Coming Out of the closet as a gay man is a choice. Yet, making that choice requires considering several consequences. As a coach, the experience of coming out offers many lessons we can use to support people in living their truth.

I contributed a chapter to the book “Coaching Wisdom” – written by gay male coaches. In this chapter, I explore how the “coming out” process supports a coaching mindset to serve clients in becoming whole.

My mentor, Devorah, a black woman living with Parkinson’s disease, shared this thought with me: “We all live in closets and struggle with coming out.”

Devorah expanded my view of coming out, showing me this all-too-common human struggle. We do all live in closets. The LGBTQ community has lived with these questions. Upon personal reflection, I can see how the experience of coming out offers unique access to aspects of our humanity to confront our freedom and cultivate becoming whole.

Beyond the many coaching practices I’ve learned and taught, this question remains critical: what does it mean to be human and true to oneself? In this chapter, I invite everyone into inquiries and practices representing a professional commitment to awareness, freedom, and wholeness.

Coming Out and Being in the World

As gay coaches, we can access our shared experience of coming out to serve our clients if we use it as a model for becoming whole. The process of “coming out” involves a cycle of asking, acting, and accepting.

We ask questions from a different view. Rather than asking, “What is wrong with me? Why am I not normal?” which results in diagnoses and seals us in our closets, we ask, “What is happening? What am I observing or experiencing?” to open possibilities.

We act on our discoveries courageously. Action expands awareness of our role as we create and define our relationship with the world outside.

We accept our individual uniqueness as “different” (unique) rather than developing competence in performing “normal.” This agency invites integration and inquiry, evolving consciousness with each cycle.

Exercising this generative capacity — “coming out” as asking, acting, and accepting — cultivates possibility, aliveness, and openness. It is the antidote to our closet as gay men. Universally, this capacity also expands humanity, where fear and denial closet us by making us conceal and withhold our unique selves.

Inside-Out Structures that Support Becoming Whole

Insights from the coming out process support a coaching mindset. Rather than examining concepts in a “normative, problem-solving method” to “fix behavior,” coaching embraces an “ontological inquiry” into our emotions, bodily sensations, and language to examine “the nature and function of being.”

As gay men, we may take for granted the fundamental lessons, skills, and practices revealed by the coming out process. Since we do not have visible markers such as skin color or sexual organs that identify us as gay, we are what we say about ourselves. We affirm our dignity in the face of society’s hostility. Our unique experience of inquiry and integration supports our work as coaches to serve others in their pursuit of becoming whole.

This chapter examines four inside-out and interdependent vehicles — structures and practices that constitute being human. Each relates to coming out inside a coaching model for becoming whole.

  1. Self-awareness cultivates our observer, clarifying self-perception.
  2. Integrity strengthens our word to develop workability.
  3. Authenticity expands the possibility and freedom to be, encouraging authentic self-expression.
  4. Commitment prioritizes our care to expand dignity.

1- Self-Awareness as Observer

Human beings can be said “to be” because of our ability to see, perceive, feel, and interpret. Our self-awareness cultivates the “observers” we are as “being” human. We become attentive to the effects of the filters, maps, and blind spots in our interactions. Our observer reflects on discoveries and interprets what the world discloses.

Self-awareness reveals the nature of being as projecting views and then seeking evidence to confirm them. “What you don’t know, you don’t know” is home to many blind spots that limit our perceptions, listening, and perspectives.[1]

Seeing reality begins with continually stripping away our self-deceptions and dissolving any delusions. Consider the inner observer that leads to coming out. Recall when this stripping away of beliefs and delusions encouraged questioning and self-discovery to embrace your queer identity. Becoming whole begins with self-awareness.

Inquiry. To further develop our observer, cultivate our self-perception, and sort out projections, we surround ourselves with different perspectives and invite feedback. Multiple perspectives and discoveries require the adoption of humility to seek questions rather than know solutions.[2]

Practices. Coaching supports practices such as pausing to clarify perceptions that precede behavior or performance. We pause between events (communications, meetings, situations, or activities) and before speaking to support mindfulness. In Sanskrit, mindfulness means “to remember.” We pause to remember what we care about and our current frame of reference, such as our roles, functions, jobs, or agreements.

