It’s currently pride month, and a quote from Harvey Milk comes to mind. You’ve probably heard this quote before, but it’s worth repeating.
In 1978, the famous LGBT rights advocate said, “Gay brothers and sisters, you must come out. Come out to your parents. I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives. Come out to your friends, if they are indeed your friends. Come out to your neighbors, to your fellow workers, to the people who work where you eat and shop. Come out only to the people you know, and who know you, not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths. Destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake.”
Those words are as true now as they were back then, and not just for the LGBT community. They are also true for humanists and other nonbelievers.
Coming out is hard, and that’s caused countless nonbelievers to stay in the closet. Popular online polls such as Gallop and Pew claim that 3-11% of the US population identifies as atheist, but a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Kentucky indicates the number might be as high as 26%.
The reason for the discrepancy is simple. Nonbelievers are so far in the closet that many refuse to come out, even for an anonymous poll.
It’s time to change that.
We have to come out, just like Harvey Milk said.
It might be frightening, but if you follow some tips, you can make it much easier on yourself.
Tip 1 – Learn From My Mistakes
I hate to brag, but I’ve spent a lifetime coming out. The first time, I was 19 years old, and I cornered my mother in her bedroom to let her know I was a lesbian.
I practically issued my coming out as a challenge. Accept me or else.
Guess what? It did not go well.
The last time I came out was hundreds of miles and a couple of decades removed from that initial coming out, and I’d fine-tuned my process by that point. This time, instead of coming out as a lesbian (that’s old news), I came out as a nonbeliever, and it wasn’t just my revelation that changed. My entire process was different as well.
I didn’t use my coming out as a challenge, and I didn’t spend my time highlighting our differences. Instead, I used it as a way to help a friend get to know me better.
Instead of saying, “I have something to tell you. Accept me or else!” I said, “I have something I want to share with you. You are a close friend and I want you to know me better.”
Guess way happened this time?
I was accepted.
Will it always work out this way? No, but using a soft touch goes a long way when coming out. Instead of being abrasive, use it as an opportunity to grow closer with friends, family, and coworkers.
Tip 2 - Start Small and Level Up
You are going to have some major milestones to reach when coming out. There are parents, friends, coworkers…so many people to come out to, and some will be easier than others.
It’s always a good idea to start with the people who you expect will accept you. Think of it as a game, where you want to get the easy challenges out of the way first. Then, as you level up, you’ll be ready to tackle some of those difficult ones. Your method will be better, and you won’t be nearly as nervous.
Tip 3 - Don’t Feel Guilty About Directing People to Resources
After spending 20 or so years coming out, I’ve realized something.
As soon as someone finds out you are different, they want to ask you every question in the world.
That’s fine for a minute, but after spending years explaining my differences (no, I’m not attracted to men, no, I am not worried about going to hell, etc.), I’ve realized that it’s not my job. Yes, I’ll answer some questions within reason, but if someone has hours of questions locked and loaded, I’ll point them to some online resources, and I don’t feel guilty about it.
Don’t think you owe people hours upon hours of your time explaining why you are different. It is tiring, and it will make you feel as if you have to represent every nonbeliever out there.
Tip 4 - Use Your Community as a Shoulder to Lean On
I’m not going lie. Every coming out story doesn’t end with a big hug and plans to go away for the weekend. Some people will not be kind to you when you come out, and it will hurt.
I lost my first friend from coming out back in college, and I’ve lost others along the way. It stings each and every time, but I’ve realized something.
The more hurt I feel, the more I need my community. Also, the more I need my community, the more it comes through for me. These losses have drawn me closer to groups like the MHA and HRC. It’s important to spend time with people who have gone through the same things.
Visit the MHA’s Facebook page to engage in conversations. Come out to events, such as An Evening with Jim Helton on July 10 or one of our monthly brunches or happy hours. Embrace the community and use it to your advantage.
Tip 5 – Don’t Engage the Haters
When someone responds with hate when you come out, your knee-jerk reaction will be to respond right back. You might hurl insults at the believer or come out with a bunch of information about how the God isn’t real.
Don’t do it.
You cannot convert haters to your side. Let them sit alone with that hate. Their inner hate is much more damaging than any words you can say.
Plus, you don’t want to waste your energy on a hater. There are so many good people out in the world. Use your energy coming out to them. It’ll be a much more pleasant experience.
Tip 6 – Go at Your Own Pace
Coming out is important, but don’t rush the process. Come out at your own pace and keep your best interests in mind. For instance, if you are dependent on someone for housing or college tuition, it might not be the best time to come out to that person. Instead, you might want to wait until you are independent.
Remember, you’re the only person who knows how fast you should go. Some people dive in with both feet, while others are cautious. Follow your gut and go the speed that makes sense for your specific situation.
Do You Have a Coming Out Story?
Have you come out sometime in your lifetime? Share your story in the comment section below and let’s get a dialogue going. Remember, we are here for each other. We are stronger together, so let’s be there for one another.