Ever since this psychology podcast started back in the cold days of November 2019, every single June I have always wanted to do something psychology-related for Pride Month. And I always forget without fail. However, because I am absolutely determined to do something this month, every Thursday in June 2023 we will be looking at an LGBT+-related topic from a psychology viewpoint and coming out and mental health is a brilliant way to kick off Pride Month. If you want to learn about gay people, mental health and clinical psychology at a deeper level then you’re going to love today’s episode.
Note: please note that for the rest of the podcast episode I’m going to use the terms gay and LGBT+ interchangeably and to mean the same thing. I’m doing that because saying gay is so much easier to type on the blog post and say on the podcast, so if I offend you I’m sorry.
Today’s podcast episode has been sponsored by Psychology of Human Relationships: The Social Psychology of Friendships, Romantic Relations and More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
How Was Homosexuality Declassified As A Mental Disorder?
We cannot hope to look how the whole process of “coming out” increases mental health and benefits people if we don’t know homosexuality was taken out of the DSM first of all, and it was all because of a great, amazing man called Charles Silverstein. I’ve researched him a lot and he is a very impressive man and therapist.
Since he sadly passed away in January 2023 but he left behind an amazing legacy of saving so many lives because he was the psychologist that stood in front of the American Psychiatric Association and gave them a passion talking to about why homosexuality was not a mental disorder from a psychologist’s perspective. As well as even in his “old” age he was still campaigning and being an activist because he was always fighting to destigmatise homosexuality and he was advocating for the mental, sexual, emotional and relationship well-being for every single gay person in the world.
Linking to the topic of “coming out”, Silverstein stressed that it’s critical that people are able to live openly and how they want to live their life even if it creates conflict with others because this is critical to a person’s mental health. As well as a person’s ability to relate to other people.
Also, Silverstein stressed that without support and encouragement to come out, even more so when there are no models for the closeted person to look up to. Silverstein believed people would be at a much higher risk of psychological harm (O’Connel, 2012; Silverstein, 2007).
Therefore, that’s why this podcast episode is focusing on this topic from a clinical psychology and mental health standpoint.
But first let me mention something.
A Personal Perspective On The Whole “Coming Out” Thing
Whilst I will not talk about my own coming out experiences because they’re been great with only one questionable experience, I want to highlight something that a lot of gay people feel about the whole coming out thing. It is so weird. Since no gay person comes out to themselves, we all realise we’re gay and different from other people at some point, but we never come out to ourselves.
Therefore, a lot of gay people think it is weird in the sense that straight people don’t have to come out as straight, so why should gay people? Can’t gay people just mention they’re gay and no one cares and this becomes a normal thing? So there is no need for a coming out.
Of course, I blame Hollywood, a bunch of books and other societal features that hyper up the importance of coming out when in reality, “coming out” is just such a weird phase that sort of encourages being gay or revealing you’re gay is a much bigger deal in society then it actually needs to be.
Since true equality would be a person saying that their gay is no bigger a deal than a person being straight.
How Coming Out Is Good For Mental Health As Revealed In Books
One interesting book that I really like is The Family Outing by Jessi Hempel and this explores the topic coming out very well. Since Jessi was the first in the family to come out as a lesbian then her father came out as gay, her sister as bisexual and her brother as trans (so he was a female at birth). As well as her mother was a survivor of complex trauma.
The really interesting thing about mental health and coming out in this book comes from how Jessi writes about each and every one of these journeys and accounts with such heart, passion and insight that you feel like you are living through these journeys with these real people. As well as it deals a lot with intergenerational trauma, something we’re spoken about before on the podcast, and our parents’ shame and pain becomes our shame. In addition, according to Emotional Inheritance by Galit Atlas, PhD, this intergenerational trauma “shapes our lives in ways that we don’t always understand,”.
That’s why in Emotional Inheritance, the author emphasises why we need to find words and explore these feelings so we can all move beyond our past and the shame and pain that holds us all back. This in turn allows us to become the people that we want to be.
Personally, I want to hammer a point home here because I don’t want anyone getting lost. What I am saying is that Jessi in her nonfiction book explores how each member of her family, including her straight mother, started and explored a long journey for each of them. They all had something to overcome and some horrific stuff happened to her mother and father that Jessi realises was passed onto her and her siblings negatively impacting their own sexuality journeys.
None of them felt like they could be who they wanted to do until they dealt with the past, their fears and everything bad that had happened to their families. This is why relational support like Silverstein mentioned earlier is so important.
Then linking to the topic of the podcast explicitly, both books stress that the people got their well-deserved outcomes that allow them to live the lives they always wanted to, because they can finally be themselves. And the books show the great mental health benefits everyone experienced.
Additionally, I really like the following quote from The Family Outing because it really does sum up everything rather well.
“Coming out is the act of letting go of our planned lives in pursuit of the lives that wait for all of us,”
Personally, I love that quote because it is so, so true. Granted I am not in a perfect position to find out what the end of that quote means for me personally. Yet I want to explore the life that I want to live instead of the life that everyone has planned for me because they believed (or present tenses for some people) that I’m straight.
Just the hope that that single line inspires really does give me hope and increases my mental health because of what is possible for the future.
And straight people can learn a lot from that quote too because it teaches all of us regardless of sexuality that we need to live our own lives. Instead of living the lives that everyone around us and society wants us to live.
Furthermore, this is supported by psychology research, like a paper from January 2013 from the University of Montreal who found that Lesbians, gays and bisexuals who had come out to other people had lower stress levels, fewer symptoms of burnout, depression and anxiety. Further emphasising the argument that coming out is good for mental health.
Clinical Psychology and Mental Health Conclusion
To conclude this psychology podcast episode, there are three things that I want to say. Firstly, I know this is an episode mainly focused at gay members of the podcast audience to show them that if they are struggling with their mental health then coming out could be an option. But there are lessons for straight members of the audience too, because personally I think the entire point of the conversation around gay people is that every single person has the right to be who they want to be and live the lives they’ve always wanted to. That goes for straight people too in the sense that if everyone wants you to follow a particular path in life but you don’t want to. Then you don’t have to.
Secondly, I highly recommend The Family Outing so you can understand what Jessi went through and each member of her family did it. You will probably see some similarities and relate to someone’s journey too.
Finally, I want to caveat this podcast episode because whilst coming out is good for mental health. If there are any gay people listening to the episode that haven’t come out yet just make sure you’re safe. For goodness sake, I don’t care how badly you want to come out if you are not in a safe environment. If you have concerns that your friends and family members will react violently, badly or abusive when you come out then don’t. Your life and safety are far more important than coming out.
I promise you it is and in my own experience, no matter how bad it gets and how horrific your mental health is. Things can and do get better over time even if it takes years. Things do get better.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Psychology of Human Relationships: The Social Psychology of Friendships, Romantic Relations and More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Have a great day.
Clinical Psychology and LGBT+ Psychology References
Atlas, G. (2022) Emotional Inheritance: A Therapist, Her Patients, and the Legacy of Trauma. Little Brown Spark. New York.
Hempel, J. (2022) The Family Outing. Harper One, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. Chicago / Turabian
O’Connell, M. (2012). Don't Act, Don't Tell: Discrimination Based on Gender Nonconformity in the Entertainment Industry and the Clinical Setting. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health 16:241-255.
Silverstein, C. (2007). Wearing two hats: The psychologist as activist and therapist. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy, 11(3/4), 9–35.
Universite de Montreal. (2013, January 29). Health benefits of coming out of the closet demonstrated. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130129074427.htm
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