In a perfect world, every city would be like San Francisco, and everyone could be out and proud all of the time. You’d never flinch when your partner kisses you in public. You’d never hesitate before telling your mother about a new love interest.
But the world isn’t perfect. And sometimes, you’ll date someone who’s still on the down low – or you’ll be the one attempting to date while you’ve got a foot stuck in the closet. How do you navigate that?
Luckily, it’s doesn’t have to destroy your relationship.
If you’re more out of the closet than your partner is:
DO: Respect the fact that they’re just not comfortable being out yet.
DON’T: Don’t pressure them into coming out before they’re ready.
DO: Really consider whether you want a serious relationship with someone in the closet, because it’s complicated.
DON’T: Don’t write someone off immediately just because they’re not out. It might be worth a chance.
DO: Respect your partner’s need for discretion.
DON’T: Don’t out your partner.
DO: Recognize that many factors lead someone to being in the closet, such as lack of parental support or safety.
DON’T: Don’t assume that just because someone is in the closet, they’re ashamed of you or unable to love you.
DO: Understand the parameters of your partner’s safety. Are they okay being out among friends but not around family, for example?
DON’T: Don’t belittle your partner for their need to be in the closet around certain people.
DO: Be patient with your partner and help them accept their identity.
DON’T: Place an ultimatum on the relationship. But…
DO: Think about your own needs. If you’re looking for marriage, for example, being with someone in the closet isn’t conducive for that, so don’t stay out of guilt.
DON’T: Don’t put yourself at the center of their coming out story. This is about them.
If you’re less out of the closet than your partner is:
DO: Ask yourself why you’re less out. Is it because you’re afraid of what people will say? Is it because your parents would disown you? What steps do you need to take to overcome these things, if you can?
DON’T: Don’t let your partner pressure you into coming out, because this is your decision.
DO: Recognize that coming out will change your life.
DON’T: Don’t be afraid of coming out because you think it may be the end of the world. It’s the start of a better world.
DO: Find a few friends to confide in.
DON’T: Don’t keep your relationship completely under wraps, because that’s a lot of internal pressure; who will you run to when you need romantic advice?
DO: Compromise with your partner if they need to tell a few people about the relationship.
DON’T: Don’t put a gag order on your partner.
DO: Think about the future.
DON’T: Don’t assume that you can stay in the closet for the rest of your life and maintain fulfilled, healthy relationships.
DO: Learn more about LGBT life and history.
DON’T: Don’t deny the queer part of yourself out of disgust or fear.
DO: If you can’t speak openly about LGBT rights and politics, maintain a polite silence.
DON’T: Don’t deride gay people or be super homophobic in order to mask your own queerness.
DO: Recognize that there are many ways to be queer.
DON’T: Don’t assume that once you come out, you have to wear glitter thongs and become a gay stereotype, or chop off all your hair and become a butch lesbian.
DO: Recognize that coming out is a process and you don’t have to come out to everyone at once.
DON’T: Don’t assume that coming out is a once-and-for-all, all-or-nothing affair. You can come out to just a few people.
DO: Recognize that being gay is okay.
DON’T: Don’t let people tell you that being gay is un-African, or un-American, or un-anything else from your culture.
At the end of the day, it comes down to being yourself – if you’re out, be out. If your partner is closeted, let them stay that way until they’re ready. Spend as much time as you can focusing on the relationship itself, instead of how many people know about it, and you’ll have a long and healthy partnership.