Research Paper By Prasad Dandekar
(Life Coach, INDIA)
One of my coaching niches is going to be coaching gay men as I have lived the experience of being one. Literature search around “homosexuality and coaching” lead me to realise that there is practically no reliable source available for coaches to learn the nuances of coaching a gay individual. That has led me to focus on this current topic. In this paper, I want to explore the role of coaching in helping gay men explore their sexuality and live fulfilling lives. It is a unique and much-ignored application of coaching which needs to be explored. Several factors affect our sexuality such as biological sex, gender roles, behaviour, sexual orientation, pleasurable stimuli and identity. Sexuality plays a pivotal role in every individual’s life, influencing various life decisions we make either consciously or subconsciously. However, exploration and discussion of sexuality are considered taboo in most cultures across the globe.
In the Indian context, sex itself is considered taboo and homosexuality are perceived as a perversion. On 6th September 2018, the supreme court of India decriminalised homosexuality in India. Even after that, it is still considered taboo and most gay men prefer not to come out in the open to reveal their sexuality1. Not disclosing their sexual orientation has its impact on these gay men and many consider coming out to their family and friends. Many coming out sessions are stressful and lead to a lot of discomforts. Some parents are openly accepting of their gay children but that is not very common in India, especially in the conservative communities.
There are several issues that gay men face due to marginalisation, discrimination, and fear of getting explored. These could lead to guilt, shame, and fear. In some cases even may lead to anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.3One of the major event in the life of a gay man is coming out or disclosing his sexual orientation to others. In this paper, we will be discussing in details the coaching application in the coming out situation. Many gay men find themselves stuck with the issues of coming out and coaching could be very helpful to them in finding a way forward. A coach would be a great help in this situation to help the individual explore their choices and take an appropriate decision.
Before we discuss the coaching applications in this situation, it is imperative to understand the predicaments faced by these individuals. The points that I have noted down below are results are a detailed survey conducted by me by interviewing 11 gay men about the issues that they have faced while coming out.
Fears of gay men while coming out:
- Rejection from family: Many gay men fear that if they come out of the closet, they will be rejected by the family. This is especially true in very conservative families and joint families. The fear of emotional rejection from the parents also plays an important role. The gay man stands the risk of losing his family as well as financial support. The emotional trauma of being rejected by parents is difficult to handle for many individuals. Sudden lack of this support can be disturbing for many men and may lead to emotional consequences such as depression or self-loathing.
- Humiliation in the family and society: Since homosexuality is such a taboo in society, gay men fear humiliation by the family and or society. The humiliation could be in the form of isolation or taunts or aggressive behaviour. Some men face humiliation by family at home, while some may experience it in the area where they live. Extended family also plays a role and these men may get taunted or made fun of in social gatherings.
- The humiliation of family in society: The family of an openly gay man may face many challenges in the community. The parents may be humiliated by the extended family and taunted for producing an abnormal son. They could also be pestered about the wedding plans of the son and as to why he is not getting married. An effeminate man and his family face more challenges as his behaviour itself is a cause of ridicule.
- Forced marriage: Many gay men fear that if they come out and if the family does not approve of it, they may be forced into marriage at the earliest. Some of the parents believe that this is a passing phase and their child will get cured of this problem once he gets married. Many a time parents force their son into marriage to keep up the pretence of heterosexuality.
- Forced psychiatric treatments: Homosexuality is still perceived as a mental illness by many parents and unfortunately even by some doctors. It is fairly common for the family to force the son to go to a psychiatrist to get “cured” of homosexuality. Many doctors offer medications as well as behavioural therapy to these unfortunate clients, without any medical evidence. This false assurance by the doctors can be very damaging as it provides a false hope of “cure” and thus increases the pressure from family.
- Asked to move out of the family home: Many gay men are dependent on the family for support and housing either because they are very young or are involved in the family business when they come out. If the family disapproves of their sexuality and harbours irrational emotions such as disgust or shame, they may be asked to move out of the house. This could be a major problem for gay men who are not financially and emotionally independent.
- Loss of employment2: Coming out to parents sometimes can have a cascading effect at the workplace also due to shared common contacts. Many gay men fear being outed at the workplace thus losing their livelihood due to prejudice.
- Loss of income: for gay men who are involved in a family business or dependent on parents for financial support, coming out may lead to loss of income.
- Lack of family support in the time of need: Many gay men fear being ousted from the family after coming out. Thus they fear that if they are in trouble sometime later in their life, they will be alone and have no support system. This fear of loneliness is a strong source of stress for many men.
- Guilt from hurting parents: In most families in India it is engraved since childhood on the child’s mind that it is his duty to consider his parents equal to God and never hurt them. This belief is so natural for many people that they can’t think otherwise. Thus they suffer from the guilt of hurting their parents if they come out. Many times even if the parents are being unreasonable and hurting the son, the son still possesses an overpowering emotion of guilt about the parent’s hurt.
