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This blog is a hate-free place, dedicated to the spreading of awareness and understanding of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Community, their shame experiences and their potential to be resilient. Our goal is to increase your empathy and compassion.

We do not claim to be experts on this topic, however, we recognize the importance of sharing what we can in the hope that at least one person feels compelled to re-evaluate their thoughts, feelings and perceptions.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Learning the Journey

Shame is often associated with the "coming out" process.
Why? They are often battling "internalized homophobia," which is the shame inflicted on individuals living in a heterosexist society.

"Coming out" is a process that happens again and again; unfortunately, it is not a one time deal.
It is essentially a process that means recognizing, accepting, expressing, and sharing ones' sexual orientation with oneself and others.

In order to address the GLBT Community with empathy and compassion, it is crucial to understand where any given might be in this process. Here, we hope to give an overview of this process.

The Cass Model of Sexual Identity includes six stages, also known as the "Coming Out" Process.

Stage 1 - Identity Confusion
"Could I be gay?" An individual in this stage is beginning to wonder is "homosexuality" is personally relevant. Denial and confusion are often experienced.
Task: Who am I? - Accept, Deny, Reject

Stage 2 - Identity Comparison
"Maybe it does apply to me" An individual in this stage will accept the possibility that she or he may be gay. Self-alienation turns into isolation.
Task: Deal with social alienation.

Stage 3 - Identity Tolerance
"I'm not the only one." An individual in this stage accepts the probability of being homosexual and recognizes sexual, social, and emotional needs that go with being lesbian or gay. There is an increased commitment to being lesbian or gay.
Task: Decrease social alienation by seeking out other lesbians and gays.

Stage 4 - Identity Acceptance
"I will be okay." An individual in this stage accepts, rather than tolerates, gay or lesbian self-image. There is continuing and increased contact with the gay and lesbian culture.
Task: Deal with inner tension of no longer subscribing to society's norms, attempt to bring congruence between private and public view of self.

Stage 5 - Identity Pride
"I've got to let people know who I am!" An individual in this stage immerses self in gay and lesbian culture with less and less involvement in the heterosexual community.
Task: Deal with incongruent views of heterosexuals.

Stage 6 - Identity Synthesis
"I am me." An individual in this stage develops a holistic view of self.
Task: Integrate gay and lesbian identity so that instead of being the identity, it is an aspect of self.

For more information on these stages, follow
this link. It is written by Joe Kort.

When gays and lesbians "come out" to their parents (and/or other family members), it is common for their loved ones to experience and work through six different stages: shock, denial, guilt, feeling acknowledgment (anger and hurt), making decisions (to be supportive, to table all discussions, or initiate a war-like relationship), and finally, true acceptance. Follow
this link to learn more about this process.

In addition, there is also anxiety associated with "coming out" to non-family members. The following was published by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It is a guide to how to be act/react when an individual makes a decision to "come out" to you.

Someone who is coming out feels close enough to you and trusts you sufficiently to be honest and risk losing you as a friend. It is difficult to know what to say and do to be a supportive friend to someone who has “come out” to you. Below are some suggestions you may wish to follow.

- Thank your friend for having the courage to tell you. Choosing to tell you means that they have a great deal of respect and trust for you.

- Don’t judge your friend. If you have strong religious or other beliefs about homosexuality, keep them to yourself for now. There will be plenty of time in the future for you to think and talk about your beliefs in light of your friend’s orientation.

- Respect your friend’s confidentiality. They probably are not ready to tell others right away and want to tell people in their own way.

- Tell your friend that you still care about them, no matter what. Be the friend you have always been. The main fear for people coming out is that their friends and family will reject them.

- Don’t be too serious. Sensitively worded humor may ease the tension you are both probably feeling.

- Ask any questions you may have, but understand that your friend may not have all the answers. You can save some questions for later or, better yet, you can find some of the answers together.

- Include your friend’s partner in plans as much as you would with any other friend.
Be prepared to include your friend in more of your plans. They may have lost the support of other friends and family, and your time and friendship will be even more precious to them. This may include “family” times like holidays or special celebrations.

- Offer and be available to support your friend as they “come out” to others.

- Call frequently during the time right after your friend has come out to you. This will let them know you are still friends.

- Be prepared for your friend to have mood swings. Coming out can be very traumatic. Anger and depression are common, especially if friends or family have trouble accepting your friend’s orientation. Don’t take mood swings personally. Be flattered you are close enough to risk sharing any feelings of anger or frustration.

- Do what you have always done together. Your friend probably feels that coming out will change everything in their life, and this is frightening. If you always go to the movies on Friday, then continue that.

- Talk about other GLBT people you know. If your friend knows you have accepted someone else, they will feel more comfortable that you will accept them.

- Learn about the GLBT Community. This will allow you to better support your friend, and knowing about their world will help prevent you from drifting apart.

- Don’t allow your friend to become isolated. Let them know about organizations and places where they can meet other GLBT people or supportive allies.