When Coming Out is a “Bridge Too Far”

There are times, as a therapist, where I realize during a session with a client that “coming out” is not in their best interest or health.  “Coming out” should always be the client’s issue and the client’s decision.  The therapist should have NO agenda about whether a client “comes out” and “transitions.”  In my opinion, the therapist should have no agenda except the health of the client!

Being who you are is never a race.  You don’t have to prove anything.  However, in this day and age, there are many organizations where “coming out” seems to be their sole purpose.  But they aren’t usually organizations in a medical field or a healthcare field.  Those organizations or individuals often represent advocacy and civil rights issues.  In the fields in which they work, it is understandable and laudable that they have these “global” goals.

The individual trans-person is a different issue.  Each person is unique.  In their life there are factors to be faced including, but not limited to: religion, family, finances, workplace, and bonds of existing relationships.  I cannot say that “coming out” is right for everyone.  What I had to do is not what you may need to do.  The client’s health is paramount.  While it may not be “optimum” to decide to stay in the closet, it may be the best of certain choices in his or her present circumstances.  The trick is in knowing yourself and what it takes for you to live with yourself.

The NY Times has an excellent article on this very issue entitled “Therapists Who Help People Stay in the Closet” and I highly recommend all who face issues of “coming out” measured against the importance of their religious convictions to read it.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

So it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that when potential clients come to Flanigan’s office to discuss their sexual orientation — in particular whether they should reveal their homosexuality to friends, family or employers — his first response is to ask, in a neutral tone, “Why do you want to do that?” Flanigan has a 20-year history of gay activism behind him, so you might expect that his primary goal would be to help gay clients discover and cultivate their most authentic selves. As Jonathan Ned Katz wrote in “Gay American History” in 1976, “Therapists who do not help their homosexual patients to fully explore the possibility of homosexuality as a legitimate option have not helped to expand those individuals’ freedom.”

Flanigan doesn’t disagree with Katz. “I’m a very strong believer in people’s rights,” he said one gray morning at a Starbucks in Houston. But during his early training, he encountered a few clients who either would not come out of the closet or suffered mightily when they did. Christians of the kind who earnestly believed that the Bible deplored homosexuality were particularly troubled as they tried to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation. The more Flanigan studied this conundrum, the more he came to see it as intractable. Some gay evangelicals truly believe that to follow their sexual orientation means abandonment by a church that provides them with emotional and social sustenance — not to mention eternal damnation. Keeping their sexual orientation a secret, however, means giving up any opportunity to have fulfilling relationships as gay men and women.

“When these clash, what do you do?” Flanigan recalled thinking, and when he began to research the topic about a decade ago, he found few answers beyond the obvious. Antigay religious groups would not condone homosexuality; they thought gays should just give up their orientation, and the most extreme among them offered frightening “conversion” practices. Nonreligious gays thought the conflicted should just walk away from churches that won’t accept homosexuals as they are. “Which trumps which?” Flanigan asked himself. “Religion or sexual orientation?”

It wasn’t until around 2004 that Flanigan found an answer, one that was given legitimacy by the American Psychological Association five years later and one that complicated the conventional wisdom about sexual identity and sexual orientation. Is it possible, he wondered, that the most psychologically sound alternative for truly devout gay men and women would be to defy both groups? It is an approach that Flanigan is sure has relieved suffering among his deeply conflicted clients, and yet he sometimes is struck by the method he has chosen. As he explained it to me, “The idea that I am helping the client stay in the closet is bizarre to me.”


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