Outing Yourself: How to Come Out as Lesbian or Gay to Your Family, Friends and Coworkers

Overview

No matter how much you prepare, coming out as gay or lesbian is a difficult, emotional process — a process that will continue long after the words are spoken and the secret is out. There's no magic formula, but Outing Yourself by Michelangelo Signorile offers structure, guidance, and straightforward advice to all those:
WHO ARE STRUGGLING WITH THEIR SEXUALITY AND UNSURE OF ...

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Outing Yourself: How to Come Out to Your Family, Your Friends, and Your Coworkers

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Overview

No matter how much you prepare, coming out as gay or lesbian is a difficult, emotional process — a process that will continue long after the words are spoken and the secret is out. There's no magic formula, but Outing Yourself by Michelangelo Signorile offers structure, guidance, and straightforward advice to all those:
WHO ARE STRUGGLING WITH THEIR SEXUALITY AND UNSURE OF WHAT TO DO
WHO HAVE ACCEPTED THAT THEY ARE GAY BUT ARE STILL AFRAID TO COME OUT
WHO CONSIDER THEMSELVES OUT OF THE CLOSET BUT REALIZE THEY HAVE FARTHER TO GO
Signorile's 14-step program — complete with exercises, meditation notes, and anger checks, as well as the accounts of the coming-out experiences of other lesbians and gay men — shows how you can successfully handle this life-changing, life-renewing process. A guide for the coming-out journey, Outing Yourself will convince all who read it that, in the words of the author, "The stress of coming out will never be as hard on you as the stress of staying in was."

From the author of Queer in America comes a complete, step-by-step guide to coming out of the closet--the first coming-out guide to the '90s. Signorile's pull-no-punches style gives this book a Susan Powter-ish Stop the Insanity! approach to a difficult and often mishandled experience.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Chastity Bono The Advocate Magnificent...interesting and clear...Signorile takes your hand and gently guides you through the entire self-outing process.

Torie Osborn The Los Angeles Times Book Review Signorile's book does a service simply by updating the crucial coming-out issue and analyzing, demystifying, and reframing it in a contemporary way appropriate to these complex times.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Out magazine columnist Signorile presents a 14-step program for gays and lesbians seeking to come to terms with their sexuality. (June)
Library Journal
Controversial journalist Signorile offers a perceptive, practical self-help book on the lifelong process of coming out. (LJ 6/15/95)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684826172
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 6/28/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 939,151
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Michelangelo Signorile is the author of Queer in America and a columnist for Out magazine. He has also written for The New York Times, The Village Voice, USA Today, The Advocate, the New York Post, the New York Daily News, People, and The Face. He is a graduate of the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, and he lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

STEP 1

IDENTIFYING YOURSELF

Perhaps you have had one or two homosexual experiences. Perhaps you've merely thought about it. Neither scenario necessarily means that you have told yourself you are gay.

Such thoughts and actions don't actually mean a person is gay. In some cases a heterosexual person, particularly an adolescent, may simply be experimenting — mentally or physically.

"People may be experimenting and seeing where their sexuality lies," notes Dr. Richard Isay, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical College and the author of Being Homosexual. "However, if someone has persistent homosexual experiences — and not necessarily encounters but day dreams and night dreams — and has had them for a long time, then that person is gay."

Some people are truly bisexual, equally attracted to both sexes. "I was always really turned on by men," says Sheila, a thirty-six-year-old rural Tennessee health-care worker.

Then in my early twenties I realized I was also really turned on by women. At first I thought I must be a lesbian, but my realization that I liked women did not stop or cover up my strong sexual attraction for men. I've accepted that I'm really bisexual, and I realize there aren't many people like me.

The vast majority of people who have recurring homosexual thoughts or experiences, however, are truly homosexual, although they often don't want to face the fact. Society has placed such a terrible stigma on homosexuality that even thinking about sex with someone of the same gender can be frightening. After having had several homosexual experiences, many people still deny that they are gay. They tell themselves that they are really heterosexual, they continue to live as heterosexuals, and they maintain that their homosexual incidents or thoughts don't and can't mean anything. Perhaps they tell themselves that they are bisexual as a way of holding on to some form of heterosexuality, some form of what they have been told is "normal" and "right." This is common, and has made many homosexuals — once they have fully come out — unfairly suspicious of the existence of true bisexuals.

