Author: Masha Durkalić
Photo: Lejla Huremović, BH Dani private archives
Coming Out as the Boldest Move
There are LGBT persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina who have been brave enough to share a very important segment of their identity with the people surrounding them – their sexual orientation and / or their gender identity. It is a move that can bring much harm in BiH – violence and discrimination still perpetuates the public sphere when it comes to LGBT persons, especially if they decide to step into the public sphere by name and surname. We have discussed “coming out of the closet”, the decisions on (not) doing it, as well as the psychological consequences and the social context of coming out
D and Z are a couple as any other straight couple, with the only exception that their life, unlike the lives of many other LGBT couples – is characterized by the fact that they came out to their immediate surroundings. Z declared his sexual orientation to his classmates in the sixth grade of elementary school. His partner D came out during college to his brother, his colleagues and friends. D and Z were in a relationship for a long time and the decision to come out to their parents was mutual – they did it on the same day they decided to move to Sarajevo from the town in which they were born and raised. “Nowadays, anyone who is related to us in any kind of way knows of our family life as a gay couple, including our coworkers, states D. We did not want to hide our way of living, not as individuals nor as a couple. I have the right to live the way I think suits me best and nobody has the right to get involved because I am not doing harm to anyone. Also, I do not want to lie to the people surrounding me, be it my friends or my parents. We came to the decision of living together as a couple or as a family, since we have been together for five years, as any other couple would do, after seeing that we fitted each other in the context of mutual interest in life”, Z adds.
They say that the most difficult thing to do is to sum up your courage and come out to your parents. “Both of our parents reacted in the same manner, but they accepted it after about a year. Not fully, since we are having this conversation anonymously for their sake. If it were not so, their surrounding would perceive them as parents who are not ashamed of having gay children. That would be too much for them”, states D. They have been under less pressure after coming out because, as Z explains it, they have invested a lot of energy into covering up their tracks so nobody would find out.
Belma Žiga, a psychologist, states that coming out to a wider social circle is a rarity, but that the situation is slowly changing in the last couple of years thanks to the media informing of LGBT persons, as well as to the work of non – governmental organizations. “Even before a LGBT person decides to come out, they often go through the longtime process of coming out to themselves. Due to the homophobic culture of our society, the message sent out to children and the youth before discovering their own sexuality is that being LGBT is unacceptable and sick; that is how homophobia and shame are internalized. In the psychological sense, internalized homophobia creates basic beliefs that they are inadequate, unaccepted and unloved, which affects their mental health negatively. The ones belonging to LGBT population often suffer from depressive and anxiety disorders due to the stress and discrimination they go through, the so-called minority stress.”
Coming out is an entirely individual decision, which depends on the society which the LGBT person lives in. “Some of the research demonstrates that a person has the most positive effects when they come out to their family members and friends whose support is clearly fundamental. When our loved ones accept us, the negative effects of social pressure are alleviated. The problems arise when there is no support”, states Žiga and adds that the decision of coming out or hiding your sexual identity can be a major source of stress.
“A person who internalizes homophobia and considers being LGBT distressing, sick or unacceptable suffers in so many ways. The ones who recognize themselves in this description should seek professional help from a psychotherapist.” Žiga advises becoming active in LGBT organizations to surround yourself with people whom you can socialize and cooperate with and to avoid isolation and trying to resolve the issue by yourself. “Providing a person faces losing their social circle for the sake of coming out, it is important to make effort to create a new circle. That is why the coming out process should be gradual and deliberate.
Practice is something else
Zlatiborka Popov Momčinović, a sociologist, emphasizes that the LGBT persons who come out are faced with great challenge from a strictly heteronormative and patriarchal society. “Our society is a society of a crowd, a disempowered biomass whose main function is to reproduce that very same mass over and over again. And heterosexuality is indispensable for reproduction. But, positioning LGBT persons is indeed possible in the framework of micro-sociability, a small community of open-minded young people who are open to differences. There are such communities, which can be seen in the examples of young people who are more prepared to come out than older generations”, states Popov Momčinović.
In the case of Klaudija (28), coming out was a long process. In the first phase she accepted herself, in the second one she came out to her inner circle of friends, and in the third phase to her parents. “I can claim that I belong to the 0, 1 % of the LGBTTIQA population whose parents accepted their coming out without any drama, pressure or violence. Nowadays, I come out to anyone who asks about my sexual orientation.”
Klaudija recounts of looking at herself in the mirror in the eighth grade and telling to herself: “You are gay.” “I realized later on that it was not important who I was, but that I am not straight. In most cases, coming out deepened my bond with other people. Without lies, pretending, insecurity and fear, human relationships become stronger. I am in peace with myself, but some coming outs are definitely a challenge, primarily, coming out to coworkers and to prejudiced or homophobic people.” Klaudija thinks that coming out and LGBT visibility can have negative consequences in certain cases. However, she thinks that the act of coming out strengthens the community from the inside, especially in the context of creating support groups of parents, friends and other people outside the community.
