A conversation reminded me of this topic in recent weeks.
When I was in my teens, coming out as your gender identity or sexual orientation was something that people just did not talk about “in polite company,” let alone discuss openly amongst friends and family. I consider myself to be very lucky, when I had that discussion with my Mom when I was 16, she was a woman who was light years ahead of her time, and had already been doing her own research on what she had seen long before I came to the realization.
Would that it could be a similar case for all young people who are either outed by some person before they are prepared to have that conversation, or attempt to reveal their true selves. Over 40% of the young people who are homeless and on the streets identify as part of the LGBTQ spectrum, and were thrown away like so much trash by their parents and/or families. This is something that definitely requires much more work and education to be done.
And yet, many think that once that initial coming out conversation has taken place, that is the end of the work that has to be done. It isn’t. It is just the beginning of the continual process of coming out in assorted situations and under various circumstances.
If it were only so simple as to be a one time occurrence, and each time presents a whole new set of circumstances and challenges for the person involved.
Consider, if you will, that a large majority of interactions you will have throughout your lifetime will require some level of “coming out” on your behalf. If you relocate and need to find medical practitioners in your new area, part of the conversation you will have in your initial appointments (until your medical records are transferred) is another set of coming out moments. If you have to take a trip to the emergency room, you will have the same conversations with the front line medical staff there as well, as you go through any prescriptions you are currently taking and for what conditions. Finding a new dentist or eye doctor, similar conversations to be had with them, particularly if you are a transgender person and are undergoing medical transition and are on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Why is this necessary? Because of the side effects that can happen from undergoing the treatments and possible complications, particularly around blood clotting if surgical or other invasive procedures are necessary.
That is where the difference starts to be seen, between sexual orientation and gender identity. Many in the mainstream media have collapsed the two items into one consistently over the years. Can’t begin to tally how many times I have been forced to have that conversation with either a journalist or producer. You can see where teaching/educating becomes second nature to many of us of a particular vintage. Part of your daily existence is taken up with having to educate somebody about the differences (and yes, they are infinite).
The coming out process is constant. Every time you pick up your prescriptions, you end up with some new chirpy person behind the counter who will discuss your medications with a not low and confidential voice volume. Oh, the number of times I have slipped out while turning 50 shades of red. Or visiting a new dentist and as they review your records from another dental office, notice the gender and name differences, and you have to have yet another coming out conversation about that. Or, upon reaching that half-century mark, seeing an eye surgeon because it would appear that your retinas are in danger of detaching, and having to run down your current medications yet again before they get to doing a thorough examination.
Then, there are those situations where some loose-lipped chucklehead has outed you without either your permission or your foreknowledge of it happening. You have been outed to people who have no business or concern knowing about your personal and private life. And, yet again, you are forced to have another conversation about your identity and why it is something that should never be done, ever.
And yet, this is not all.
You are, in many situations, required to come out with your mental health status. Look folks, let’s be honest, you go to an audiologist for hearing tests, an ophthalmologist or optometrist to have your eyes checked, a dentist to check on the health of your teeth, your family doctor or general practitioner, or in some cases your nurse-practitioner for your annual checkup. You look after your physical health properly, you should be doing the same for your mental health.
And again, every time you interact with a new professional person, you must again come out with your diagnosis/diagnoses, current or previous medications, any therapeutic programs you are currently undergoing, etc. If, worse case, you are in a crisis and are admitted through the ER of your local hospital, even in crisis, you are forced to go through the same process again, assuming you are conscious and able to speak for yourself.
And what lies underneath all of these scenarios?
Stigma, biases, ungrounded fears, rumours, stereotypes, and so forth. What it all points to is a lack of education, in the most basic view of the problem.
This is why it is vital that we continue to have conversations, to be open about various topics, to not fall victim to old wives’ tales plus uneducated biases and opinions.
The only way to improve the daily lives of all who come under these various labels, is to end the stigma around each and every one of them.
How will we end the stigma? By having open conversations. By finding peer support groups and reaching out to others. By educating, and educating, and even more educating. Ignorance may be bliss as some claim, but it is also fatal. And eventually, it will become easier to simply exist. But, for those who think you only come out one time, I hate to burst your bubble, but it just isn’t so. Not yet anyway. The day will come when the only person who should be hearing those details is the person you cuddle up next to at night. Until then, steel yourself kittens, the process begins with that first step.
Remember to love each other intensely.