Rudy, a twenty-four-year-old northern California law student, remembers how he couldn't face the truth when at age eighteen he began to realize his homosexuality.

I had what I guess you could call a crush on a guy at school — I mean I used to dream about kissing him — and every time I saw him in class my heart would start pounding and I'd turn red. I would then get this queasy feeling in my stomach, like I was sick, because this feeling of liking the guy made me ill, because I thought homosexuality was disgusting.

I convinced myself that I was bisexual, and that I could control the gay side and not act on it. But I soon realized that I didn't like girls in a sexual way at all. Two years later I began dating a girl who really was bisexual — I mean, she liked girls and guys and had had relationships with both. And, well, she and I had very little sex. After a lot of long talks she eventually said to me, "You're not bisexual. You're gay."

I went home that night, and for the first time wrote in my journal, "I'm gay." Then I crossed it out. I just couldn't face it.

DECADES SPENT WITHOUT IDENTIFYING ONESELF AS GAY

For some people, this first step of identifying oneself as gay or lesbian (or even bisexual) can take many years to complete. Doris, a fifty-four-year-old Buffalo, New York, business owner, married a man and had four children before eventually coming out as a lesbian and divorcing her husband — after thirty years of marriage. "Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be near women, to be physically close to them in a way that I really never wanted to be with men — even though I forced myself to be with men in that way," she says.

I admitted those feelings to myself for a very long time. But still, in those days that didn't matter. If you wanted to do well, you got married. Besides, I wasn't able to deal with the feelings anyway. They were too frightening, too eerie and weird, you know?

Then, after years of just barely acknowledging to myself that I had a longing to be intimate with a woman, I finally did experience it with a very close friend who was also married. But to actually identify myself as a lesbian? Oh God. No, it was years and years before I could actually do that.

"From the moment one begins to suspect that one might be 'different' from others the seed of doubt is sown, sending out corrosive roots to obstruct and inhibit the process by which self-esteem naturally grows," declares author and journalist Mark Thompson, who has written much about the coming-out process and the dynamics of gay life. Thompson stresses the notion of "coming out inside," coming out to oneself. "There's a valuable part of ourselves that was stolen at an early part of our lives," he says, "and we need to get it back. The doubt is sown deep inside of us because society still carries the message that being gay is bad. We internalize all of that."

UGLY WORDS

Because of the social stigma attached to them, the mere words "gay" and "lesbian" — not to mention "homosexual," "fag," "dyke," and "queer" — are terms that most people don't want associated with themselves. It's amazing how powerful these words can be. Some people engaging in sex with people of the same sex, many even in their first same-sex relationship, still cannot bring themselves to say that they are lesbian or gay. For some, the reluctance is subtle: They get around such identification by saying that they shun "labels" of any kind and don't like "categorizing" themselves. For others, the unwillingness to identify themselves as lesbian or gay is more conscious, tinged with internalized homophobia.

"I liked being with guys and having sex with guys, but I kept telling myself that I wasn't 'gay,' or a 'fag,' or any of that," recalls Ramon, a twenty-six-year-old Miami sales clerk.

My family is Cuban, and in our culture being macho is very important. So I'd tell myself that I was every bit a man, and that the men I was sleeping with and hanging out with were real men — we just had sex with each other, that's all. "Gay" was something else.

To me, it was all the stereotypes — effeminate men, drag queens, you know. I wouldn't have sex with someone who identified themselves as "gay." I believed that if I didn't say I was that — even to myself — then I wasn't.

BEGINNING A JOURNEY

Ramon's experience resonates for many gay men and lesbians who refuse to accept their homosexuality. But many people who think they accept their newfound homosexuality have never really identified themselves as gay or lesbian. Self-identifying is a way of starting the coming-out process: You can't tell other people that you're lesbian or gay until you've told yourself. It's also important to identify yourself as gay as a way of rejecting the hatred directed at you and the lies told about you. Identifying yourself starts you on a long journey.

