Coming Out, A New Dynamic?

Coming out has always been synonymous with drama for many, whether that be from those around you or self-imposed. Stress, anxiety and intense conversations colour memories for many when they think about coming out, whether it be with your family, friends or complete strangers. Since the counter-culture movement started in the United States in the 60s, in an ever-conservative society, the movie Prayers for Bobby comes to mind, showing the ever-changing social atmosphere from the socially conservative period of the 60s, to the more liberal and ever growing acceptance of homosexuality in the 21st century.

Prayers for Bobby is a real life story based on the life of Bobby Griffith, a young gay man who committed suicide due to his mother’s homophobia. I believe this movie speaks for many gay teens and for those who are still in the closet, desperately in need of that acceptance from their parents. Bobby’s mother, Mary, believed that God could cure Bobby of his homosexuality. She believed that people choose to be gay or lesbian; that they can fix it by reciting the Bible and “praying the gay away”. Bobby believed that this would cure him, and was the only route to reclaiming his mother’s love and respect.

This alone shows the difficulties that normally arise when coming out. These are extensions of the normal emotions that many gay men feel when they want to come out to the people they love. They feel they will be judged, shunned and ultimately left alone, or misunderstood and pressured into trying heterosexuality one last time. TV and Hollywood movies have shown this aspect of the gay world in an almost tiring manner. The political world has further exacerbated this fear, as politics of the day was more significantly influenced by interpretations of Christianity than it is today. Many laws have been passed that further alienated the gay community from the world. Examples of this are the DOMA in the United States, and the Conservative’s notorious Section 28 policy in the UK. Certain incarnations of conservatism have ever been tied with the teachings of Christianity at home, which stressed the path of the moral and just. Many gay people during the period of unjust homophobia were subjected to hate that soon translated to their fear of coming out and ultimately, once finally outing themselves to their family, their realistic fear of being left alone and unloved.

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In our current day and age, things have changed. The realities faced by many gay men during the conservative period are now being addressed through equal rights, or in the very least granted protection from discrimination. Whereas even 10 years ago a tabloid circus would surround the outing of a high profile figure, now taste has progressed to a stage where the resounding question is “why does it matter?”. The liberal agenda of the current political landscape has also provided a shift from how politics in its entirety had previously affected homosexuals, to now the stressing of equal rights.

Granted, religion especially Christianity has proven to lag behind, with a number of pro-Christian lobbyists being seen to oppose gay marriage. However, this alone has not adversely affected the progress that has been made on the family unit. The open-minded nature of many families today is based on the positive role government has had on granting of equal rights to gays, along with the idea that people are indeed born gay – with many studies showing it is not only constrained to humans, but other species within our diverse animal kingdom. The media and entertainment realm has also helped bring about a more accepting view of homosexuality, through comedies such as Modern Family and The New Normal have positively depicted the realities faced by members of the LGBT community. Whilst I have previously highlighted certain stereotypes perpetuated by the media, the centralisation of LGBT in mainstream entertainment is undoubtedly a positive.

However, this still does not take away the very personal fear that is felt by many gay teens and adults that still need to come out to their parents. It is the school environment – in my opinion – that is the single most important reason as to why they fear that their sexuality will determine a negative outcome from their parents. School and its many cliques provide an environment that normally proves to be a nightmare to live through as a gay kid. Normally schools and parents place an emphasis on sports, and if you do not participate in such – you fail to follow the masculine ideal. School boys normally feel that they should supplant their masculinity by making sometimes offensive slurs to gay men which adds to the fear of coming out today. This mentality of “us vs. them” can feed into attitudes later in life, creating anxiety around being open about who you are and who you love, out of a traumatic memory from your youth.

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In general, however, the family unit has shifted from these ideas, and has become a lot more generally accepting of homosexuality than many felt three decades ago. The family unit, whether it is family or friends, in essence learns to deal with how to react to their potentially homosexual son, daughter, niece or nephew; in which the family too realise it is a trait that one cannot choose. Granted, by saying this you could say I am eliminating the other realities that are still experienced by gay men today. This still includes homophobia from family, being kicked out of the house and being disowned; but these realities have become increasingly less common as the years pass by. When you come out – from my own experience and that of my friends – the result has been rather positive and a step in the right direction.

Coming out and the realities associated with this daunting task that the LGBT community has to accomplish in this day and era has become a new dynamic. For the most part, in progressive and accepting societies, the reality of being gay is accepted, not because one just has to accept for the sake of accepting out of love and loyalty to family and one’s friendship, but rather accepting that homosexuality is a human reality that we need to face. That ultimately breeds a more normalised view of homosexuality. Whilst this article reflects my experience, and no doubt many around the world reading, we should not forget the closeted lived reality of life in less accepting societies. We have made huge progress, but as a wider movement, there is still a long way to go.

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