Questions answered: what is the usual timetable for coming out?

Question: “Approximately how long does it take most people to accept they are gay in order to be ready to come out? I’m still struggling with totally accepting it.”

I know that you want a definitive answer to this question, brave questioner. Wouldn’t we all like to have a timetable for such a complicated and messy process? But the real answer is as varied as there are people in the world.

While you might think that being accepted by others is the main project of coming out, self-acceptance is truly at the heart of it all. It doesn’t matter one bit what others think of you if you are not comfortable in your own skin.

How long does this take? Well, for me it took about 40+ years for me to accept that I am gay. For others, it might take 20 years. Or 15 years. Or 60 years. Or never.

I think the real heart of your question is not how long it takes, but what you can do to further your self-acceptance. Your gayness is not going to go away, so here are some ways that you can embrace it and further your coming out process:

  1. Say the words: I cannot stress enough how important this is. Whether you identify as gay, lesbian, bi, or queer, say the words to yourself. Say them to your smiling face in the mirror each morning when you wake up. Say them when you’re in the car by yourself in traffic. Sing them to yourself! Celebrate this new reality, and get one step closer to self-acceptance.
  2. Let go: In order to make room for the new, you have to get rid of the old. Let go of old dreams, old notions of what your life is or will be like, old patterns. Let go in order to make room for this new life that you are creating for yourself.
  3. Appreciate your progress: When you’re down and feeling stuck, take a look at what you’ve accomplished so far. Coming out to yourself is a big deal even if you’re still struggling with self-acceptance. You’ll take the next steps when you’re ready.
  4. Set realistic goals and deadlines: Don’t think that you need to come out to yourself, your family, your friends, and your co-workers all in the same week. These things take time. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time for each step along the way so that you can process everything. Of course, some goals and deadlines are good if you need a little incentive to stop stalling.
  5. You are the only you you’ve got: You are precious, unique and amazing! Being gay is but one facet of your awesome self. Know that you will not be any less precious by coming out–in fact, the opposite is true. Being your true self is a gift to you and also a gift to the rest of the world.

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” ~Anna Quindlen

Leave me a comment and let me know if you are struggling with self-acceptance or if you have advice for others struggling.  I’d love to hear from you!

Questions answered: How can you tell if someone is gay?

Recently, I was asked in the comments to another post, “How can you tell if someone is gay? How can I find gay girls?” I have thought about it since then, and the only absolutely true answer is, “You only know 100% for sure if you ask them.”

Now, that requires some courage, I know! Not everyone is ready for that, and it wouldn’t always be appropriate in every context. You can also try and rely on your gaydar, which has been proven to work about 60% of the time.  Fairly decent odds there!

But here are 7 ways to increase your odds if you are trying to find Maximum Lesbian Density:

  1. Meetups in your area: Most cities and towns have specific meetups for gays and lesbians. Some are for women only, some are centered around shared interests (there’s one for hiking in my town and another one for gay parents), but all are pre-defined in terms of who you will meet there.
  2. Gay community centers: Some cities have community centers that cater specifically to the LGBT crowd. Our local center offers yoga classes, movie nights, community forums, and other fun activities. Look online to see what your city offers.
  3. Pride parades and events: Pride takes place in June in my city, but it happens at different times in different places. Do a search to find out when it takes place in your town, and then make plans to attend! There is usually lots of music, food, and fun, as well as informational booths. You’re bound to make a new gay friend at Pride!
  4. Facebook groups: For those who prefer virtual spaces, Facebook provides many places to hang out. You can look for lesbian-specific groups where every girl will be neatly identified for you!
  5. Gay bars: The first place most people think of is still a good place to meet gay girls. And you get to support a local business while you’re there–a win-win!
  6. Welcoming churches or other faith groups: Many progressive churches and other faith groups attract LGBT folks, and some even have groups that work specifically on LGBT issues.
  7. Other events: Concerts, lectures, and other events that usually draw an LGBT crowd will up your chances of finding your people. Find these events via your local newspaper or online.

Let me know if you can think of others places to meet gay girls, and leave me a comment about it! I’d love to hear about your experiences with finding community on your coming out journey.

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Questions Answered: How do I feel comfortable with my new identity?

