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Coming Out: How to Feel and Show Support During a Time of Vulnerability [Podcast]

Posted October 08, 2021

Listen to this episode of the Healthy Vitals Podcast.

We talk about tips on how to go about telling friends and family. And for friends and family, ways to show support when loved ones share with you.

Featured Guests:

Scott Hamler, M.D. | Pam Carlson, R.N.

Scott T. Hamler, M.D., of the Summa Health Pride Clinic has special Interests in LGBTQ+ Care and Urgent Care. A graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, he completed his residency at Cleveland Clinic Fairview Hospital. Dr. Hamler is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. 

Pam Carlson, R.N. is a Nurse, Summa Health Pride Clinic.


Scott Webb (Host): The decision to come out is a deeply personal one; one in which the advice and expertise of trained and compassionate professionals may be of value. And joining me today are Dr. Scott Hamler. He's a physician with special interests in LGBTQ+ care and urgent care. And I'm also joined by registered nurse, Pam Carlson, both of whom work at the Summa Health Pride Clinic. This is Healthy Vitals, a podcast from SummaH ealth. I'm Scott Webb. So, thank you both for being on today. We're talking about the Summa Health Pride Clinic, about folks who may want to come out and offering them some tips and recommendations for friends and family. And we're going to get to all of that today.

Before we get rolling here, though, Dr. Hamler, tell us about the Summa Health Pride Clinic. I know it's been around for a couple of years and I checked out the website, but tell listeners about the clinic.

Scott Hamler, M.D. (Guest): Summa recognized that hey, we should be supporting community health, and there's a huge segment of patients that just aren't getting medical care. And within the LGBTQ community, it's pretty, well-documented what those obstacles are. And so the goal was to remove as many of those obstacles as we can and get patients medical care. So, we came into existence really to kind of provide sort of a comfortable medical home where patients can come and receive their care. So, it started with primary care two years ago. And it was very much limited on the marketing. It was one of those, if you build it, they will come. And certainly that holds true.

A lot of word of mouth advertising. Oh, hey, I went there, saw this group of, you know, the doc, the nurse, the staff, they're amazing people. You should go there kind of thing. So, we've grown, word is getting out as patients have kind of come in, it's like now that you've got a home, what medical needs aren't being met. And we've actually started to bring in a variety of different resources, specialties, social worker, those types of things to meet those other needs beyond medical needs that aren't being addressed for the LGBTQ community.

Host: Yeah. And Pam, you know, one of the common threads that I noticed in looking at the website for the Pride Clinic was just what good listeners you all are. And as Dr. Hamler saying is, as you started with medical care and have branched out and grown the clinic since then, I'm sure a lot of that comes from just listening to folks, listening to the community and what their needs are. Right?

Pam Carlson, R.N. (Guest): Absolutely. One of the things I think that makes us different here is from the very beginning, those initial touches of a patient, over the phone, patients call here, we answer our own phones here. So, when you call here, I'm going to pick up the phone. Ashley's going to pick up the phone. She's our MA, Carson, our Referral Coordinator may pick up the phone, but you're going to get one of the three of us. From the beginning what you're going to hear from us is tell us how we can help you. You're going to hear very comforting things to people that they haven't been asked before everybody gets asked, what is your name? And what we say is. What do you call yourself? Sometimes somebody's legal name isn't who they are, isn't what they want to be called. We're asking that in that initial phone call, we're asking about a patient's pronouns. What pronouns do you use for yourself? Sometimes it's as much picking up on the things that go unsaid and the only way to do that is by practicing active listening with our patients. And that's something, I think that all members of the team here excel at.

Host: Yeah, I think you're right. And sticking with you, Pam, for anyone out there who is considering coming out, what are some tips that you have? What would you like them to know?

Pam: I think the first thing is that there isn't really a right or a wrong way to come out for yourself. I think ,there's a lot of focus that gets put on National Coming Out Day. And I think for some people, that timing may not be perfect, but I think it's a whole lot of pressure. Hey, this is our special day. Let's do it. There are issues of safety, you know, not everybody is in a position in their residence, in their job, in their support circle, that they can just say, hey, by the way, this is who I really am. You may have known me for 40 years, but this is who I really am. So, I think in terms of actually coming out, there is no right or wrong way. It's a very, very personal experience. And I don't think that people need to be limited by expectations of things that they may have seen or heard in the media around them. This is an intensely personal decision.

Host: Yeah, it definitely is. And Dr. Hamler, one of the common threads that I've seen in, you know, just looking at lists of tips and suggestions for folks who are considering coming out is patience, being patient with themselves, being patient with others. And I wanted to throw it back to you and ask you, what are your thoughts about that? About just the concept of patience as it relates to coming out.

