When It’s Not Safe to Come Out in Your Conservative, Homophobic Country

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Dear Lindsey,

I am 25 years old I am a dentist. I am gay, and I am not out to anyone. I live in a country with a terrible record of human rights for LGBT people.

I have very a conservative family, and I am afraid to tell anyone about my orientation because it will ruin my family, my career, and my life. I have never dated a woman. What should I do?

– Closted

Hi Closeted,

I’m so sorry for your circumstances. I hope this can help:

Generally speaking, you have three broad options.

#1 You can remain in the closet in your home country for the foreseeable future, maybe forever.

#2 You can remain in your home country but be among the vanguard of young people coming out, even at the great person risk you and I know they face.

#3 You can move to a country where you can be who you are without fear of reprisals.

#1 on its face seems like the safest path. You can keep your career, which you trained for, and your family.

However, this involves lies for the rest of your life. Will your family try to set you up with an eligible man, or hound you about why you haven’t settled down? Will you be fending off bachelors for the next 10 years? Will you be making up excuses any time coworkers invite you and a date to a birthday party?

Maybe you remember Gigi Chao, the Chinese lesbian whose father offered a $1 million bounty to any man who could turn her straight (never mind that she was married to a woman).

You could, perhaps, find a closeted gay man in your country who is willing to enter into a sham marriage with you. You could live together in what seems like a straight marriage, while pursuing same-sex relationships with discretion. This might help you live more comfortably in your country, but the two of you would be playacting every time you had, say, Easter dinner at his folks’ place or family reunions at the lake house. It takes a certain personality — if not a certain desperation, born out of your circumstances — to do that over the long term.

You could, perhaps, find a closeted gay man in your country who is willing to enter into a sham marriage with you. You could live together in what seems like a straight marriage, while pursuing same-sex relationships with discretion. This might help you live more comfortably in your country, but the two of you would be playacting every time you had, say, Easter dinner at his folks’ place or family reunions at the lake house.

Vice interviewed a Chinese documentary filmmaker who produced a film about China’s sham marriages between lesbians and gay men; it may help you explore this option.

You could follow your heart and stare down your fears in #2, which, it goes without saying, is risky. If you decide to do this, please make sure you’re in a safe space (i.e. you have your own apartment and aren’t living with a relative who could kick you out). Pick one person to come out to first — a trusted colleague, an old family friend, a sibling. Then widen the net — come out to one more person, tell the whole family, start looking for love.

You could follow your heart and stare down your fears in #2, which, it goes without saying, is risky. If you decide to do this, please make sure you’re in a safe space (i.e. you have your own apartment and aren’t living with a relative who could kick you out). Pick one person to come out to first — a trusted colleague, an old family friend, a sibling. Then widen the net — come out to one more person, tell the whole family, start looking for love.

This glosses over the difficulty of the process. Coming out is difficult at any age, and in many places around the world, from countries that have terrible human rights records on gay issues to countries like the U.S. which pre-Trump was making strides on protecting LGBT rights at the federal level.

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#3 is tricky, given your profession. You may be able to find countries that have reciprocity agreements with yours, meaning they would accept your dental education and you would be able to work as a dentist after moving. Without such an agreement, you would need to go to dental school all over again to work in your field, or you’d need to pursue another line of work.

You would be isolated from your family, so as long as you kept a low profile you could live a double life — gay and happy in a new country, straight unmarried daughter when you return for family visits. Or perhaps the distance would allow you the safe space you need to come out to your folks and weather the blowback. I’m all for coming out and living authentically, so long as you are ready.

Sit with these options and think about what type of life you would like to have. Is it more important to you to stay in your country, where you can be close to your family and practice dentistry? That’s a valid option, but it might mean giving up on love — just as finding a place where you can pursue a lesbian relationship may mean putting an ocean between you and your family.

I’m all for coming out and living authentically, so long as you are ready. Sit with these options and think about what type of life you would like to have.

If you’re at all interested in coming out or learning more about support networks in your country, this list of international human rights organizations doing LGBT work will guide you toward local resources, who can provide more specific help based on your circumstances.

There’s no right answer. There’s only what’s right for you, and that may change. Whatever you decide, we are here for you and we shine our lights brightly, even in these dark days.

Do you need Lindsey’s advice? Write to the editor: memoree@afterellen.com with “Q for Lindsey” in the subject line. 

 

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