This question came to me from someone on the message board for married women attracted to women: how do you feel comfortable with your new sexual identity when you’ve spent all of your life identifying as heterosexual? Well, it takes time and effort to make any change seem more normal, so let’s explore some ways to help you in your process.

Who Am I?   As I’ve mentioned before, when it comes to sexual identity, many get caught up in the labels given to gay people. But it’s worth it to think about how you want to describe yourself–are you comfortable with calling yourself a lesbian? Queer? Bisexual? Pansexual? Just plain “gay?” Try on these different words when talking about yourself and see which ones resonate with you. Deciding how you want to define yourself will go a long way towards helping you figure out the borders of this new identity.

How do I look?  Yes, I know it’s stereotypical and a bit superficial to focus on “looking gay,” but you can’t escape that this is how many people identify others in terms of gender and sexual identity. At least there are more models for lesbians today than the simple “femme/butch” dichotomy of the past. You might want to think about your look and how making some changes might help you feel more comfortable with your new identity.

Have you always wanted to try out shorter hair, but you were worried before that it might make you look “too gay?” Well, now’s the time to experiment! Tired of wearing makeup every day? Try a few days without it, and see how that feels. Of course, it’s perfectly fine if you want to keep your long locks and red lipstick, too. Or if you want to change it up on different days. The point is that it might be a good time to think about the image you present to the world and if it’s one that represents your true self. If you want some ideas, Qwear is one of my favorite sites for all things gay girl fashionable!

At Home/At Work: Here are some ideas to help you ease into your new identity at home and at work:

  1. Post-It notes: I’m a huge fan of these! Post notes on your bathroom mirror, on your fridge, next to your coffee pot, at your workstation, or wherever you automatically look every day. The notes can be bits of inspirational writings about being your true self, or even reminders to say “I’m gay!” three times in the mirror before brushing your teeth in the morning. Studies show that it takes 21 days to make a habit stick, so try this for 3 weeks and let me know if it works for you.
  2. Reading lesbian novels, watching lesbian TV shows, subscribing to lesbian magazines: Who knows how many women have realized their true identities while watching “The L Word?” I have no idea, but it’s a fun show, that’s for sure! Check out Netflix and other sites for lesbian-themed movies. Subscribe to lesbian magazines like Curve or Out . Read websites like LGBTQ Nation or Human Rights Campaign to stay up-to-date on issues affecting lesbians around the world. The more you immerse yourself in the gay world, the more you will feel at home there.
  3. Even simple things like changing your computer password to something gay-related as a daily reminder or changing your phone’s ringtone to a song that reminds you of your coming out can help you gel with your new identity. These little things add up over the course of weeks and months.

Where is my community?  My last suggestion for how to feel comfortable with your new identity is to find your community! I know that this can be very challenging for some, especially those who are more introverted or less social. But finding community is really key in feeling at home with yourself, I believe. One of the best tools for this is Meetup.com–go there to look for lesbian groups in your area. Chances are that there are more than a few out there. Usually, these groups are organized around events like movies, dinners, or happy hours, so pick the event that appeals to you and go meet some new friends!

If you are in a more rural town with no Meetup groups, there are online forums and other places to find gay girls. You can also join our online support group for women coming out later in life!

Leave me a comment about how you learned to feel comfortable in your new identity, struggles you might still be having, or anything else. I look forward to hearing from you!

Questions Answered–How do I know that I’m really gay?

Here’s the next question for this series: “How do I know this is for real–how do I know that I’m really gay?”

My short answer to this question is one that I’ve given here before: straight girls don’t lie awake at night worried about possibly being gay. But there’s so much more to this issue than that quick answer. Let’s explore this further, shall we?

Labels that we give ourselves and others are merely that–words that we use to describe parts of ourselves. There is no way we could ever describe the totality of our fabulous selves with one or two words. Even within the gay community, there is disagreement about which words to use when.  Gay? Lesbian? Queer? These are all words that I use to describe myself, depending on the situation. I also identified as bisexual for a whole decade when I was in my coming out process.

Whether or not you want to label yourself as “gay” or “bi” or “questioning,” the fact of the matter is that some feeling or experience has brought you to this point. Either you have fallen in love or found yourself attracted to a woman, or something has awakened feelings in you that you have labelled “not straight.” And that is something that you want to give attention to as it is clearly real.

