The world has received the news of TV presenter Phillip Schofield coming out as gay quite positively. This certainly speaks to the strides we have made in LGBT equality and this is a very good thing. Yet one of the things that has not really been talked about is the importance of LGBT individuals in positions of power and/or prominence coming out.

One of the problems I encounter with clients (and that I encountered in my own coming-out process) is lack of identification. Society continues to fuel unrealistic images of what a gay man is supposed to be: how we are supposed to act, dress, etc. However, when the person in the midst of their coming-out journey finds someone with whom to identify, the process does tend to feel safer. In my day, being gay was identified with being a hairdresser with a more feminine gender expression--that’s what my environment showed me, anyway. Clients come into my office with concerns about what it means for them to come out as gay. They question what about their daily lives has to change when they identify themselves as gay.

In Mr. Schofield’s case, we have a live example in which nothing needs to change. He is still the same man people have been enjoying on television for years. The most important thing to remember when one comes out (at least, in the case of same-gender attraction) is that we are attracted to our same gender. We don’t have to obsessively listen to Cher or watch reruns of “Drag Race” all the time. If we like football and beer, by all means, that stays the same. Nothing changes except whom we have romantic and sexual feelings towards. We can choose how we live our lives as gay people.

When people of prominence and notoriety come out as gay, it provides an element of safety for someone in the coming-out process. It sends a very strong message: “If Philip can do it, so can I.” A vital element in the coming-out process is a sense of safety in doing do. Seeing people we look up to come out and thrive gives an individual space to do the same in their own lives.

As a clinical psychologist, I have been often told by colleagues that I should not be disclosing my sexual orientation to clients. This brings up some inherent homophobia in the psychological community. If I do not come out as gay to my clients, this implies a heteronormative dialogue. How in the world can I do my job effectively if my clients do not have someone to whom they can relate and with whom they can feel safe disclosing very personal feelings and issues? While I certainly have certain boundaries I maintain with clients as far as my personal life, I know that being open with them allows them to feel safe and have someone they can emulate in their daily lives. Being out is a vital part of my work with clients and I have no shame or fear of being out publicly.

My sincerest wish is that one day, we don’t need to come out as gay, or as anything else, for that matter. I long for the day when we can treat each other as just people. When we can just be who we are without all the bells and whistles. In the meantime, thank you, Mr. Schofield, for your courage.

Tags: gay, LGBTQ, coming out, love, love is love,