- Problems associated with marriage issues of siblings: Many families perceive that if the society discovers the sexuality of their son, there could be difficulties about the marriage of his siblings. There is a fear that his siblings may not be able to get married or that their marriage prospects may get lowered thus damaging their lives.
- Physical abuse and serious injury or death: Some conservative parents or siblings may be so aggressive that they may threaten or carry out physical abuse or in extreme cases kill the gay man. Especially in families with a previous history of physical abuse, this could be a real problem.
While a particular individual in this setting may face none or some of these problems, the fear about them can be paralysing for most people. This will have an impact on the personal and professional life of the individual. Let’s explore now how a coach could help a gay man deal with these coming out issues.
The fear of coming out could be based on many irrational beliefs. These irrational beliefs may be illogical, may distort reality, lead to unhealthy emotions, and prevent the person from reaching their goals. The coach may assist the individual to navigate this situation by exploring the following aspects.
- The goal of the coaching session: To explore what does the client desire to achieve. What are his motivators in considering his decision to come out to? In many coaching sessions, the goal that the client comes in with may change with the exploration. The coach may have a gay man as a client who may present with a desire to come out to parents and through exploration coach will need to help the client to understand why he desires to do so. The coach will be able to help the client to find what he actually wants to do. For example, the client may come with an agenda to get help for coming out to their parents but may discover that he actually wants to feel accepted by the parents for who he is. These nuances once explored, can lead to specific action points. There may be a certain degree of peer pressure to come out and the client or his environment may not be actually ready for this step. The coach helps the client to identify whose agenda it is to come out and what is that the client desires to do.
- Importance: The decision to discuss one sexual orientation with others is almost always a result of some other influencing factors. The coach explores with the client why is this coming out of the closet important to the client. What will the client get which he does not have now? Also, explore how will the client feel when he comes out. Exploring this will enable the client to get clarity about the intent and expected outcome of his coming out.
- Clients resistance: Most gay men would spend years hiding in the closet and not disclosing their real self to the world. If the client has spent such a long time hiding, what was stopping him from coming out is important to explore. The client may be in a hostile environment, may be financially dependent on people whom he is disclosing etc. A source of resistance till now will help to understand the circumstances better and also give an idea to the client of what sort of resistance he has to overcome. Since a decision to come out may have an impact on many aspects of the client’s life, the coach must explore in details with the client all the obstacles to overcome. The coach also explores if the client is ready mentally, emotionally, financially, and socially ready for this step. The coach then supports the client to move in the direction that the client wants to move.
- Resources: Once the client has made up his mind, it is very important to explore the resources that may help him. As we discussed sexuality and specifically homosexuality is such a taboo that most people are ignorant about it. If the client is coming out to his parents for example, then he needs to have resources at hand who will support him in this regards. These could be reading materials giving information, videos, websites, or professionals such as psychologists and psychiatrist. When a person comes out of the closet, many times he may push his parents in the closet. He needs to be equipped to support the people to whom he is coming out. He could explore with the coach is has some allies in the family or friends circle who can help him in handling this situation.
- Releasing judgement: The client often judges himself and often blames himself for the situation. Through exploration, the coach could help the client to understand that he is not in control of choosing his sexuality but he may be able to control his own acceptance of it. It is common to see gay men in denial or ashamed of their sexual orientation. The first step which will help the client to move forward will be their own acceptance of their sexuality. The clients often also have strong judgement about the other people whom they are planning to come out to. For example, a client may feel that their family member or a friend may be homophobic or non-accepting of their sexuality. The coach can help the client to release the judgement about the other people and help them to empathise and find a way forward. Often time the discomfort that people may have about homosexuality comes from ignorance rather than malice. In such a situation, educating those people may help to improve the situation and hence the client needs to have all the right resources.
- Values and beliefs: The client may hold some strong beliefs in his mind such as I must get approval from authority figures or values such as authenticity. The coach needs to explore which values or beliefs are getting compromised currently and what actions the client needs to take for it. The client may realise that coming out may be aligned with his value of authenticity and hence cover come to the fear and resistance to it. If the social conditions are not right for the client, he may cancel the agenda to come out owing to his strong survival instinct.
While a coach need not be an expert in the issues that the client brings to the coaching session, it is a great help if the coach is not completely ignorant of it. While coaching members of the gay community, this background knowledge will be useful to the coach to help the client reach his maximum potential. Members of the gay community are marginalised and often oppressed, a coach needs to be sensitive and compassionate in handling such clients. It is also important to identify which clients may need a referral to a counsellor or a psychiatrist if they are showing signs of mental heal illness.
LGBT Rights in India: The Status Quo. Khan et al. International Journal of Law Management & Humanities, Volume 3 | Issue 4, 730.
Social and workplace issues of LGBT community in India. Singh at al.https://haryanapolice.gov.in/policejournal/pdf/HPJ%20Vol-2.pdf#page=67
Ploderl et al, Homosexuality and Mental Health. International Review of Psychiatry Volume 27, 2015 – Issue 5