Sara (30) does not hide her sexual orientation from her friends or most of her acquaintances, but she decided not to announce it to her parents and to the people she works with. When asked why she states: “Because I care about the first ones very much and I would not be able to handle the eventual split, and I live off the latter ones. The sole pressure and guilt I feel for not telling the truth is related to my parents because they are the only ones I feel indebted to in this life.” Sara is convinced that much time must pass before coming out in Bosnian-Herzegovinian society is conceived as living freely. “I am not saying that it is not important to come out. We are all aware that it would be much better and easier if we were all out. In a certain way, we contribute to the stigmatization of ourselves through being quiet and keeping the whole story in the dark as if we were feeling guilty. But, practice is something else.”
Sara is considering coming out, but it is a step she is not yet willing to take. “I admire people who decide to do it – I think that they are brave and that they are doing an important work not just for LGBT community members, but for all the people whose horizons are widened with their coming out. On the other hand, I cannot blame the ones who do not do it in order to keep their job and alike. I cannot and I do not want to judge anybody. I think that everyone should make their own decisions.“ Z sends a message to the ones who are considering coming out: “There is no reason not to do it, there are only excuses. It is important to make a decision and to do it as soon as possible because you are doing what is best for you and I guess that you are the most important person in your life. Everyone who loves you will still love you.”
Coming out is quite significant for LGBT persons, especially in countries such as BiH because more people coming out encourages further activity in advocating LGBT rights which also provides support and encourages other LGBT persons to join this process. “Providing people know that somebody is gay and yet they do not directly manifest it, but instead keep it more or less in privacy, the society is to a certain degree more tolerant, but that is superficial, hypocritical tolerance that does not fully accept the Other or the Different”, states Popov Momčinović. She emphasizes that the government and the competent institutions should take more provocative steps in ensuring a stabile relationship between the society and openly LGBT people. “Providing we wait for the society to wake up on its own, in other words, that an insufficiently strengthened and ‘scattered’ LGBT community executes pressure in that direction, we will have to wait for a long time for the ‘ softening‘ of the initial shock and disbelief.”
Coming out statistics
The public opinion research Ko smo mi da sudimo drugima: Ispitivanje javnog mnijenja o stavovima prema homoseksualnosti i transrodnosti u BiH (Who are we to judge others: a public research opinion on attitudes towards homosexuality and transgender people in BiH), as a part of an EU financed project – Coming out! Advocating promotion and protection of LGBT rights written by Zlatiborka Popov-Momčinović, was conducted during May of 2013 and it encompassed 1010 examinees. The research showed that LGBT persons are least accepted as friends, then as bosses, then as coworkers and finally as neighbors, and for 42, 2% of citizens it is unacceptable to have a homosexual person as a neighbor, boss or a coworker. When it comes to coming out, the answers in the overall majority indicate rejection. 74% of citizens perceive two men kissing in public as unacceptable. Women show more sensibility when it comes to coming out. Providing they found out their child was homosexual, 70, 4% of citizens would try to convince their child they are mistaken and a small percentage of citizens (13, 2%) would support their own child.
The results of the research conducted from February to July of 2013 exploring the problems and needs of LGBT persons were published in the publication Numbers of Life, issued by Sarajevo Open Centre. The question was related to which persons from the surroundings of LGBT persons know of their identity and whether they support them. The research encompassed 545 persons ranging in age from 54 to 15. The research has shown that in most cases family members do not know that their child, sister, brother or spouse is an LGBT person. 90, 4% friends of LGBT persons know and the majority – 89, 2% is supportive. Coworkers, classmates and faculty colleagues are more familiar with the fact that a person is LGBT than family members. 46, 4% of coworkers, classmates and faculty colleagues know that a person is LGBT and two thirds (66, 6%) are supportive of them. In 44, 7% cases, the sister(s) know of their brother / sister being LGBT and 86, 7% are supportive which makes them the most supportive group after friends. Mothers / guardian know of 40, 7% LGBT persons but only 61% support their children. Brother(s) know in 37, 1% of cases, but most of them are supportive – 75, 9%. Every fifth person’s father knows of their sexual orientation or gender identity (22, 7%) and less than half of them are supportive which puts fathers / guardians last among the close relatives who provide support.
This article was written with the help of the European Union. The content of the article is the sole responsibility of the Heinrich Böll Foundation – BiH Office, CURE Foundation and Sarajevo Open Centre and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.