Dr. Hamler: Um Yeah, there's no question that as Pam suggested or alluded to that, this is a very personal journey. And it's going to happen on a different timeline for each individual. As far as my own coming out journey, you gotta be patient with yourself as far as realizing, is this a thing? Is this not a thing is, and sort of wrapping your own head and your own heart around those issues for yourself and getting a certain comfort level with yourself before you're going to put yourself out there. And I think that the fear that a lot of people have is that okay, the fear of rejection. Which I think is a deeply human fear. And as Pam suggested, sometimes that rejection is accompanied by safety issues, housing issues, financial issues. So, yeah, certainly be patient with yourself. And then if it's taken you a while to get to that point, it's going to take the others around you, like Pam said with her example, hey, 40 years, this is really who I am. So, somebody else they're probably not going to have 40 years to gain that same understanding. So, you really gotta be patient with the folks around you as far as the them coming to understand your true self.

Pam: And I think sometimes it's a little difficult because when you are that person and you've been waiting and waiting so long to be able to say, this is truly who I am, once that door opens, so to speak, you're ready to just rush headlong into this new journey of yours. And so there is that kind of manic drive forward of I want it and I want it right now. I've waited so long and I'm ready. And now it's the time. I'm here. Go, go, go, go, go. And there are some steps that have to be taken in a specific order to get things to happen and to flow smoothly. And as Dr. Hamler said, being patient with other people yes, you've been waiting and internally this is your moment.

But for other people, it is going to take a little bit of time. And my thought is to just not take someone else's being quiet or their hesitancy, as a rejection of what you're doing, they may just be taking some time and taking a breath to figure out the whirlwind that just hit them as well.

Host: Yeah, that's probably a good word to use, a whirlwind. And especially with friends and family, those closest to people, it's going to take a minute. It's going to take some time. And as you say, for the person coming out, they've been waiting however long, 20, 30, 40 years. And they want the rest of their lives to begin now. But for everybody else, it's going to take a minute. There's going to be some silence, some thoughtful introspection and just sort of getting their minds wrapped around it. And Dr. Hamler, I wanted to ask you, what are your some of your recommendations on how to go about telling friends and family, you know, those closest to us?

Dr. Hamler: I think we all kind of have a little bit of an instinct about who we can share that information with that's going to be accepting and supportive. So, in some ways, trust your instinct as far as coming out and certainly the more often you do it, the more comfortable it becomes. So, if you've been getting a positive feedback, go to those people first, a little bit comical when somebody says, shocking, you're gay. I never would have guessed, you know, that, that sort of cynical, sarcastic, like we've already, we've always known kind of thing. So, yeah, go to those people first, because again, if you have positive feedback, a favorable sort of outcome, as far as that coming out process, it just makes it easier. And then if you hit bumps in the road along the way, we all kind of have an instinct as far as who we can safely come out to. Certainly, in the world of media, there's social networking. There's ways to come out to people and have support groups around, should things not go well. And I wanted to kind of piggyback on one of Pam's comments about, you know, give those around you some time to kind of cope, you know, especially with say a parent-child relationship.

If that child is coming out, whatever the identity is or whatever, sexual orientation. Yeah. Yeah in all likelihood that parent had some sort of idea what they thought their child was going to be when they grew up kind of thing. So, there actually may be a grieving process that happens for parents and for friends. That's not a right or wrong thing. It's just the reality of it. So, thankfully there are support groups, as far as P Flag, you know, as far as national chapters of that, we've got local chapters of it here in the Akron area, there are local support groups specifically for the trans community from Margie's Hope, has support groups for family, friends and parents, because that can be very challenging, grieving process for those people in your world that you're coming out to.

Host: It's such an interesting word, the concept really of grief and grieving over what you thought or what you wanted perhaps for a child or a friend, and then to find out that it's going to go a little bit differently. And coming back to you Pam, we've talked a little bit about telling family and friends and coming out to them. Now let's maybe look at it from the other perspective, how can those family and friends show their support when that loved one comes out?

Pam: One of the biggest things is to just be willing to listen, start by just listening. When this information hits you, sometimes it can be stunning and I'll say stunning to the point of silence, which in this instance, it's not a bad thing. Be willing to listen more than you speak to somebody who's sharing this information and to keep in the back of your mind that this is a serious risk, this is hard stuff that they're doing.

And no matter what else you're feeling, the recognition that this person is sharing their deepest core self with you, it is an issue of trust. So, even though it's difficult, what comes to mind is if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. It is okay to ask questions, but one of the things that I've consistently heard from friends and family that have walked through this is even if you don't know what to say, you can extend a hand to somebody. You can give them a hug. You can say, I don't know how to put all this together, but I believe in you. And sometimes that is the most important thing that you can do if you can't think of anything else to say. A simple, I love you. I believe in you, we'll walk through this.

You're not making promises that you're going to be happy and that everything is going to be flowers and rainbows and roses and glitter, off the bat. But you are saying, I believe in you, I believe in our relationship enough to know we're going to get through whatever comes down the road. So, listening and just being able to reassure somebody that even if you don't get it, if you don't understand it, it's okay. You love them enough to kind of walk through it all with them. That's the biggest thing that I hear.

