Digital Manners

 

“I want to come out on Facebook but my best friend is telling me ‘no!’”

 
Question: Two of my friends have come out on Facebook — one of them by changing his profile to say that he’s “interested in men” — and another with a status update, “Yep, I’m gay.” I’m actually considering coming out on Facebook as part of National Coming Out Day, but my best pal says that’s not good coming out “manners.” What do you think?

Answer: I certainly can see the allure of coming out on Facebook with a status update. I’d call that “one-click outing” — as efficient as shopping on Amazon! Making your announcement to so many people at once can be liberating, especially as part of National Coming Out Day (October 11). Plus — and perhaps the most appealing angle — you don’t have to have the same conversation over and over. You probably won’t be surprised to know that some of us are even making YouTube videos with our coming out messages!

But I’m with your “best pal” on this one; a Facebook update — or a Tweet or a video — isn’t the most endearing or respectful way to let those closest to you know something so crucial about who you are. Talk to some of your other friends who are out and I’ll bet you’ll find out there’s no substitute for a one-on-one chat with parents, siblings, your dearest friends, and anyone you really care about (and vice versa). Not to mention that every time you tell someone about your sexual orientation (or gender identity) you get better and more comfortable at it. Consider it good practice. (By the way, there’s a poll question on my Gay Manners site about this very issue and “coming out on Facebook” is losing big time.)

Granted, these are not always easy conversations (my own folks played the therapy card from the get-go). But they can also be very rich. I still remember when I first told my grandmother, who was then well into her 70s. Telling her my “secret” allowed her to tell me hers — that back in the day she’d had a back-alley abortion because she and my grandfather couldn’t afford a second child. That cemented a bond of trust between us that wouldn’t have happened otherwise — and certainly not if we’d “talked” via Facebook.

Since there’s a lot more to coming out than just the manners aspect, I asked Martin Binks, PhD, a noted psychologist formerly with the Duke University Health System and now in private practice, for his clinical perspective on making such an announcement on Facebook or any social media for that matter.

“Disclosing anything of this emotional importance in such an impersonal way may eliminate the opportunity for meaningful discourse and mutual support and understanding,” Dr. Binks says, “especially with true friends. It’s often better to work through the issues that may be driving you to disclose online and speak with your friends directly.”

As longtime readers know, it’s rare that I side with tradition or “old-fashioned” means of communication (like, actually talking), but I think you’d come to regret just checking the box that says “interested in men.” And trust me — that wouldn’t even save you from the endless series of conversations about it, since you’d get plenty of messages asking you the same questions over and over — as well as some finger wagging asking “why didn’t you tell me first?”

So why not use this year’s National Coming Out Day as the opportunity to start the conversation with family members and friends. E-mail or text them and say, “There’s something important I’d like to talk with you about.” Don’t make it sound too ominous — you don’t want them to think you’re ill — but serious enough that they take you up on the invitation. Remember, every time we come out we change the stereotypes straight folks have about LGBT people.

By the way, after you’ve told your nearest and dearest, yes, you have my permission to come out to the rest of the world online. Just don’t forget that anything you post, tweet, or e-mail is forever. There’s no going back in.

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