STORIES

National Coming Out Day Is About More than Sexual Preference

By David Jenison on October 13, 2017

Let's start with a blunt and honest reality: If you discriminate against someone for having a same-sex preference, you're a piece of shit. Sorry for the honesty, but denying equal rights and respect to individuals based on gender, race, social status and sexual preference is an egregious act that damages society and corrodes your soul. If you discriminate based on your religious views, it's even worse. Christians need only remember Foxe's Book of Martyrs to know how it feels to suffer intolerance. 

For those who belong to the LGBTQ community, activists Jean O'Leary and Robert Eichberg started National Coming Out Day, which celebrates its 29th year today. No one should disparage anyone who still chooses to remain in the closet, especially if they fear violent repercussions, but National Coming Out Day is an opportunity for people to let their real selves be known. The act of coming out, while emotionally difficult for many, typically helps people live more freely and puts one more small crack in the wicked web of stigma and discrimination. 

Nevertheless, the damaging reach of discrimination extends beyond gender, race, social status and sexual preference, and National Coming Out Day is an opportunity to go public on issues previously kept largely secret for fear of negative social reprisal. When ready, individuals should also come out on the following three issues, and maybe today's the day. 

Mental Health Disorders

Nearly one-fifth of the country experiences a mental health disorder, but many deny it, hide it or attempt to self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol. Many fail to get proper help as centuries of stigma make them fear they might be viewed as weak, inferior or lacking character. In reality, mental health disorders involve physical abnormalities in a person's neurobiology that no amount of "toughing it out" will fix. Even for those who know this, coming out about mental health disorders can still be a challenge. Personality, anxiety, eating, mood, somatoform and obsessive compulsive disorders (to name a few) require professional help, which typically involves building social support networks. This makes coming out an important part of personal recovery, and it encourages others to do the same. 

Substance Abuse

Both substance and process addictions are, by definition, mental health disorders, and they involve physical neurobiological dysfunction primarily centered in the mesolimbic pathway. Moreover, co-occurring addiction and mental health disorders are often the norm. As noted by the American Journal of Psychiatry, "addiction and other psychiatric disorders [might be] different symptomatic expressions of similar pre-existing neurobiological abnormalities," and repeated substance abuse can lead "to biological changes that have common elements with the abnormalities mediating certain psychiatric disorders." This means addiction—whether to a substance or behavior (e.g., gambling, social media, shopping)—also requires comprehensive professional help that involves screenings for other disorders and building support networks. Loved ones might have already addressed the issue one-on-one or via an intervention, but the addict is the one who must ultimately acknowledge the problem. The first step is coming out.   

Cannabis Lifestyle

Going public on mental health and substance abuse issues are about empowering personal recovery, but coming out as a responsible cannabis enthusiast is about empowering global change. In the U.S., cannabis prohibition has destroyed lives through incarceration, asset seizure and the denial of entheogenic medicine that can potentially help with cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy and even opioid addiction, among other health concerns. In some cases, a reverse intervention might be necessary in which patients and advocates come together to help a cannabis enthusiast explain the wellness benefits to family members. Either way, even if your local social network knows all about your cannabis enthusiasm, National Coming Out Day might be the ideal time to tell loved ones that might benefit from seeing a face they know associated with the culture. 

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