STAY IN THE CLOSET
Realities As A Gay Person Forced To Stay In The Closet
I moved from the United States to Botswana in 2011, as a Peace Corps Volunteer serving a two-year stint. The hardest part of this was going from a place where I was out and proud to one where I had to hide my sexuality. Going back into the closet, which I had not been in since I was 14, I found it incredibly cramped and horribly decorated.
Nevertheless, should you find yourself in such a position, here are some tips for successfully shutting that door. Coming out of the closet is an important step for people in the gay community. It's a moment of absolute self-acceptance.
It's a time in their lives where they can proclaim to people who they truly are. It's when they can step out of the darkness and reveal their unabashedly real selves, what they've been hiding all their lives.
But coming out isn't always the best step in certain scenarios. Keep reading to learn about the valid reasons why people stay in the closet.
They're stuck in an abusive family. When there isn't trust within a family, it's difficult to level with them. When they are equally abusive as the more effed up members of society, it may be safer for someone to wait before they come out of the closet. It's better to be in a safer environment than to risk one's safety in the company of abusive bigots.
They live in an area that is deeply against homosexuality. When there is no community to attach oneself to, it's not very easy expressing oneself. People can be very judgmental. They can be hurtful. It may not do someone any good coming out in an area where their safety may be on the line. They don't feel safe around the people they're coming out to.
When your gut is telling you that you aren't safe, you listen to it. No matter how perfect we may want the world to be, it's not always the case. People can be mean. They can be hurtful. Violent, even. Sometimes, time and distance are necessary before coming out.
They may not feel totally comfortable with being gay yet. Not every gay person is cool with the fact that they're gay. Not at first, at least. Some people grow up in cultures that condemn the gay community, so they may feel as though being gay isn't such a great thing. Eventually — hopefully — they'll get past this way of thinking.
They're afraid they'll regret their decision. Many people in the gay community lived in denial before coming out. They were afraid that what they were feeling would pass. So when people think they're going through a phase, it's completely natural.
They simply choose to stay in the closet. No one is forced to do anything. If someone is gay, but would rather not tell anyone, that is their choice. No one has any say in that. When they're ready, they'll do as they please.
They've been harassed for being gay. Even though there is no excuse for anyone to harass or abuse someone because of their sexual preferences, there are still abusive people in the world. In the perfect situation, this is avoidable. But life isn't perfect. If someone's been abused, they're not likely to be lauded publicly over what they were abused for.
They don't feel comfortable yet. Coming out of the closet is claiming a new identity in a way. It may be someone's true identity, but it's new, nonetheless. Changing your lifestyle can be scary, and if someone needs time, they can have their time. It's totally fine.
They're afraid they'll feel lonely as the only open gay person in their community. Being human is about wanting to feel accepted. It's part of our DNA. We crave bonds. When we feel different, we're afraid those bonds may break. People don't want to lose what they already have.
Their partner is pressuring them into coming out. Coming out is a very sensitive moment for gay people. It's one of the most significant days of their lives. But it can take quite a bit of time. When they're feeling pressured into coming out, it can add a great deal of anxiety onto the process.
They're going through enough as it is. Even when someone comes out, life is still happening. It takes a lot to come out. It can create an emotional roller coaster, and when someone comes out, they'll want to feel/be prepared.
They're in a heterosexual relationship. Many people, before coming out, date people of the opposite sex. It's really not so uncommon. Though they might not be sexually attracted to this person, they likely still genuinely care for them. They don't want to break their heart. They'll want to come out when it's appropriate.
They know someone who's been abused for being gay. It can be scary changing your lifestyle, especially when you know someone who's been attacked for being exactly how you are. It can be intimidating. It'll take time.
They're afraid of rejection. For all they know, the people closest to them might not accept them for being gay. The natural response would be to just cut these people out their lives, but life isn't ever that easy. Some things are far easier said than actually done.
Your Level Of Outness Will Depend On Geography
I was located in a very rural village, with only 500 people for company. In a place that size, everyone knows everyone else's business. I could tell you what my neighbor had for dinner three nights earlier, although that may be because I got them to cook for me. Hard to say.
But either way, I was deeply in the closet. Being with so few people, there was no choice. This can be extra challenging when the third or fourth question a new acquaintance always asks is, "Do you have a girlfriend?"
Some days I lied and said yes, but most of the time I simply said no and tried to move the conversation somewhere else. But rarely did I get to talk about homosexuality. And I never told anyone in my village that while they were looking at the new teacher, I was checking out the male nurse visiting from the next village over.
