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. One place is AskJoanne.net that I mentioned earlier, but do an online search and I’m sure you’ll find more!

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!

My Amazing, Gay-Friendly Mississippi Hometown

I am still reeling (in a good way!) from the news that my hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi passed a resolution this month recognizing the worth and dignity of its LGBT citizens. My how times have changed! Growing up there in the 80s, I could never have imagined that a public affirmation of gay people would be issued by a mayor in this conservative state.

I think it mirrors the conversations that are happening all across the country when people find out that their best friend, their sister, or their neighbor is gay. It’s so much easier to dismiss nameless and faceless “gay people.”

Someone who is asked to support marriage equality might hesitate if they remember last Sunday’s service condemning it. But when the same person realizes that marriage equality is essential for their sister and her wife to have a whole and happy life, that’s when the connection is made. “Ah, they want the same things that I have–the chance at happiness with the person they love and to have that commitment publicly and legally acknowledged.” It’s truly a no-brainer.

And, again, this is why it is so important for gay people to be as out as they can be. The more they see us, the more they know that we are just like them. The spectrum of gay people is as varied and diverse as the spectrum of straight people.

The culture is changing so much, so quickly. Exciting times for those of us who are coming out and enjoying our second half!

Please leave me your comments below about these historic changes in our country and how they are affecting you. Also, please sign up for my exclusive weekly email newsletter at the link on the top right of the blog. I’ll be releasing excerpts from my upcoming book “A Late Life Lesbian Story” soon! I can’t wait to share more of my story with you–newsletter subscribers will get the first peek!

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.