As to your question of whether you are really gay or not, that is a question only you can answer for yourself. That’s why coming out to yourself truly is the first step in the process. I know that I struggled with that label for a long time, until it finally hit me in a very deep way that I was indeed a gay woman (read my upcoming book to learn more about this story!). From that moment on, I had no doubt that I was gay.

Did I find that truth uncomfortable, inconvenient, and difficult to live with at times? Absolutely. But that is very different from the deep knowing and acceptance of your own sexual orientation. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that it is not true. In the coming out process, there may be times when you want to wish it all away–it’s too tough to handle. I get it. But I promise that facing those truths inside of you will be worth it once you get to the other side.

Ways that I suggest getting to know that deep truth within you and accepting it:

  1. Meditation practice or other quiet contemplation: Whether it is a daily practice or a few quiet moments to yourself here and there, meditation can be a great tool for listening to that deep voice inside of you. For more information on how to start a mediation practice, try this link.
  2. Journaling: For some, writing is a good way to get at the issues in your mind. Start a journal devoted to figuring out your truth. Keep the inner editor at bay, and let your truth pour out of you.
  3. Retreats or time away from your regular life: While this isn’t feasible for everyone, if you are able to go on a retreat (a spiritual one or simply a weekend getaway to a nearby cabin in a state park), this is an ideal time to contemplate your deeper truths. Also, being out in nature tends to heal us, which helps us to see things more clearly that are difficult to accept in our everyday lives.
  4. Therapy: A good therapist is worth her/his weight in gold! Therapy is an amazing gift to give yourself, and it’s a great way to face those truths with the help of a trusted, professional listener.

Leave me a comment about how you knew that you were gay, how you’ve struggled with this awakening, or perhaps what has helped you in your process to accept yourself. I look forward to hearing from you!

Questions answered: You can’t be gay–you are too feminine!

You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers! Here’s the first one: “What do you say to someone who says, ‘You can’t be gay–you are too feminine!’ I am worried when I come out to my family and friends that this will be their reaction.”

Oh, how I understand this problem! I’m definitely on the feminine side of the spectrum, so when I came out, I did get this sort of reaction from some friends and acquaintances. Most people’s image of a gay girl is more like k.d. lang than Portia de Rossi. So it’s understandable that we have a way to go before many understand that there are as many different kinds of lesbians as there are people in the world.

Another complicating factor is that when you are a feminine gay girl growing up, society more easily puts you into the “straight” category. No one thinks to ask if you are gay, and you don’t know enough to ask that question of yourself, especially if you have no gay role models. You “look” straight, guys are attracted to you, so you think, “Hey, this must be what I’m meant to do.”

I believe that, in some ways, feminine lesbians have a more difficult time coming out to themselves than more obvious gay girls. While we don’t get the teasing and the bullying that those girls received, we are more prone to hiding behind the mask of straightness since it’s simply easier for us to pass–to ourselves and to others.

And this can lead to a lifetime of questioning, “So, since I don’t like softball, I can’t be gay, right? I love wearing skirts and lipstick, so surely I’m not gay? Of course I’m not gay, I’ve been married to a man!” Yes, you can be gay under all of these circumstances–trust me!

All of that said, once you have come out to yourself, you fabulous feminine gay girl, you know your truth and no one can take that from you! My advice to you is to anticipate that question and come up with a funny answer (“Guess I’ll have to trade my heels for sensible shoes now”), a question back at them (“That’s interesting. Why do you think that? Do you know many other gay people?”), or ignore the question completely by changing the subject if you don’t want to address it.

Choose your approach based on the person asking the question and how much you feel like discussing this in the moment. You really don’t need to justify your gayness to anyone else at all!

As a final aside, this is another reason why I think everyone should be as “out” as they can. The world needs to see that gay people come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. People who are questioning their sexuality desperately need role models to show them that being gay is not limited to the old stereotypes. Burly football players can be gay, lipstick-wearing actresses can be gay–break down those stereotypes and add your special style to the mix!

Feel free to tweet your questions to me @latelifelesbian or leave them in the comments section. I’d love to hear what’s on your mind!