Larry Cappel is a licensed psychotherapist and clinical counsellor in Denver, Colorado in the United States, who specialises in working with gay men and the issues they struggle with.
Larry is a certified teacher of mindfulness and meditation and has a passion for working with gay men and the issues that prevent them from living rich and rewarding lives.
So we recently interviewed Larry to get his perspective on coming out of the closet.
Here’s what he had to say…
How does someone know if they are gay or not?
Your sexual orientation dictates who you are emotionally attracted to and in most cases at least, also desire to express attraction to that type of person through sexual encounter. I often suggest to clients who are struggling with their sexual orientation to pay attention to who they scope out when they are people watching in some public space.
Do you more notice women or men and think “oh that’s an interesting/attractive person. I like their style/dress/look etc…”.
Its worth noting that if you have a history of sexual trauma or grew up in a sexually repressed setting the sexual attraction piece can be quite distorted and make figuring this out fairly confusing.
Why is it important for gay people to come out?
In general whenever someone leads a duplicitous life it creates stress and causes the person to not be their real self around other people. For example if you are “straight” at work but “gay” at night you are keeping secrets. You are always worried about being found out at work and will go to great lengths to cover your tracks and make sure you are not outed.
Outside of work you worry about being outed as a “closet case.” Not only is this stressful, it causes you to be an actor in your life instead of being you in your life. Nobody can really know you. They only know the character you pretend to be. You can’t have a true intimate relationship with another if you can’t be real with yourself and with them.
How can not coming out affect a person’s mental health?
When we can’t or won’t be who we were born to be we pay a high price. If we are always keeping secrets and covering our tracks it creates stress leading to anxiety disorders and physical health problems. Long term anxiety often leads to depression. Research shows that depression and anxiety disorders are more frequent in the gay community then in the straight world.
A less obvious but possibly more insidious by-product of living your life acting instead of being is that it creates a narcissistic personality. What this means is that you spend your life projecting an image to others that is really an illusion that you put out there to hide who you really are. You surround yourself with “yes men” who never question you and anybody in your life who challenges your public image is immediately removed from your circle.
This guarantees you a life of loneliness, fear and anxiety because you can’t trust anybody who is genuine and your “friends” are there for what they can get from you.
What is the best way to come out to your family and friends?
The thing most people will tell you after they come out is that the people who really love them already knew they were gay and were just waiting for the gay person to tell them. So when you decide to come out start with someone you love and trust who has demonstrated over time that they love you unconditionally; that is they love you no matter what even if they are upset with you. It might be a close friend, a relative or a mentor.
Create a comfortable setting for you to have a conversation with them and tell them. If they are truly one of the loved ones in your life they will thank you for your honesty and your willingness to be vulnerable. Remember intimacy equals vulnerability and vice versa. Then recruit that person to help you decide who the next person to tell should be.
If you misjudged the person and they don’t accept you as who you really are then remember that its their problem. You haven’t done anything wrong.
What do you recommend for someone from a deeply conservative religious family say when they are coming out?
This type of family can be very difficult to lead towards acceptance of being gay as normal and natural. Before talking to them I’d suggest that you work hard to create a supportive network outside of the family. Your good friends, the gay community, groups like PFLAG, the local LGBT Community Center, Gay Friendly Churches etc.
You should be prepared for the possibility that your parents may reject you, tell you you are sinful and either kick you out or insist that you be straight. Of course pretending to be something you are not will lead to the mental health problems listed above. If this happens you can rely on your non-family support system and keep thriving in your life.
Remember that when you tell this type of parent you are gay, you disturb their illusion of how things really are and send them on a journey of self-discovery. Many times these same parents learn over time that their prejudice and bigotry are wrong and are not correct religious teachings and change their mind. You may need to be patient while they take their journey to understanding.
You can’t do this journey for them. All you can do is wait.
What do you say to parents who don’t accept homosexuality and their child is gay?
Changing a homophobic parents mind is much akin to trying to change someones beliefs about politics and religion. Its an emotional issue for them based on personal belief systems, not facts. If they are willing to listen to me I’d try to educate them about the reality of gay people in a straight world and offer them reading material and suggest they check out their local PFLAG organization. However, in my experience these types of people generally aren’t open to facts and logic so often there is no opening to help them.
What support is there for families of gay people to access?
- There are PFLAG groups throughout the world. This is the best source for families
- Look for gay affirming and gay friendly churches and synagogues. They will say so on their website
- Most mid to large size cities have a LGBT Community Center with groups, literature, counsellors etc.
- Gay peer groups and clubs can be an excellent source of support for the person coming out. Look on Meetup.com and in your local gay newspaper and LGBT news sites for the many social groups available.
Are there any books or resources you recommend gay people give to their families when they come out?
- PFLAG has some excellent literature
- The “It Gets Better” video campaign on YouTube and “It Gets Better” Project
- The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World by Downs, Alan is a must for all gay men to read
- GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens by Huegel, Kelly
- It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living by Savage, Dan and Miller, Terry
This is just a few of the many excellent resources out there.
What do you say to someone who is scared to come out because they fear rejection?
We all want to be loved and accepted by others in our life. We seem to be biologically wired to desire that. However, there will always be people that don’t like us for one reason or another. That is only a problem when you take that persons personal dislike of you as proof of your lack of value as a human being.
Remember this: the person who judges you or dislikes you does so due to their own personal beliefs about who they think you are. This is about them. It’s taking place in their mind based on their belief systems and other limitations. If you take their problem and make it your problem you will feel rejected. If you can accept that its a natural part of life that some people won’t approve of you, you’ll surround yourself with loving people who do accept you as you are and you’ll leave the ones who don’t to deal with their own issues.
I will acknowledge that when the person rejecting you is a parent or another loved one it is difficult to move on without that person. But you can and you need to.
Any other tips you have for coming out?
Love yourself fully, engage in an passionate and creative life and surround yourself with others you can love and who can love you!
About Larry Cappel:
Larry works in lower downtown Denver Colorado and in Louisville Colorado where he sees gay men and couples and help them navigate the difficulties and joys of relationship. Larry also does couples counselling and personal success coaching for gay men and same-sex couples on the world wide web. You can read more about his work and contact him through his website at www.gaymendenver.com.