"I first identified myself as gay when I was about twelve or thirteen years old," says Lincoln, a nineteen-year-old West Virginia college student.

It was a scary situation but one that sticks out permanently in my mind. I was in my bathroom, brushing my teeth, looking at myself in the mirror. All of these feelings I had been having but not really understanding were flooding into my mind while I looked at myself — all of these thoughts about men and a kind of realizing I was a homosexual. I began to cry, and then I prayed to God to change me because I thought it was evil or wrong. But then, from that point on, I underwent a tremendous inner healing. From the "mirror incident" I learned to accept for myself that I would not be changed; I was gay.

Lincoln's "mirror incident" is something we can all learn from. By looking himself in the mirror and facing the truth about himself, no matter how painful, Lincoln was able eventually to find inner peace and come to terms with his homosexuality.

The following exercise is the first of many in this book. These exercises are based on the actual experiences of many lesbians and gay men who, like Lincoln, stumbled upon some rituals that helped them. Depending on where you are in your coming-out journey, you will either want to read the exercises and think about them or actually do them. But this overall process is about coming out: Actions will help you more than words, and words will help you more than thoughts.

EXERCISE 1: "MIRROR, MIRROR"

Go to your bathroom mirror. Pick a time when you know there is no one around and when you know for sure that no one will walk in on you or hear you. Run the water in the sink if you want to be really sure no one will hear you.

Look at yourself in the mirror and study your face. Take a few minutes to get to know yourself and your face in the mirror. Feel good about this person who is taking charge of himself or herself.

When you are ready, say softly and sweetly "I am gay" or "I am a lesbian."

Say it slowly, over and over again, no matter how painful it is, no matter if it makes you cry. As the gay film historian and activist Vito Russo once said, "The truth will set you free, but first it will be a pain in the neck." Hear the truth, and accept the pain, which will eventually subside. For now, feel it and don't hold in your grief.

Mourn the fact that you are not the person you thought you were, the person everyone else wanted you to be. Think about that person and think about all the things about that person that did not represent the real you.

Say goodbye to the old you forever, someone who helped you out through thick and thin. This may be a sad experience, but it is time for that person to go. Eventually, you will celebrate the real you, the person you are now allowing to come out.

"Basically, coming out is a death and rebirth experience," says author Mark Thompson. "To come out, something has to die — whatever it was you thought you were. That's a painful experience. In a sense, you're killing a former constructed identity and creating a new one."

Do Exercise 1 as often and as long as you feel necessary, then go on to Exercise 2.

EXERCISE 2: "I AM WHAT I AM"

After you have done Exercise 1 a few times, go to a quiet, private place where no one will walk in on you — the woods or a park, if you have to — and bring a pen and paper. For this first time that you are doing Exercise 2, divide the paper lengthwise into three columns. In the left-hand column, beginning at the top, you will write "I am gay" or "I am a lesbian."

I am gay

I am gay

I am gay

I am gay

Then, next to that phrase, in the middle of the column, write down a negative word that describes homosexuals — one of the many ugly words that you have heard over the years from your family, your friends, or even your teachers. Go down the page, writing down another ugly epithet next to "I am gay" or "I am a lesbian."

I am a lesbian dyke

I am a lesbian lezzie

I am a lesbian butch

I am a lesbian diesel

Read all of the words you have in the middle column over and over again. Face the words that are used against you, desensitize yourself to them, and move on. After you have read the words several times, fold the paper and put it somewhere inside this book. (You will use this piece of paper again, in Step 2.)

The next time you do Exercise 2, divide the paper into two, not three, columns. Simply write down the words "I am gay" or "I am lesbian" in the left-hand column and the epithets on the right. As you write the words, accept them as a description of the new you. As in Exercise 1, say goodbye to the old you and feel the accompanying pain and grief.

Each time you finish this exercise, rip up the paper and throw it away. But remember to keep the three-columned paper you have folded and put in this book.

NO TIMETABLE

Do Exercises I and 2 until there is little or no pain associated with the epithets or with saying goodbye to the old you. You will know when you are ready to move on.

You may not feel good about yourself yet, but that will happen in time, after several more steps in the Outing Yourself process. The goal of this first step is for you to face the truth, to verbalize it and write it down. You'll know it's time to move on when the grief you've experienced is replaced by a desire to move and grow and change, an urge fueled by excitement and/or trepidation.