Host: Yeah, it's amazing how important a hug can be in life and how it says so much without having to actually have the words. Cause you just may not have the words in that moment, you know, and Dr. Hamler, I'm wondering, in your personal journey, what was it like for you as you told family and friends, as they reacted, did you get that hug? Was it a mixed bag? Maybe you can share a little bit with listeners.

Dr. Hamler: Certainly a mixed bag. Yes, I'm of a certain age to where coming out as a gay man in the nineties, the HIV AIDS epidemic was very much in the forefront of people's mind. So, when I came out to my parents, it was not well-received to put it mildly. I was actually in medical school at the time that I came out. And it was like, oh, well, you know, we think you should drop out of medical school and get into counseling because this was going to be a situation where, you know, counseling will solve your homosexuality. And clearly we know that not to be true. But it was just the fear that, oh, we think you're going to get HIV and AIDS and die and just, you know, just kinda like misinformation, myths about gay lifestyle things along those lines.

So, coming out to my parents, very difficult, not well-received. There was talk of cut me off financially and you're going to be on your own. And they said if we thought that was going to change you, we would do that. But had the understanding that it's not going to make a difference. You're going to be who you are. And then ultimately got to the point of love and support. And then, you know, fast forward 25 years or so, now married and I've got two kids and they're very supportive of the marriage and very supportive of their grandchildren.

So, it just takes time, you know? So, that was probably the most negative experience I had, but certainly amongst friend groups and other family members, pretty well-received and supported.

Host: That's great that you started that story, I had sort of a frown on my face and I was like, oh no, Dr. Hamler, uh, but by the end I was smiling and I was thinking of your parents being, you know, awesome grandparents and really embracing, you know, everything that your life is, you know, I feel like we could just talk all afternoon, but we don't have that kind of time.

So, as we wrap up here, I'll go to you,first. Pam. What are your takeaways both about the Summa Health Pride Clinic and just in general, for anybody out there who's confronting that decision, however long it took them that they now know who they are, they've accepted it and they want to come out. What's your best advice for listeners, as they begin this next chapter, this amazing, but challenging new journey in their lives?

Pam: So, the first thing I think is if this is your decision, recognize this as a win. This is a huge win to be able to acknowledge who you are. To be able to love yourself for who you are and hold on to that core of that win cause it can get a little rough out there. Absolutely. But take it and run with it. Okay. This is the start. It's a birthday. It's a brand new birthday. You need to just take this inner core of strength that you have because it took strength to even admit it to yourself. And, you know, in terms of part of what we do here at Pride Clinic, we help people that are just starting on these journeys, just making these decisions.

And for anybody who's considering this, that says, but I don't know. I don't even know what if I'm wrong about this or parents? What if this is a phase; one of the things that you can do, you give us a call. You pick up the phone and you call us, we're a resource, we're here. You can come in and talk.

You can meet with one of our doctors. You can meet with Dr. Hamler. One of our other providers. We do nurse visits. You can sit, you can talk with me, you can talk with Tracy, our social worker, there are a number of resources available, and we will have your back on this. And we can talk with people and share with people about this is what we find to be helpful. These are the support places we have that will prop you up when things are tough and celebrate with you when things are really good.

Dr. Hamler: It's amazing. Dr. Hamler, as we wrap up, this clinic is amazing and all of the services that are available and really being there for people who haven't even come out yet through everything that they may need, all of the services they may need. I mean, really big props to Summa Health. This Pride Clinic is amazing. And it's so great to speak with you both. As we close here, what are your takeaways, your final thoughts as someone who's been there, done that, and then works with patients every day. What would you like folks to know?

As Pam had suggested, this is an exciting time for a lot of folks and it's focusing on the positive. Sort of reveling in the positive. It's certainly easy to get bogged down in the negative and not just with a coming out process, but just life in general. That's just how things work and do your best to keep your head up moving in a forward direction, sort of glom onto those positive aspects and the negative things will happen and be aware that you're not going through that alone.

You know, that's always been one of my goals with our Pride Clinic is yeah, I'm managing the medical piece, but there are a lot of other aspects to a human being beyond their medical care. My goal has always been to network within the community as far as what other resources do we have available from housing standpoint, from medical health, mental health, behavioral health standpoint, and just getting patients to those services that they so desperately need.

And there will be times where you're doing great, don't need it, and in times where yeah, you definitely need it. And just knowing that those are accessible and available. Certainly I guess it offers some sort of security, some calmness, to navigating the journey.

Host: Yeah, I think that's just the best way to put it. You know, it is a journey and sometimes for some folks, maybe it's a sprint, but for others really, it's probably a marathon. And it's just great to know that Summa Health and the Pride Clinic is there for folks. As I said, I wish we could talk all afternoon, but we're going to close here. Thank you both. And you both stay well.

Dr. Hamler: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Host: Visit for more information about our health care services. And if you found this podcast helpful, please tell a friend and share on your social channels and be sure to check out the entire podcast library for additional topics of interest. This is Healthy Vitals, a podcast from Summa Health. I'm Scott Webb. Stay well, and we'll talk again next time.

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