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Coming out is not always easy


Although Australia is moving towards a society that is more supportive of queer people than ever before, there are still reasons that people who don’t identify as heterosexual choose to keep their identities hidden. Known colloquially as ‘being in the closet’, sexual orientation concealment refers to deliberate actions that a person takes to hide their sexual orientation from others. Whilst concealment is similar to non-disclosure, these are slightly different terms. Non-disclosure refers to choosing not to say anything that would indicate one’s sexuality at a given time – rather than actively avoiding or hiding it. For example, non-disclosure might look like starting a new job and not mentioning your partner, but discussing them if someone directly asks you. Conversely, concealment might look like attempting to pass as straight by dating a person of the opposite gender despite not having an attraction to that gender, or avoiding conversations/situations/people that one believes have the potential to ‘out’ them. People can be completely concealed and actively hide their sexual orientation from everyone or be concealed to certain people (such as their parents or colleagues). Research has found that fear of discrimination is the primary reason people choose to conceal their sexual orientation.

Sadly, for some people there are circumstances where concealment may be necessary – for example, where coming out could threaten their physical or emotional safety, financial security, or housing. Likely due to such circumstances, some research has found that concealment is associated with reduced discrimination and harassment, and therefore, improved mental health outcomes. But if you’re thinking about coming out…don’t shut the closet doors just yet! The finding that concealment is associated with improved outcomes conflicts with the majority of research – which indicates concealment is actually associated with poorer mental health outcomes like depression and anxiety due to denial of a core component of one’s authentic identity. Highly concealed individuals report feeling a reduced sense of belonging isolation from connections with members of the queer community. Some research has also found that people who are highly concealed worry about their sexual orientation frequently and hold fear that others may find out. More research needs to be done to increase our understanding of this important area, however, the challenge with this is that concealed individuals are hard for researchers to find!

No matter where you are on your journey, coming out can be anxiety inducing, even if you don’t expect to encounter an adverse reaction. Something we have learned from hearing several coming out stories is that for all of their differences, most queer people can recall the moment where they shakily said those words for the first time after rehearsing them for hours, held their breath, and hoped for the acceptance that they deserved. Coming out, especially for the first time, can be difficult so ensure you’re being kind to yourself.

Sophie Glynn
Provisional Psychologist