Copyright © 1995 by Michelangelo Signorile

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Table of Contents

Contents

Preface

Foreword by Betty Berzon, Ph.D.

Introduction

PART I OUTING YOURSELF TO YOURSELF

Step 1. Identifying Yourself

Step 2. Recognizing Self-Loathing and Creating Self-Respect

Step 3. Learning the Truth About Being Gay

PART II OUTING YOURSELF TO OTHER GAY PEOPLE

Step 4. Meeting Other Gay People

Step 5. Developing a Family of Friends

PART III OUTING YOURSELF TO YOUR STRAIGHT FRIENDS

Step 6. Telling Your Best Friend

Step 7. Coming Out to Other Friends

PART IV OUTING YOURSELF TO YOUR FAMILY

Step 8. That First Talk

Step 9. Keeping the Discussion Going

Step 10. Bringing Home Your Gay Friends and Partners

PART V OUTING YOURSELF TO YOUR COWORKERS

Step 11. Understanding and Assessing the Sexual Nature of the Workplace

Step 12. Letting Coworkers Find Out

PART VI COMING OUT EVERY DAY

Step 13. Helping Others to Come Out

Step 14. Not Thinking About It at All

Acknowledgments

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First Chapter

STEP 1

IDENTIFYING YOURSELF

Perhaps you have had one or two homosexual experiences. Perhaps you've merely thought about it. Neither scenario necessarily means that you have told yourself you are gay.

Such thoughts and actions don't actually mean a person is gay. In some cases a heterosexual person, particularly an adolescent, may simply be experimenting -- mentally or physically.

"People may be experimenting and seeing where their sexuality lies," notes Dr. Richard Isay, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical College and the author of Being Homosexual. "However, if someone has persistent homosexual experiences -- and not necessarily encounters but day dreams and night dreams -- and has had them for a long time, then that person is gay."

Some people are truly bisexual, equally attracted to both sexes. "I was always really turned on by men," says Sheila, a thirty-six-year-old rural Tennessee health-care worker.

Then in my early twenties I realized I was also really turned on by women. At first I thought I must be a lesbian, but my realization that I liked women did not stop or cover up my strong sexual attraction for men. I've accepted that I'm really bisexual, and I realize there aren't many people like me.

The vast majority of people who have recurring homosexual thoughts or experiences, however, are truly homosexual, although they often don't want to face the fact. Society has placed such a terrible stigma on homosexuality that even thinking about sex with someone of the same gender can be frightening. After having had several homosexual experiences, many people still deny that they are gay. Theytell themselves that they are really heterosexual, they continue to live as heterosexuals, and they maintain that their homosexual incidents or thoughts don't and can't mean anything. Perhaps they tell themselves that they are bisexual as a way of holding on to some form of heterosexuality, some form of what they have been told is "normal" and "right." This is common, and has made many homosexuals -- once they have fully come out -- unfairly suspicious of the existence of true bisexuals.

Rudy, a twenty-four-year-old northern California law student, remembers how he couldn't face the truth when at age eighteen he began to realize his homosexuality.

I had what I guess you could call a crush on a guy at school -- I mean I used to dream about kissing him -- and every time I saw him in class my heart would start pounding and I'd turn red. I would then get this queasy feeling in my stomach, like I was sick, because this feeling of liking the guy made me ill, because I thought homosexuality was disgusting.

I convinced myself that I was bisexual, and that I could control the gay side and not act on it. But I soon realized that I didn't like girls in a sexual way at all. Two years later I began dating a girl who really was bisexual -- I mean, she liked girls and guys and had had relationships with both. And, well, she and I had very little sex. After a lot of long talks she eventually said to me, "You're not bisexual. You're gay."

I went home that night, and for the first time wrote in my journal, "I'm gay." Then I crossed it out. I just couldn't face it.

