Edge Publication by Renee Baker, Aug. 20, 2008.
Who am I? Who are you? When am I not I and you not you? Why are we not ourselves? Why do we hide? What happens when we reveal ourselves or not allow others to do the same? What impact does this have on our well-being? In other words, what is this business of being in a closet all about?
Feleshia Porter, a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice, says we all have choices in life to make and one that is ever present is whether or not to allow people to see us as we really are. If not, then we remain a mystery to them.
Porter counsels those dealing with gender and sexuality concepts of self that don’t fit the “norms” of our culture. Most of her clients have to come out as a natural part of their growth process. She says that coming out is really about being comfortable with who you are and not being afraid of others knowing who you are. She says “coming out” is really a symbolic term, “one of coming from a hiding position to an open position…it is descriptive of stepping out into the world.”
Porter says when coming out, we have to carefully consider our own motivation for doing so. She says, “What is really important about the process is to be in a good place yourself. Coming out should not be done for validation of self from others.” In other words, she says coming out is not about trying to “make ourselves okay”, but about being more authentic and becoming closer to people. It is about breaking down the mystery so that others can trust us and we begin to trust them.
Porter says too, that when we are okay with ourselves, then the reactions others have to coming out will be more about them than us. “Don’t take reactions from people personally,” she says. However, she says it is important to be considerate of others’ potential feelings and think about how we want to come out, such as in person or by email, and when it would be good timing and so on.
Porter says reactions to coming out can vary quite a bit from family to family. More than anything, she says the more people are educated about gender and sexuality, the more accepting they generally are. But she says we can’t always be certain of how others react. Even the most anti-gay people can end up being your strongest ally. Coming out to them makes them re-evaluate their beliefs and they may have a complete turnaround. Sometimes it makes them question their own identity as well, not something many are ready to do. Porter also reminds us we are not the only one that has to come out, that our families themselves will have coming out issues as well.
But why come out at all? Porter says many people live compartmentalized lives and that takes up an enormous amount of energy. She says coming out allows us to have real relationships and not coming out really just prolongs the existing state – which is not having real relationships. So your choice is to risk the loss of inauthentic relationships in hopes of having real and meaningful relationships. She says the only way to stop worrying is to face our fears and begin to learn how to loosen up our boundaries. We have to have courage to be ourselves.
Porter recommends those coming out to seek the support of others that are like themselves. She says it helps to listen to their stories as we shape our own, but we should personalize the stories we hear to ourselves, yet not losing ourselves in our story making. Porter says it is in connecting to others like ourselves, that we are able to “normalize” our own path. She says we often feel like the “only person on the planet” to feel like we do and that we must be crazy. “It is a natural process and there is not something wrong with me.”
Porter says that in coming out, her clients find they are in better physical health. They sleep better. They have less anxiety. And because they have more meaning in their lives, they take better care of themselves. They have learned to accept themselves and to be okay with others too. She says, “Even if others reject us, we still have to accept them for where they are at in their own growth.”
Porter says, in the end, “It’s good to be ourselves…a place of peace.”
To contact Porter, you may reach her on her website at www.feleshiaporter.com.
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