What's interesting is that I had friends in the Peace Corps in Botswana who were also gay, but were placed in larger cities -- thus, they got to talk about it more. Of course, rhapsodizing about last night's hookup to a stranger is bad form anywhere you go, but they could at least broach the topic, since they wouldn't see the same person for weeks at a time.
Where I was, they didn't have TV -- they didn't even have the electricity that is somewhat necessary to turn on a TV -- so they were a lot more culturally closed. Of course, they also didn't have Two And A Half Men, so maybe there was something to the tradeoff.
You Can Lobby, But It's Always On "Someone Else's" Behalf
Even in villages the size of a Sub-Saharan Lego set, it's not like the topic of homosexuality was off the table. Believe it or not, it came up quite often. For someone like me, your first instinct is going to be akin to splitting up teams for gym class: "Pick me! Pick me!" Well, you can't do that anymore. But you can talk about homosexuality -- just in the abstract.
For example, if you wanted to mention how awesome Pride parades are or how important it is to you that gay people have equal rights, you could frame it in terms of a friend. Instead of you being gay, you have gay friends back home. This way, you can claim some ownership of the issue without having to personally defend yourself.
This strategy can still get you in trouble. Sometimes, people would question why I would want to be friends with someone who was "unnatural." One fellow teacher advised me to cut all ties with my "gay friend," since he was evil and corrupted. Apparently, they think of gay people kind of like sexual werewolves.
Keep All Your Porn Digital
Unfortunately, I couldn't bring any porn with me, because that's not something you want to have in your bag when they check upon arrival, so I asked some friends to send me porn when I was in Botswana.
Thankfully, they are the coolest straight people ever, and they sent me three magazines (in case you were wondering who was still buying those). Since I lived without electricity and had to charge my computer at the school, the magazines were great. However, magazines can be stolen. Which mine were.
I had been away from my work site and my village for a week training in the capital, and when I got back, I found my windows were open, dirt on the floor, and some things missing from my counters. I also found the padlock cut off my suitcase.
I called our Peace Corps Security Officer, who sent the police over. I told them what was missing, but a few hours after the police had left, I found out that something else was gone. Missing from my suitcase was one of the magazines. Now, I had no idea who had my dirty little secret stashed under their mattress.
The Peace Corps had already invited me to stay in the capital after my house was broken into, so I spent the whole night building Legos by candlelight to keep myself awake and ducked out of town the next chance I got.
For about a month, I ended up living in a hotel near the Peace Corps office because there was no other space for me at the time. Eventually, I got a new work site and things started to look up.
There Are Gay Undergrounds Everywhere
My new village was much closer to the capital, Gaborone. Underground gay communities exist everywhere, and we had one in Gaborone that I found out about when my friend, who went to parties catering to LGBT people at least twice a month, invited me along.
Contrary to popular belief, not all gay parties are manic sex raves set to Lady Gaga soundtracks. That is a gross misconception. I'll have you know that every fourth song, we actually put in some Rihanna.
Needless to say, it was Heaven. After a year of being trapped in the closet, I was finally in a space where everyone was gay and no one cared. Imagine walking outside to find a new Corvette parked in the driveway the day you got your license. Then, imagine you could potentially bone that Corvette.
You Will Find Your People
Besides the attendees of the somewhat-regular gay bashes (Note to self: Think up a better term), there were other people whom I thought were gay. But there was no way to approach the topic without creating a catastrophe. In fact, I went out of my way to avoid talking to them for safety's sake. It wasn't anything they did that outed them; it was what they didn't do that tipped me off.
In Botswana, it's customary for men to hold hands while chatting and walking. (No, the irony of such a homophobic country being filled with men skipping down the street holding hands was not lost on me.)
There's no way to be certain, but I was suspicious of men who seemed uncomfortable with this custom, quickly breaking away and looking around nervously after someone held their hand. Maybe I'm making too much of that or, considering that being gay is thought by many in Botswana to be a Western phenomenon, maybe their failure to pick up on these cues was merely blissful ignorance.
That willful ignorance had its advantages. It meant I could give subtle signals without tripping the gay trap. For example, I didn't have to hide my tastes in music, which in the West is considered the equivalent of an "I HEART DICK" tattoo. I didn't even have to hide my boyfriend, whom I met at the gay underground party.
He came to visit me for a weekend in my tiny village, and no one seemed to notice or suspect anything unusual about two dudes quietly holing up in a house together and sweating a lot. They must be great friends who love to work out!