DECADES SPENT WITHOUT IDENTIFYING ONESELF AS GAY

For some people, this first step of identifying oneself as gay or lesbian (or even bisexual) can take many years to complete. Doris, a fifty-four-year-old Buffalo, New York, business owner, married a man and had four children before eventually coming out as a lesbian and divorcing her husband -- after thirty years of marriage. "Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be near women, to be physically close to them in a way that I really never wanted to be with men -- even though I forced myself to be with men in that way," she says.

I admitted those feelings to myself for a very long time. But still, in those days that didn't matter. If you wanted to do well, you got married. Besides, I wasn't able to deal with the feelings anyway. They were too frightening, too eerie and weird, you know?

Then, after years of just barely acknowledging to myself that I had a longing to be intimate with a woman, I finally did experience it with a very close friend who was also married. But to actually identify myself as a lesbian? Oh God. No, it was years and years before I could actually do that.

"From the moment one begins to suspect that one might be 'different' from others the seed of doubt is sown, sending out corrosive roots to obstruct and inhibit the process by which self-esteem naturally grows," declares author and journalist Mark Thompson, who has written much about the coming-out process and the dynamics of gay life. Thompson stresses the notion of "coming out inside," coming out to oneself. "There's a valuable part of ourselves that was stolen at an early part of our lives," he says, "and we need to get it back. The doubt is sown deep inside of us because society still carries the message that being gay is bad. We internalize all of that."

UGLY WORDS

Because of the social stigma attached to them, the mere words "gay" and "lesbian" -- not to mention "homosexual," "fag," "dyke," and "queer" -- are terms that most people don't want associated with themselves. It's amazing how powerful these words can be. Some people engaging in sex with people of the same sex, many even in their first same-sex relationship, still cannot bring themselves to say that they are lesbian or gay. For some, the reluctance is subtle: They get around such identification by saying that they shun "labels" of any kind and don't like "categorizing" themselves. For others, the unwillingness to identify themselves as lesbian or gay is more conscious, tinged with internalized homophobia.

"I liked being with guys and having sex with guys, but I kept telling myself that I wasn't 'gay,' or a 'fag,' or any of that," recalls Ramon, a twenty-six-year-old Miami sales clerk.

My family is Cuban, and in our culture being macho is very important. So I'd tell myself that I was every bit a man, and that the men I was sleeping with and hanging out with were real men -- we just had sex with each other, that's all. "Gay" was something else.

To me, it was all the stereotypes -- effeminate men, drag queens, you know. I wouldn't have sex with someone who identified themselves as "gay." I believed that if I didn't say I was that -- even to myself -- then I wasn't.

BEGINNING A JOURNEY

Ramon's experience resonates for many gay men and lesbians who refuse to accept their homosexuality. But many people who think they accept their newfound homosexuality have never really identified themselves as gay or lesbian. Self-identifying is a way of starting the coming-out process: You can't tell other people that you're lesbian or gay until you've told yourself. It's also important to identify yourself as gay as a way of rejecting the hatred directed at you and the lies told about you. Identifying yourself starts you on a long journey.

"I first identified myself as gay when I was about twelve or thirteen years old," says Lincoln, a nineteen-year-old West Virginia college student.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2008

    Fantastic read!

    Coming out is one of the hardest things any individual could ever experience. Many of us don't know how exactly to 'out' oneself to loved ones. 'Outing Yourself' has helped me in so many ways that it's literally countless. I believe that this is one of the first books gay men and women should read before any other to help identify where he or she stands and what to do when they reach certain situations. This book has it all in helping out those in the outing process. It has done me wonders. . .

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2000

    Excellent excellent excellent

    This should be your first book in your gay and lesbian library. It helps you think about lots of things you've probably spent much energy thinking about--and it also brings up things you've probably *forgotten* to think about, too. (E.g. Did you know the order you tell your friends in is important--to them?) I got two copies of this as gifts, one from each of the first two people I came out to--so if you're straight and want to support someone who's come out to you, this is a great gift! A must-read for anyone who is gay or who knows or cares about someone who's coming out.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2007

    A Must Read for those Coming Out

    When I was getting ready to come out, this is the book that caught my eye when I was going through the Gay and Lesbian Section at BN and ever since reading it I have had the courage and understanding on how to come out to my friends. It's a great supportive book that you should pick up when you need something to help you guide you through the hardest and yet the most important part of one's life.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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