  • Increased awareness invites us to strip away delusions and enable self-discovery to reveal projections and truths. (See grid below.)

2- Integrity as Workability

Integrity is accountability to our word for the purpose of creating “workability” in our life. The process of coming out is a profound example of the power of our word to create workability. Recall the intense unworkability of living inside the fear of the closet.

To constitute ourselves as our word requires “transparency about what one is giving one’s word to, to whom it is being given, and by when the promise given by the word will be executed.” [3]

Such an inquiry requires self-awareness to examine and discover when we are “in” or “out” of integrity — whether I can be counted on to act as I’ve stated. Unfortunately, socialization views integrity through morality (being virtuous), ethics (the right standards), or normative (ideal behavior). In this context, examining our word often occurs as an assault on our moral or ethical character rather than an inquiry into the missing conditions necessary to restore our word.

Coaching’s “descriptive paradigm” observes integrity as “the state of being whole and complete.” This descriptive view of integrity is important to individuals, groups, organizations, and society because collective action requires workability for coordinating with and “counting on each other’s word: a word kept by making and fulfilling commitments. If people let each other down, performance suffers, trust disappears, and anxiety reigns…”. [1]

Optimal workability supports how we participate in co-creating our communities and belonging in them; the effective coordination and collaboration in everyday agreements, structures, and practices; and the cultivation of our dignity. All we can ever be is who we say we are.

Inquiry. Coaching examines the “unworkable” areas of life that undermine our effective coordination. Common areas of “out-integrity” include stepping over items that go against values, agreements, or self-respect; inaction, when we could have acted but didn’t; and not acknowledging broken agreements.

Practices. Coaching supports bringing “intention” to our word, pausing before creating agreements, clarifying promises and requests, completing any incomplete items, and creating more space in your schedule to become mindful.

  • We experience the power of our word to declare “self” and create workability.

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3- Authenticity as Possibility (Freedom to Be)

Authenticity exists between one’s actuality, the “everydayness” of our world, and one’s possibility. Participation in the world finds us swept up by norms and conforming to “fit in.” Through expanding responsibility for our “own-most possibility,” we extricate ourselves from society’s “expectations” to accept individual freedom.

Author Peter Block cites philosopher Peter Koestanebaum (1971) in his new book “Confronting Our Freedom” (2023) highlights our natural freedom:

Most of us repress the consciousness of that freedom and, conversely, the recognition and utilization of that freedom can give us the power … to make our lives, mature, meaningful, successful, and happy, or, in a word, authentic. [4]

That first momentous experience of coming out marks a unique experience when gay men reject society’s expectations. The anxiety and anticipation preceding that moment bind us to a future possibility.

By exploring being, we integrate the whole self (mind, body, and language) and its origins (culture, identities, and heritage) to take custody of its narrative. With agency and autonomy, we hold ourselves accountable for living up to our possibility. We become responsible for who we are, who we’ve been, and who we’re becoming. We risk norms and others’ expectations to realize our uniqueness rather than conceal or deny who we are. We become fully self-expressed.

Being gay is more than machinery in bed. Accepting our identity involves owning what it means to be gay in the world. To own liberation in 2023 is to appreciate “gay existence” in 19th-century Paris, 1945 Germany, or 1969 New York City. Beyond trivial facts, these psycho-socio-political-historical aspects constitute our selfhood, community, and culture. Authenticity strengthens the process of integration, a necessary state for becoming whole.

Inquiry. Whether gay or non-gay, coaching supports self-discovery, truthfulness, and the integration of our experiences (mind, body, and language) with our culture, identities, and heritage to bring meaning to our existence. Through skillful listening, observing, and questioning, coaching unpacks pretenses via inquiry into inconsistencies, defenses, avoidance, or denial; it is designed to accommodate expectations that ignore our needs or undermine our possibilities.

Practice. Self-discovery resulting from candid reflection — a level of openness, accuracy, and awareness to communicate truth-telling reveals underlying needs that preserve pretenses.[5] Coaching dissolves the constraints on self-expression that support and embrace our uniqueness. Moreover, self-discovery emerges for both the client and the coach, acknowledging shared qualities through reflective dialogue that reveals the commitments we are for others.