Staying in the Closet! You Damage Your Mental & Physical Health
While a major hurdle for LGBT rights in the western hemisphere has finally been overcome in the past few years (legalization of gay marriage in both the United States and the United Kingdom), it looks less and less hopeful that that same tolerance can be achieved globally. In former communist-bloc countries, the period for modest LGBT freedoms was brief, and homophobia is still widespread.
Homosexuality is often considered an abnormality and, in some cases, prosecuted under the criminal law. These countries have a vast population of LGBT members who have lived in the closet for most of their lives while obliged to form traditional families.
Spending the majority of their lives attempting to pass as heterosexuals to gain social approval and often engaging in secret same-sex relationships, these gay men and women end up with irreversible damage to their physical and mental health.
“Coming out is no longer a matter of popular debate, but a matter of public health,” claim scientists from Louis H. Lafontaine Hospital in Montreal. But for some who spent most of their lives in the closet, it might be just impossible.
Whether it is the fear of being rejected by their now grown children, being criminalized by the homophobic society, ostracized by their own community, or the strong belief they would be unable to rebuild their lives with their new identity, these men and women are too broken to start anew.
Here are the main ailments that are likely to develop if you are forced to keep your sexual identity a secret from society and often from yourself:
Dissociative Identity Disorder. Notable psychiatrists Sullivan and Roughton have discovered that closeted individuals routinely separate their attractions and feelings for the persons of the same sex from their identity.
That means these men and women find their desires so unacceptable that they keep them out of their conscious awareness, separating their sexual identity from the rest of their persona. Blocking the anxiety-provoking thoughts about their sexuality forces them to lead a double life and are very often unaware of it.
Chronic Depression. Increased fear and withdrawal from friends and relatives and the chronic stress of hiding one’s sexuality can lead to excess amounts of cortisol in the body, which contributes to severe depression as well as the general “wear and tear” of the body.
Scientists at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress at Louis H. Lafontaine Hospital in Montreal found that staying in the closet weakens your whole immune system, in addition to leading to chronic depression.
Self-disgust and Self-hatred. Socialized into thinking that being non-heterosexual is somehow “mad,” “bad,” “wrong,” or “immoral,” many closeted gay and lesbian individuals develop internalized homophobia. They find that they do not belong and do not fit in either the “straight world” or the “gay world.”This painful feeling often leads to self-disgust, self-hatred, and contempt for the more open LGBT members. Low Self-esteem and Negative Self-view. Both can lead to avoiding fulfilling relationships with others. Spending the majority of their lives attempting to pass as heterosexuals to gain social approval, many closeted individuals develop low self-esteem and negative body image, which brings with them such issues as fear of intimacy, deep shame about their sexual experiences, and inability to develop emotional intimacy, psychologists claim.
Alcohol/Drug Abuse and Suicidal Thoughts. Growing increasingly withdrawn and depressed, closeted individuals often follow unsafe sexual practices and engage in other destructive, risk-taking behaviors.
Being ostracized by the community, fearing shame and physical torture and imprisonment, creating heterosexual families, and dissociating themselves from the gay population altogether leads many to a life of substance abuse and addictions. Constantly haunted by suicidal thoughts, many consider ending their lives.
My relationship with a closeted gay man, Sasha (who was actually my husband’s lover years before I married him, and I chronicle in my memoir And Then There Were Three: Sixty Seven Letters to Sasha) opened my eyes to the many aspects of homosexuality and the life paths that LGBT men and women choose in the parts of the world where homosexuality is still considered an abnormality.
The freedoms that sexual minorities enjoy in democratic countries today are precious and unheard of in such places as Ukraine, Russia, Belorussia, Azerbaijan, and other post-Soviet territories. Giving American LGBT members a glimpse into the lives of those who are less fortunate and still struggling for their rights will be an eye-opening read for many.
Could Staying In The Closet Have Its Advantages?
In honor of National Coming Out Day, I thought I’d stir up the pot and go a little rogue. You see, there are times that, as the Coming Out Coach, I think it’s wrong to come out of the closet. Not because you’ll lose friends, possibly be fired in 29 states, or maybe even contract an STD (that never happens to heterosexuals).
Believe it or not, I actually have ten other reasons why you should definitely not come out of the closet. However, before I divulge them, I want to give you an email address to send your hate mail after you read this article.
Coming out is a very personal decision that, honestly, should be kept entirely to yourself. Nobody else really needs to know about your fantasies regarding people of the same sex (they’re gross) and it makes people uncomfortable when they hear stories about homosexual attractions; queasy, even, if we’re talking about two guys.
