Coming in before coming out

The experience of coming out is personal and one that you may go through many times in your life. Approaching it in stages and focusing on your experience, ‘coming in’ is key.


Coming out

Firstly, let’s unpack ‘coming out’. This is the process of exploring your sexual or gender identity and sharing it with somebody else. It may have started through realising that you have feelings that are ‘different’ to what is expected or the ‘norm’ from your family, culture, or society. This links to the idea of heteronormativity, that heterosexuality is the norm, assuming sexual relationships need to be between people of the opposite sex. And cisnormativity, the assumption that a person's gender identity is the same as their sex assigned at birth.

Heteronormativity and cisnormativity are supported through representation in our day-to-day lives, society, the media, literature and reinforced by many religious and faith groups. So, when you are in the process of coming out, it can feel like you are different to what you see and experience as the ‘norm’.

The idea of coming out can also create inner conflict, where your feelings, thoughts and hopes fight with the beliefs, messages, and life scripts that you have absorbed over the years. This is called internalised homophobia and can show up in different ways. It can leave you thinking that you are ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, blocking your feelings and hiding parts of your identity to keep yourself safe and acceptable.

One of the challenges about coming out is that you can open yourself up to other people’s projections. This means that their feelings and ideas are projected onto you, getting in the way of how you feel about yourself. When you consider the responses people may have about your sexuality, gender, and identity it is useful to recognise that these are often negative stereotypes that don’t represent your reality. These can leave you in a place of shame, questioning yourself, experiencing a range of sensations in your body and an overall feeling of wanting to disappear. To be able to withstand this experience, it is important to connect with yourself and your identity so that it is not overtaken by others.

Coming in

You can think about coming out in stages and as a process that begins with ‘coming in’. This is a place of self-exploration and curiosity about your sexuality and identity. It enables you to name your feelings, experiment, be curious and non-judgemental towards yourself.

Sexuality and gender are fluid, so you may feel differently over time as you tune in to yourself, how you feel and your hopes and desires. Several aspects of your experience can be brought to light, familiarised with, and shared in community. For example, you may identify as Abro, with a fluid sexual and/or romantic orientation which changes over time, or the course of your life. The definition of terms from Stonewall may help you in your self-exploration. Alternatively, you may not like the idea of a ‘label’ and prefer to be you on your own terms. The human experience is complicated and confining yourself to a particular category may not work for you right now. There is no right or wrong way. It is your way that counts.

Once you feel comfortable, you may extend this knowledge about yourself to people who you trust and feel safe with. Often these individuals become your ‘chosen family’ or allies, supporting you to live your life the way that you want to. When you feel affirmed and safe, you can rely on this experience and sense of belonging to be you.

Coming in also takes the pressure away from the idea of coming out to everybody or in all aspects of your life. This may not be a safe choice for you right now or a step that you are ready to take in all aspects of your life. You may fear the loss of relationships if you come out. If you are dependent on others financially, you may need to wait until you can support yourself and are stable enough to withstand rejection. If you are in a relationship and feel differently to your partner, this can create tension and pressure around your process.

It is important to acknowledge where you are and protect your psychological safety if you are not ready to come out widely just yet. Visualising where you would like to be together in the future can help to create reassurance and enable you to take small steps if this feels right for you.

Exploring your identity and coming out to yourself or others can be a lonely and frightening time. It is important to practice self-care and protect yourself. Sometimes you may want to distract yourself or engage in behaviours which deny aspects of who you are. Bringing awareness to this is important so that you can be kind to yourself, honour your needs and hold hope.

Coming out is a lifelong journey that begins with coming in. With the right support, you will be able to take steps to trust yourself, hold onto your truth and create a new path that is different to the one that you may have previously imagined.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Uxbridge, UB8 1SZ
Written by Sonal Thakrar, MSc, BSc (Hons), Clin.Dip. UKCP (Reg). MBACP
Uxbridge, UB8 1SZ

Sonal Thakrar (UKCP) is an integrative counsellor and psychotherapist based in London.
She specialises in identity, diversity and LGBTQ+ inclusion.

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