who have been teaching for years and have been in a committed same-sex relationship can now (in some states) become more comfortable about sharing information with their colleagues and the parents of their students. The problem is that for many it’s very difficult to live in the closet most of their adult lives and then easily step out into a life of being open about disclosing who they are. At that point it’s all about changing their internal dialogue and shedding the years of both internal and external homophobia.