When your partner says “I’m coming out”
National Coming Out Day, which is upheld annually on Oct. 11, is a celebration of sexual orientation self-disclosures. But people “come out” about a variety of sexual matters every day. When someone in a relationship divulges sexual orientation, gender identity or an alignment with certain sexual behaviors or fetishes, it can send the other partner reeling. My friend and fellow sexuality educator Cory Silverberg, M.Ed., is a founding member of Canada’s sex store co-op Come As You Are. I asked him to weigh in on how couples can navigate any coming out experience — whether they’re asking for new moves in the bedroom or revealing a new penchant for people of the same sex.
• Do remember that what is (and should be) an experience of self-expression for one partner could feel like a bomb has dropped on the other. “When someone comes out, they don’t come out alone,” says Silverberg. “For their partner, it can feel like all sorts of things, including betrayal.”
• Don’t assume anyone’s identity— including your own — is static. People are more like dimmers than on/off light switches. “We are always in the process of becoming ourselves,” Silverberg proposes.
• Don’t believe your entire relationship has been a lie. “If someone comes out to you, it may not only feel like things have changed — it could also feel like you have to reevaluate everything that was. It doesn’t have to be this way,” he says. “It doesn’t mean there wasn’t love or commitment. It may not even mean there wasn’t good sex. There may have been all of those things.”
• Don’t assume you can’t talk to other people about it. “This is the kind of thing that’s very difficult to process,” suggests Silverberg. “If my partner comes out, it’s really important for me to have other people I can talk to and express my feelings with. My partner may not want to hear those things. It’s important that both people have someone else to talk to.”
• Do stay together, if warranted. “Be prepared to give it some time,” he advises. “We know sometimes relationships are bumpy and sometimes they’re smooth. This will probably be a bumpy time. Know that the first reaction might not be the best reaction.”
• Do break up, if needed. Relationships are about compatibility, and when someone changes it could signal newfound incompatibility. “Sometimes, it does mean the end of the relationship. If that’s the case, it’s sad, but it might also be OK. This idea that we’re supposed to be in relationships for the rest of our lives is just one idea of [what a] relationship is,” Silverberg says.