  • The experience of liberating the self from normative ideals encourages the possibility of becoming whole and integrated. (See grid above.)

4- Commitment as Care

The word “commitment” can elicit confusion or angst. Whether bills, education, relationships, or work, our lives depend on creating agreements that require commitment. Viewing commitment as a context for living involves standing for something bigger than oneself, such that our commitment becomes who we are.[1]

Reaching beyond oneself evokes our primal connection to others, which stems from learning how to be human from others. That initial “care structure” constitutes “mattering,” giving meaning to our existence. What matters most lives through commitment to a set of concerns.

Self-fulfillment comes not from a focus on one’s self per se. Instead, we are concernfully absorbed by that … which meaningfully weave our lives… .[6]

Commitments cannot be compulsive, like attachments that cause obsessions, nor commanded, like obligations that cause compliance. Authentic commitment emerges freely in an uncertain future. It necessitates “care” as a structure for being resolute in the face of changes, trade-offs, and setbacks that invariably emerge and requires taking a stand in the face of “the lostness in possibilities” that can provoke guilt. [7]

Simultaneously, the uncertain future that commitments evoke, enlivens and calls forth possibilities while revealing greater doubt, disbelief, and insecurity.[8][9] Coaching normalizes this paradox to reframe experiences and (re)discover priorities.

For gay men, the prospect of coming out necessitates care for truth and commitment to change in the face of an uncertain world. Taking that stand alters how every aspect of our world occurs to us. We continue to frame this commitment with each expression of our identity beyond our initial coming out.

Practice and Inquiry. An authentic commitment is neither given nor purchased. We embody it in language by framing events and choosing paths. We summon all previous structures and practices — self-awareness, pausing, mindfulness, workability of word, authentic choosing and owning possibility — to generate a commitment that cultivates aliveness.

  • The experience of taking a stand invites us to declare an authentic future. (See grid above.)

Summary

These four interdependent structures serve as vehicles to access lessons from our shared coming out experience to become more whole. As a way of being, this requires a commitment that demands the awareness of self-discovery, the integrity to act with dignity, and the authenticity to account for our possibility.

As coaching professionals, the “coming out experience” offers unique access to the human condition, which we can use to serve our clients.

Reading Time: 8.5 min. Digest Time: 11.5 min.


1- View our related blogs:

2- References

[1] Souba, Wiley. W. A New Model of Leadership Performance in Health Care. Academic Medicine, 86(10), 2011.

[2] Kofman, Fred. Conscious Business: How to Build Values Through Values. Boulder Colorado: Sounds True, 2006.

[3] Souba, Wiley. W. The Being of Leadership. Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, 6(1), 5, from http://www.peh-med.com/content/6/1/5, 2011.

[4] Block, Peter, and Peter Keostenbaum. Confronting our Freedom: leading a culture of chosen accountability and belonging. Hoboken, NJ, 2023. The Vitality of Death: Essays in Existential Psychology and Philosophy. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1971

[5] Dethmer, Jim, Diana Chapman, Kaley Klemp. The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success. Self-published, 2015.

[6] Anton, C. Selfhood and Authenticity. Albany: SUNY Press, 2001.

[7] Zimmerman, M. Eclipse of the Self: The Development of Heidegger’s Concept of Authenticity. Ohio: Ohio University Press Books, 1986.

[8] Kofman, F., & Senge, P. M. Communities of Commitment: The Heart of Learning Organizations. Learning Organizations: Developing Cultures for Tomorrow’s Workplace (Chawla, S. & Renesch, J., Eds.), pp. 14-43. Portland, Oregon: Productivity Press, 1995.

[9] Senge, P. M. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday, 1990.


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Tony Zampella is the learning designer at Bhavana Learning Group, which serves coaches, educators, and learning professionals and executives.

As an instructor, researcher, and designer of contemplative learning programs and practices, Tony’s work explores the human side of change by bringing wisdom to learning. His focus includes ontological inquiry, Integral meta-theory, and Buddhist psychology to sustain contemplative practice.