How to bounce back after a bad experience coming out to someone

If you have gone through the coming out process or you’re still in it, you will most likely have a variety of experiences coming out to the people in your life. Some will be immediately accepting, some will be neutral, and some might be downright hostile.

The most important thing to know here is that all of these reactions are not about you–they are about the person who is reacting to your coming out story. The person is thinking about how your news affects them, and how your relationship might change because of this. They may be worried about you. They may wonder why they didn’t know this about you sooner. Or they may simply be envious of your newfound honesty.

You may be surprised at certain people’s reactions to your coming out story. People who you thought would be supportive may need time to process this news, and so they may not be initially as supportive as you like. You might find support in unlikely places. You might be surprised, and have others come out to you in turn! All of these things have happened to me in my coming out process, so I know that they are possible.

One friend I came out to was just unable to process that I was gay. I had been married twice! To men! Surely, I was simply bisexual or bored with my marriage. Was this a phase I was going through? A mid-life crisis? I was floored. Someone who I thought would be supportive had to deal with their own feelings first before they could be a real friend to me in my process.

But how do you bounce back after a bad experience coming out to someone? Here are some tips if and when this happens to you:

  1. Remember that your job is simply to come out: You don’t have to play therapist to someone else or spend time defending or explaining your process. Just say the words and let the other person deal with their feelings about it.
  2. Take a time out: It’s always acceptable to take a time out from that person or situation. Let them have time to integrate this new reality–that may be just what they need in order to pick up the relationship again. Time is the great healer in so many ways!
  3. Don’t let it set you back: Regardless of what someone else says, don’t let this deter your own process. Many people are so caught up in what others think of them that they lose sight of themselves. If this happens to you, regroup and remind yourself of how far you’ve come. Don’t let others dictate where you go next on your path.

Keep these tips in mind, and don’t let a bad experience coming out to someone hinder your overall journey. It happens to us all, and you’ll be stronger for the next person you come out to!

Leave me a comment and let me know what you’ve done if you’ve had a bad experience coming out to someone. I’d love to hear your advice!

 

 

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!

Starting Over & the Power of “I Don’t Know”

Anyone who comes out later in life understands what an immense change it is to publicly “switch teams,” as they say. You have a history as “the straight person,” that’s how friends and family know you, and that’s how you’ve presented yourself to the world for 20, 30, or 40 some odd years.

Coming out and claiming your new identity is, indeed in some ways, a fresh start. Many people report feeling happier than ever after they shed their old identity and begin deliberately creating this new one.

But there are usually more questions than answers at this point: will my old friends stick by me? Will I make new friends? If so, where will I find them? How do I start dating? What are the unspoken “rules” I need to follow in this new world? How should I dress, act, talk, etc.? Should I still carry a purse or not? (Seriously, this was one thing I got stuck on during my coming out process–I’m laughing now remembering it!).

This is where the power of “I don’t know” comes into play. In order to get from your old identity to your new one, you have to be willing to walk the bridge of “I don’t know.”

Will your friends stick by you?  There’s no way to know until you start being honest with them. Will you make new friends? You won’t know until you try. Will you ever find the right girl who will accept you just as you are? No way to know for sure until you take those first steps into the dating pool.

See, the power of “I don’t know” is the power of possibility. When you think that you know everything and have everything nailed down, there’s no room for growth. But when you are willing to open up that closet door a bit–open up to the possibility of the unknown–that is when you’ll create the space for something different in your life.

Try it today: say “I don’t know” when someone asks you about your future plans. Tell yourself “it’s okay not to know” when you are obsessively worrying over some aspect of your coming out journey.

Find the power in not knowing. Trust that the way will light up ahead of you when you need it. Let go of your old identity in order to make room for your new one!

Leave me a comment about your experiences and thoughts about starting over and not knowing. I’d love to hear from you!

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Come Out, Save Someone Else’s Life, and Save Your Own!

I’ve been thinking about visibility lately, and what it means to be “out” as a gay woman. Almost every gay person can tell you what it was like to take that first peek outside of the closet. Some of us poked our heads out of the closet and quickly went back in. Some burst out of the closet, rainbow flags flying! Some are out at home and with close friends, yet remain closeted at work or with family members.

I understand that not everyone can live a completely out life. In some situations, it’s not safe to be out, sadly. Or sometimes you simply don’t want to deal with someone else’s reaction right then. I get that.

But let me share with you why I think it’s so important for LGBT people to be as visible as we can be. Every gay person who lives an out life makes a ripple that connects to others who might still be in the closet. Your visibility directly affects other lives in ways you cannot imagine.  Here’s an example:

See that teenager watching you and your girlfriend enjoy an inside joke at the restaurant? She might be seeing her first ever model of a loving, gay relationship. She might be struggling with being bullied at her school for being gay. Seeing you live as an out lesbian might give her the hope that one day she can also have a great relationship with the girl of her dreams.

That’s just one example of how your visibility helps others. Visibility in the media has had such a huge impact ever since Ellen came out in the 90s. As soon as she was brave enough to do it, other celebrities followed suit, and soon realized that they could come out and actually be celebrated for it! And in recent days, Honey Maid graham crackers has included this heart-warming video of a family with two dads in their newest ad campaign:

I can’t imagine the impact a commercial like this would have had on me growing up in the 70s and 80s–there wasn’t an out gay person to be found on any TV set in the country then!

