Coming of Age

“Closets are for clothes,” some proudly state. But what does it really mean? Most refer to this catchy phrase when someone comes out as LGBT. However, I contend that it goes far beyond Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity acceptance. In a new approach to redefine what it means to come out, I argue that along with a Coming of Age experience, there is a paralleled, unwarranted and yet unavoidable, need to address all that which was in the closet in addition to a person’s non-heterosexual self-identification.

Like it or not, everyone may have a troubled history that may include a series of unresolved issues. Unfinished business may range from family rejection, bullying, harassment, name-calling, pressure to conform, physical and/or mental abuse, negotiating dating and/or managing relationships, as well as to fully understanding what it means to be LGBT. There is no introductory LGBT 101 manual that helps the person navigate the coming out process. It is a jungle out there. And unfortunately, each LGBT tends to trip and fall over the same rock before being able to kick it over to the side and continue their journey forward. But just because that has been the case for a number of decades, it does not mean it should not change.

In coming out, there is always the danger of opening Pandora’s Box. When leaving that so-called “closet,” also out come all those demons that were long repressed and thought forgotten. And once out, no one knows how they will manifest or in which ways they will come back to haunt. And in the process of desperately needing to put the lid back on, LGBTs engage in all sorts of self-destructive behaviors that further jeopardize their well-being. As it is, there is a huge problem around aging, self-esteem, body image, safer sex, unhealthy relationships, and lack of mentorship.

I often remind people that there is more than just being LGBT. An LGBT identity should not define a person’s sense of self in its entirety. It is a very important part, but again, just a part of the wholeness as a human being. There is also family, school, finance, work, even religion, which combined, ask that LGBTs expand their own definitions of selves. Many short-change their potential at polishing existing skills as well as developing new ones. There is more to life than just the club scene, hooking up, and needless drama. I call it the “Tumble Dry Syndrome” where I have watched LGBTs for as long as I have been in the HIV field just go in circles, just as clothes do as you wait for them to be ready, really going nowhere…

The Legacy philosophy gravitates closely around the need to heal, to overcome life challenges by bringing closure to ugly chapters and recurring obstacles. We accomplish this by meeting the person where he or she is at. It is a mistake to assume that all are ready to tackle what has been repressed for an entire lifetime. Anger, resentment, disappointment, failure… Believe me, all these require a unique approach given the level of maturity, education, self-exploration and realization, life accomplishments, support systems, as well as goals in life.

While is it worth celebrating, be careful when you cheer and push for someone to come out. No one knows what chain reaction of unprecedented events might be the result of what was mistakenly assumed to be joy and happiness. I have seen my share of cases where someone comes out, and then wish they had never opened their mouth.

The LGBT community needs more role models. For that reason, Legacy has established Queerceañera, as one of our core Signature Events to celebrate and praise that Coming of Age once-in-a-lifetime experience. Queerceañera II is coming up in the spring of 2013. Last year we affirmed the highlights of a brave gay Latino youth, who despite losing the only parent he knew, and regardless of the rejection, he stayed put until the last breath. Today, that young man works as a Youth Advocate in the field of HIV Prevention, helping others like himself to find a path to self-discovery and empowerment. He leads an independent life and is currently working on transferring to a four-year college to pursue his passion for Psychology.

If you would like to nominate someone who has overcome challenges to affirm his or her Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity, please feel free to contact us. Legacy believes that the most significant type of change is the type that comes from within the community.

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Legacy is committed to empower and strengthen the lives of LGBT Individuals.

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By Joseph García