by alex straaik on 01/12/11 at 9:45 pm
I’m Coming Out!: The Struggle & The Bliss
There are approximately 1.2 million queer people in the United States who have reported living with a same sex partner. It is highly likely that this number is considerably higher, but due to long-standing prejudices predicated on baneful stigma, myth, and societal norming, some couples may choose to keep their relationship status in the private sphere.
Respectively, when coming out, one should take pause to aptly assess the situation, so they can be as prepared as possible and essential for (though hopefully won’t have to deal with) adverse, fear-based responses, including dismissal, disgust, or the ignorant suggestion to engage in “therapy” to aid in “changing” that person’s sexual orientation. Often, when faced with some stressor people can’t easily handle, or a concept they cannot personally grasp, the response is less than nuanced and logical. It is natural, for some, to grieve in some manner when faced with the perceived “loss” of the child they “thought they had”; or the incorrect notion that the likelihood of having grandchildren they dreamed of is now an impossibility (which is, of course, still possible for queer people if desired, but often out of the scope of those who have little to no understanding of queer politics); or other fantasies one’s parents had for their child’s life. It is important to be patient and attempt to understand the perspective of others, even if it is wholly offensive—though that is not to attenuate the grave difficulty of such.
But let’s not neglect to mention the positive. Many parents will be not only supportive and understanding, but truly accept that there are several viable sexual orientations, and hope that their child, if they choose to have a partner, find someone who loves, values, and respects them.
If that doesn’t seem likely for you, consider how the “worst case scenario” might go. Coming Out is hard enough as is; if you need your parents’ financial and emotional support, are you really scared they would “cut you off” if you came out, and then wait until you can tell them with less fear and anxiety. This may sound like “hiding,” but it’s not. There’s no reason why you can’t build up a network of friends and other family who will be supportive of you and provide emotional support in the meanwhile.
Many authors and theorists have written about the “Coming Out” process. There are many models and many different stages proposed. What follows is a good basic model for this process, predicated on the work of Dr. Richard Niolon.
- Self Recognition as Gay/Bisexual: More than just an awareness of attraction to members of the same sex, it involves confusion, some attempt at denial and repression of feelings, anxiety, trying to “pass,” counseling, and often religious commitment to “overcome” sexuality. Eventually and importantly, acknowledgment and acceptance of one’s sexual orientation develops. There may be some grief over “the fall from paradise” and feelings of loss of a traditional heterosexual life. Many queer people may be fairly closeted at this point, which is highly understandable. Most continue to seek out information regarding sexuality.
- Disclosure To Others. Sharing one’s sexual orientation with a close friend or family member is the first step in this stage. Rejection may cause a return to the Self-Recognition stage, but positive acceptance can lead to better feelings of self-esteem. Usually disclosure is a slow process, but by no means always, as we are all unique individuals. Some gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans people are more passive come out in more passive ways, admitting they are gay if asked but not volunteering it. Others do it in deliberate manners, proclaiming their sexuality to others to end the invisibility of being gay. As this stage progresses, a self-image of what it means to be gay develops, and the individual studies stereotypes, incorporating some information while rejecting other information, and fighting any internalize repression as well as, sadly, external.
- Socializing with other queer people of all sexual pursuits (gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, genderqueers, and straight allies) provides the experience that the person is not alone in the world, and there are other people like him or her, or those who will be supportive and not exhibit foolish prejudices, and truly listen to th4 person speaking. A positive sense of self, indeed pride develops, and is strengthened by acceptance, validation, and support. Contact with positive queer role models can play a big role in this stage.
- Positive self-identification. This stage entails feeling good about oneself, seeking out positive relationships with other queer folks, and feeling satisfied and fulfilled.
- Integration and Acceptance. Entails an openness and non-defensiveness (when not necessary) about one’s sexual orientation. One may be quietly open, not announcing their sexual orientation, but available for support to others nonetheless; while others may be totally comforting voicing their sexual identities.
Throughout the coming out process, it’s normal to feel a host of emotions, some of which are seemingly contradictory. For example, some of the most prevalent emotions are scared, vulnerable, exhilarated, proud, brave, confused, empowered, relieved, uncertain and affirmed.
Similarly, though, the benefits of coming out are tremendous. These emotions may include living an open and whole life; developing closer, more genuine relationships; building self-esteem; reducing the stress of hiding one’s identity; connecting with others who are LGBT, and being part of a strong community; helping to dispel myths and stereotypes about who LGBT people are becoming a role model for others, and making it easier for other LGBT people.
As brilliant poet and activist Audre Lorde once put it, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.
Dating Tips for LGBT Communities!
Here are some dating tips for people in the LGBT community—and while they are not exclusively for queer people and do not greatly different from that of heterosexuals, they may prove helpful, illuminating, and empowering (My note: I will be using the “she” pronoun, but this applies to people of all genders). The most important thing is to be forward without overdoing it.
- Flirting can be subtle, so be aware of body signals. When you’re out together, try to sit near the person you’re interested in. There are many queer bars that are very open scenes (including for straight allies) that are low-pressure scene. And so notice how she acts around you. Does she move closer or farther away to you? When you’re sitting on a couch and your thighs touch, what does she do? Does she let it stay or inch away?
- Look her in the eye when you are talking. Hold the stare for a little longer than you would during a normal conversation. This type of eye contact shows interest and comfort, and essentially opens the door for her to walk through if she is indeed interested. You can usually tell!
- A gentle touch goes a long way. If you’re sitting across from each other, gently put your hand on hers. Don’t move it away unless she does.
- Offer to get her a drink if you’re at a party or bar together. Try touching her hand or shoulder when you hand her a drink, and tell her she looks wonderful. Pay her genuine compliment.
- Find out what makes her laugh. There’s nothing like humor to cut the tension and loosen you both up. Even if your conversation is regarding something serious, a good sense of humor goes a long way!
- Send her a little note that says you enjoyed spending time together, and you just wanted to say hi and how she’s been doing, as you’ve been thinking about her. An email is acceptable, but a handwritten letter (either dropped at her door or mailed) is even better. Perhaps you feel ready to suggest dinner and a movie, or accompany you to some class of upcoming event. If you feel it would be appropriate, go for it!
- If you are shy, consider meeting someone is through a shared activity or common interest. What do you like to do? For example, if you like to read, consider joining a queer reading meet-up group; volunteer at the local homeless or animal shelter; join a women’s bike riding club; or volunteer at a queer rights organization or for a queer-supportive politician. Maybe you could consider taking a women’s or queer studies class if it’s affordable. If you meet someone you like, you’ll have something in common to talk about, and it takes the pressure off of it being a romance relationship from the jump.
- Be yourself. Don’t try to impress her with something about yourself that isn’t true.
- Set realistic expectations. Your goal should be to talk to someone, not to necessarily get her number or ask her on a date.
- It can be easier to approach someone in a small group than a gorgeous woman or man or genderqueer person standing by themselves. Call on your allies too!
- Have a business card printed up with your name and phone number that you can give to people if they ask.
- Celebrate for putting yourself out there!