When we are visible, we have the opportunity to help save others, but most importantly, we also save ourselves. If you need a nudge towards more visibility, here are 3 reasons why you should come out:

  1. Less stress, more energy: It takes a lot of energy to stay in the closet, to remember who knows and who doesn’t, to police your speech, etc. Living openly means that you can spend that energy on other areas of your life!
  2. Less worry, more freedom: No worries? Well, fewer worries! Usually, our fears are greater than reality. How many times have you worried something into a much bigger deal than it ended up being? Once you’re out, it’s over (and I’ll bet it won’t be as bad as you worried it might be). You’ll have a lot more freedom in your life then, too!
  3. Less past, more present: Living in the closet is living in the past and wearing a mask that doesn’t fit you any more. Be your true self and live in the wide, open present!

Like the tiny drop of rain that seems inconsequential, when gathered up into the vast ocean with all the other drops, our collective visibility has infinite power! We all benefit when people live their authentic lives.

Leave me a comment to let me know how visibility or living in the closet has affected you. I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

 

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!

The First Step is Coming Out to Yourself

First, thanks to everyone who commented on my first blog post! I really do appreciate you taking the time to read it and share your thoughts with me.

What I’ve been thinking about lately is the process of coming out. When you hear about people “coming out,” it is usually described as a single event. Sometimes, I even picture a person in an actual “closet” jumping out to surprise their family and friends, “Surprise! I’m gay!”  

Of course, it never really works that way. Coming out is a series of events, usually starting with coming out to one’s self. And that process alone can take years! If you have never questioned your sexual identity, then you might not understand how someone can *not know* that they are gay.  

The mind is a powerful tool for self-deception. We try and fool our minds every day, like when we convince ourselves that we really don’t want that piece of chocolate that’s calling our name. Of course, if you believe that denying our true sexual identity takes a lot more bandwidth than overcoming a desire for chocolate, you are correct.  

“Why would someone do that?” you might ask. My answer to that question is: look around at our society. Is it easy to be gay in our world? Is it celebrated? Is it even tolerated in some countries? When you look at places like Russia, Uganda, and, closer to home, the American states that refuse to recognize marriage equality, you can see how the outside world is a powerful motivator to stay in the closet. And I haven’t even touched on pressures such as family expectations, religious beliefs, workplace rules, and friends’ reactions.  

Given all of these negative pressures, I’m amazed that anyone ever comes out to themselves! But, we do, and the reason we do is because, finally, it simply takes up too much head space and energy to stay in the closet.

Or as someone once explained it to me, “Staying in the closet is like pushing a huge beach ball under the water.  Yes, you can do it, but it takes such tremendous force and attention to keep that ball down.  Letting it go can be scary–which direction will it go?  How will I control it?  But, oh, the freedom!”

And coming out later in life has its own special issues. If you are or were married to someone of the opposite sex, you may wonder if this is just a passing phase. You may try to rationalize it or explain it away. But as someone once said to me, “Straight girls don’t stay up late at night wondering if they are gay.” I had to agree that this was true for me!

If nothing else, coming out to one’s self is a liberating first step in the coming out process. And it’s necessary to know yourself before you share *you* with the rest of the world. I’d love for you to share your thoughts about coming out to yourself in the comments below. Thanks!

When It’s Time to Fly

Below is a short essay I wrote in Lisa Ernst’s Writing and Meditation Workshop offered by One Dharma on 2/15/14:

What touched me today was reading about the actress Ellen Page’s coming out and particularly watching the video  on the Human Rights Campaign website. Here was this accomplished young actress speaking in front of a crowd–something I’m sure she has done many times before. You could hear the nervousness in her voice–the wavering and uncertainty.

But what I was most transfixed by were her hands. They were shaking so much that she had to hold them cupped together for almost the entire time. At one point, she let them go to make a point, and they were like tiny birds released, but still unsure of how high to fly.

About halfway through her speech when she finally said the words, “I’m gay,” and the audience stood and cheered for her, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be marvelous if everyone upon coming out had a cheering audience swelling with whoops of joy, mirroring back to you the terrifyingly awesome feeling of finally releasing your authentic self out of your mouth and into the world?”

It’s like watching a birth: the long wait and gestation before, the agonizing pains of labor, but then the deep knowing that there is no going backwards–in fact, what’s back no longer exists even–and you are propelled into a shiny, brand new, sparkling world that blinds you with its rightness. And you wonder how you ever lived in the dull past with you old, small, tightly-reined-in self.

Letting it all go–the expectations, the dreams of someone else for you, your own dreams that never quite fit no matter how you cut and sewed and re-sewed them–it’s the scariest thing ever. It’s tough enough to do that for yourself and your family & close friends privately, let alone on a widely-broadcast YouTube video.

But to live every day as authentically as you can–what a gift to yourself and the world! I could see the relief on her face when the words came out of her mouth. Naming ourselves, saying the words, and believing that you can say them and there will be a bridge to carry you to the other side requires such a leap of faith.

I remember testing out the words myself before I dared to speak them aloud to anyone. It felt like I had a tiny baby bird inside me–me, its nest–and it was time to push her out. Keeping her in the once-safe nest was no longer an option for that would only stunt her growth. I had to have faith that her wings were ready and strong enough to take on the world.  It was her time to fly.