Lesbians, on the other hand, aren’t quite as bad on account of women being the inferior sex and simply not knowing any better. It’s a stroke to the heterosexual male’s ego to imagine being catered to sexually by two women who are also satisfying each other in front of his eyes.
That’s just one shade off of hetero-normative and is completely acceptable: ladies, feel free to make out with each other. Yet, I digress from the focus of this article.
Great Reasons Not To Come Out Of The Closet:
It makes everyone else so much more comfortable if you don’t come out. It’s your duty in life to ensure that what you do in the comfort of your own home doesn’t affect others — and don’t you forget it.
Your role is to make every one else comfortable with how you live your life.
Politicians are already too overwhelmed. It’s hard enough to balance a budget, let alone stop bickering over special interests, so by staying in the closet and not adding another member to the “gay agenda” you’re giving politicians a little more peace of mind. It’s your patriotic duty, really.
No one needs to get hurt except you. Even though you appear to be a “married heterosexual” with two kids, the fact that you’re actually a miserable married heterosexual with two kids suppressing your homosexual tendencies is affecting only you.
No need to drive your spouse and the kiddos into therapy. Let’s keep it simple, cut down on mental health expenses, and just let those little voices in your head drive you crazy. It’s cheaper that way.
For men only: Undergear models will still have a job if you stay in the closet. If you guys come out of the closet, those perfectly chiseled Undergear male models would no longer have closeted fans hoarding away their catalogues!
Hello: no catalogues means no models, no postage, no printing, no film shoots, no photographers... you get the drift. You come out of the closet and you cause unemployment. Do you really want that kind of responsibility?
For women only: the heterosexual male ego won’t be traumatized if you stay in the closet. Men are very insecure; we all know this. That’s why they have to thump their chests, grunt and constantly prove their masculinity.
If lesbians keep coming out, these poor straight guys will go crazy trying to figure out why they can’t turn you the other direction. Don’t be selfish, lesbians.
Honesty, integrity and authenticity are overrated. Even though “coming out” is a mark of honesty, integrity, authenticity and an assortment of other “high-value” words, all these feelings and characteristics are overrated.
You’re really not going to feel any better. It’s just a myth coming from the millions of gays and lesbians who are already out. They’re actually quite miserable and wish they hadn’t been so honest.
Your sanity isn’t that important. It’s a crazy, crazy world, so why would you want to become one of the sane ones by coming out? Buck it up, jump into the fray with everyone else, and let this confusing sexual orientation deal be your “thing”. Everybody needs a thing.
Being heterosexual isn’t all that bad. Wait. I mean pretending to be heterosexual isn’t all that bad. For centuries, men and women from all walks of life have hidden their true sexual energy, and they’ve gone on to live happy, productive, married, or single lives.
True, they’ve been having flings on the side, hiding out in chat rooms, and posting false profiles on hook-up apps. Who’s it hurting? Um, no one, because there are a ton of others doing the same thing. You’re in great company!
True love and dynamite sex are what romance novels are made of; not real life. While you may think that “coming out” will lead you to finding Mr. or Mrs. Right and having mind-blowing sex, it’s all a myth. First, you have to give up your hard-earned values and have random sex with lots of different partners, because that’s how all out people live their lives.
By the time you’re done sleeping around, you’re either morally compromised, have an STD, or immune to what real love looks like. So save yourself the heartache and effort! Put your fantasy to rest and just marry a nice heterosexual.
I don’t want to be unemployed. Sorry, I’m going to be a little selfish. If you come out, then what am I supposed to do? Coach people to be happy? Ugh! How boring would that be?
The more you people “come out”, the closer I get to being out of business, so just stay in the closet and let me help you feel better about yourself. My goal isn’t to help you love yourself and be happy — it’s to keep myself employed.
...Okay, time for some real talk. Honestly, if you’ve bought into any of these reasons for not coming out of the closet, then I’ve got an iceberg in Arizona to sell you.
In true honor of National Coming Out Day, and to be fully supportive of you and your journey — or that of someone you know who may be struggling, I encourage you to come out. Being who you really are is powerful, and that power impacts all aspects of life. It can lead to deeper levels of happiness and peace. The only thing standing between you and your true self... is you.
This National Coming Out Day I invite you — all of you — gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming, etc. to take the brave bold step and “come out”. Be yourself, just as you are, for your own health, wellness, and happiness.
And hey: as one last tip, even though it’s National Coming Out Day, that doesn’t mean you have to come out. We all come out at exactly the same time... when we’re ready.
M I Ro
photos by pixabay.com