08/11/2014 01:28 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Closet Door Swings Both Ways


This is not a DIY moment about how to get your closet door unstuck. Or maybe it is. For now it's a few moments of truth.

  • What goes in must come out.
  • What goes up must come down.
  • When someone comes out of the closet, someone goes into the closet

In other words, whether yours is the proverbial three-hinged single door, bi-fold door, or a piece of cloth draped across the opening to hide what's in your closet, there's always one way in and one way out. Either way, it can be scary and joyful to come out and to go into the closet.

Numerous articles espouse the trials and challenges of coming out of the closet. The fights to end hate, battles for quality in the workplace for LGBTQ individuals, and of course marriage and family rights for gay and lesbian couples, make headline news on a daily basis. Supportive, insights on how-tos, and messages of "You're Not Alone," prevail, all in an effort to level the playing field in the quest to be authentically who we are, in ourselves, in our sexuality. But, in this journey, we are not the only ones facing closets.

On the other side of the closet door stand the others, those who haven't been preparing for the truth that we've been preparing to share for our lifetime. They're unprepared for the news that the person they thought they knew just shed the false skin of who they weren't to reveal the truth of who they are at their core. In this chaotic moment of truth, the cries of "What about me?" often get muffled for both parties.

The one coming out wants to be heard and respected for coming clean, no longer hiding, and is ready to celebrate their birth into living authentically. In many cases, those who've just received the words "I'm gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender," are crying out to be heard too. They are in shock, pain, confusion, and often don't get heard. For them, the closet now becomes their refuge. Isn't that ironic? One closet serves all!

In my own journey, as soon as I came out I expected everyone closest to me to jump right on the bandwagon with me and rejoice. Of course that was a pretty tall order to hand my wife, daughters, parents, brother, and friends. I wasn't particularly concerned about friends because, for the most part, I think a lot of them had figured it out. My greatest concern was my wife, daughters, parents, and brother, in that order of priority. Needless to say, I had some knee-jerk, being a jerk, reactions when they wouldn't pick up the rainbow flag and sing "Hallelujah, he's gay!" Yes, in some way, sometimes not-so-pretty ways, that's what I was expecting. How assumptive that was. And as the saying goes, "Assuming makes an ass out of you and me!"

The post coming out days, weeks, months can be very chaotic for all concerned depending on whether people choose to stand in their corners, or attempt to meet in the middle. More often than not, corners become the defacto standard, causing ears to go deaf, and diarrhea of the mouth to reign supreme. Logic, understanding, respect, and space get thrown out the window.

As one who came out of the closet, I fought so hard to be heard, making it all about me. Not surprising. It was my struggle, challenge, and truth that was being shared. What I missed, as do so many others who've come through those closet doors is our loved ones, friends, co-workers, etc. may now be going through their own version of closet dwelling. While we may want those closest to us to accept and embrace us with fervor, it might be wiser to stand back and let them come through those doors in their own way. Of course, that may mean biting some tongues and creating distance to give them space. It becomes even harder to let them have space when they unleash their hatred and disappointment upon us for what we "have become." In those cases, the more appropriate path might be to completely disengage for a while until they and you have had time for the initial storm to pass.

Unfortunately, often it is the initial eye of the storm that dictates if, when, and how long our "others" go into their own version of the closet, and how the relationship plays out. I currently have a client whose son came out to her about seven years ago. She admits now that she always had inkling that he was different, even helped ensure he wasn't being bullied in school. She's a tough love mom with a heart of gold under that scrappy exterior. Her relationship with her son is very strained, to the point of no contact except filtered communications through other family members. Granted, she's made her bed and is sleeping in it. Bitter words spoken in anger in disappointment have created the grand divide between mother and son. In her defense, at least based on what's been shared with me, he hasn't been the most patient son either. He's done what many of us did coming out of the closet. "I'm gay, accept me, embrace it, and deal with it!" Again I'm caveating what I just said, as it is hearsay based on what she's told me. It's really neither here nor there. I've done this work enough to know, these types of stories are truer than I'd like admitting.

In the midst of these "I'm right your wrong. You don't love me. Yes I do. You suck. No you suck." moments, it's not uncommon emotions get blown out of proportion and life moves forward with bitterness and hatred on both parties parts. Here's the thing that creates the most irony...both people want the same things.

  1. Space to heal
  2. Time to contemplate
  3. Voices to be heard
  4. Perspectives to respected
  5. Concessions to be made
  6. Love to prevail
  7. Understanding that we're all doing the best we can
  8. Values don't have to be broken
  9. Beliefs can be shifted or maintained
  10. Life without one another truly isn't the best answer

At the end of the day, when the curtain closes, and that last breathe of life escapes our lips. The most important part of the journey is to embrace the fact that we've all got closets. Closets where we hide from others, our truth, or ourselves either dwelling forever or waiting to break free. In the moments that we make that move to break free from our closets, the greatest gift we can give ourselves is to realize, no matter the closet, there will always be someone, somewhere who's not going to understand why we came out of our closet to be our most authentic self, and that's ok.

In their moment of not understanding us, they are either climbing into or struggling to come out of their closet, because our actions became a catalyst that ignited a fire within them to have to confront their own beliefs and values at a deeper level. The best gift we can give them is love, space, and understanding to meet us halfway if it is in ours, and their best interest!