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!