• Phil McAuliffe

Owning our coming out stories

Updated: May 7

Do you own your coming out story or does it own you?

There is such power in our coming out stories. It’s hard to think of a better example of the courage it takes to live as our authentic selves than our coming out. It’s a seminal moment in our lives.

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the power of coming out, from the perspectives of connection, authenticity and as a driver for thoughts and feelings of loneliness.

For some, our coming out story is one of love, acceptance and feeling a profound sense of belonging. For others, it’s a story of fear, rejection and disconnection. Some of us got to control the circumstances in which the news was shared for the first time; others did not.

In reading these words, your minds may be recalling memories of when, how and to whom you first came out. You may be recalling the inner turmoil and the absolute fear of judgment and rejection. You may recall the words you used and the seemingly eternal silence that followed as others digested the news.

If you didn’t get to choose the time and circumstances of your coming out, your mind may be replaying the possible trauma of how you were outed. I’m sorry that you’re experiencing this. A huge hug for you. I have compiled a list of organisations that provide mental and emotional help and support gay men here.

Indeed, you may still be in the closet and grappling with the incongruity of the thoughts and emotions within you and the challenge of maintaining the image you’re projecting into the world. A huge hug for you if you are. Again, check out this link if you feel that you do need help and support.

It’s challenging stuff, isn’t it?

And yet, here you are. You’re still here. I’m proud of you.

Coming out requires all the connection

As readers of my blog, you know that I believe that there are three pillars of connection:

- Connection to self

- Connection to others

- Connection to our community

A ‘good’ coming out requires us to be connected to our authentic selves. It builds our feelings of connection to others and to our community. Indeed, a ‘good’ coming out can forge bonds with a new community to which we may not have been a part of before: the local LGBTQ community. We can feel connected to a whole group of people who also ‘get it’ and can support and encourage us as we find our new normal.

Conversely, a ‘bad’ coming out (one where we do not control the circumstances of how we come out) can leave us feeling further disconnected and alienated from others before we have really connected with our authentic selves. The important process of connection to our authentic selves is denied us. We may be forced to start working through intense emotional issues before we are ready within ourselves. A ‘bad’ coming out can be very damaging and its effects can linger.

We can feel shame for who we are. We can be shamed by others.

The shame of our sexuality can have such power over us. I invite you to think back to the thoughts and emotions within you about your sexual attraction to other men before you came out. If you’ve not yet come out, you’re well familiar with the maelstrom of conflicting thoughts and emotions right now.

What did you do to conceal, hide and deny your same-sex attraction?

For me, it took almost 30 years before I could accept my sexuality. That little sentence hides a lot of shame, denial and wishing away a part of me. It was a hard process to connect with all of me to get where I am today. It took a lot of work within me and a great team around me to become fully connected within myself. This is not something that I always had. And it took admitting that I was lonely – which, ironically, can feel as traumatic as coming out as gay – and getting help to realise that the parts of me that I was denying – like my sexuality – were leading me to act in ways that I thought were expected of me, not what I needed myself to be.

The acceptance of my sexuality came at a heavy price. However, in coming out to those most important to me (which was generally done face-to-face, which is extremely difficult when I live in another country), I received such love and support as to almost be overwhelming despite the pain living my truth has caused. It can be said that I’ve had a ‘good’ coming out.

I’m haunted by the few ‘bad’ coming out conversations. I feel the familiar wash of shame come over me when I recall the accusatory questions from friends. I recall the silence, the walk-outs and the barely concealed rejection and I still feel terrible as I write these words. Rationally, I know that we experience and interpret our world through our own lenses and we all have our guiding principles. Still, it hurts to not feel accepted by others who once were so important in my life. Indeed, it was the fear that those most important to me would leave me if I revealed my authentic self to them that kept me in the closet for so many years.

But my coming out experience has taught me much about human connection. Those who love me love ME, not the version of me I was trying so hard to project. And I console myself with this: those who do not genuinely accept me for who I am have kindly outed themselves to be unworthy of my awesomeness.

The world is ready for your awesomeness, too.

The world is ready for your awesomeness, too.

Self-acceptance is courageous AF

If you are out, how did you come to accept your sexuality? Of course, as human beings we are not defined solely by our sexuality, but the level of self-connection that is required is a great example of how we need to embrace and be connected to all of us, not just that which we’re proud to show the world. We need to embrace those parts of us that we hide, conceal and deny.

And we know that coming out is not a one-time only event. There’s no coming out to those nearest and dearest all at once; it’s done over a lifetime. Coming out is a statement said in the present progressive tense: We keep coming out.

We are faced with a choice at every new social interaction: can I be me?

It takes enormous reserves of courage to simply answer that question and decide to be true to our authentic selves. Every time we come out becomes a stunning act of vulnerability and authenticity. Hearing the coming out stories of others never fails to move me emotionally. They’re a privilege to hear and are inspiring. The fear of judgment in interactions with other humans can be very real but we choose, in that beautiful moment, to speak or act in our truths. Often the easier thing to do is to say or do any number of things as we hustle for the acceptance of others.

Courage is a renewable resource within us, but our courage tanks can take a long time to refill. We need to be connected to our authentic selves AND have a solid team around us helps if we are to keep our courage stocks in check.

Indeed, if we’re not genuinely connected (to self, others and our community), it’s sometimes easier to pretend to be the version of ourselves we feel would be accepted in that situation. While easier, that decision comes at a cost: to your authentic self.

Finally

How has your initial coming out affected you? How does it continue to affect you?

An important question to ponder.

Do you really own your coming out story? Or are there some aspects of your coming out that still own you?

Remember, you don’t need to process these questions alone. I have created a private space on Facebook where we can go deeper in a safe space online in a chat with me and others. The space is available for premium subscribers only. You can become a premium subscriber by hitting the 'subscribe and stay connected' link below.


Also, I have a list of organisations here with whom you can talk to trained mental health professionals.

Where to now?


Connection is the antidote to loneliness. Subscribe to my website through either a basic subscription (free) or premium subscription (monthly charge) and let’s stay connected as we work to de-stigmatise loneliness and promote authentic connection for gay men.

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Important notice: All views expressed above are my own and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Resources page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.

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