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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Coming Out as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender

The coming out process as a gay, lesbian or bisexual person is a very individual process. There is no one right way or particular age to come out. For many people, it's a challenging process that can take years and for others it's an exhilarating process that frees them to be who they are naturally without having to pretend to be heterosexual.


Coming Out as a Gay Man
Some people say that they knew that they were gay from the time they were children or teens. Many others say that they dated the opposite sex for a while, had satisfying romantic relationships as mature adults, and even got married and had children before they realized that they were gay, lesbian or bisexual.

There seems to be a misperception that most gay, lesbian and bisexual people come out in their teens. While this is true for some people, it doesn't appear to be the case for the vast majority.

Another misperception is that once a person comes out, it's a linear process that ends with that initial coming out. But, in reality, for most people, the coming out process is a life long process that changes over time as they accept their own identity, come out to friends and family, meet new people, start new jobs, and encounter new situations. For most gay or bisexual people, new people who meet them will assume that they're heterosexual. So, each time it's a matter of choosing whether or not to come out with new people and in new situations. This is very different from being heterosexual where you don't have to think about this or explain your sexual orientation. The other possibility is that a person might come out and then go back and forth, in and out of the "closet" a few times before acknowledging (or not) his or her sexual orientation.

Coming Out as a Lesbian
Usually, the coming out process starts with coming out to yourself. If you're fortunate enough to know other lesbian, gay or bisexual people or if you live in a large city where there are resources, you can usually find supportive people to talk to that won't have a negative reaction. (I've listed some resources below for people in the NYC area as well as a national hotline, if you live in other areas.) I

Coming Out as Bisexual
If you don't know anyone and you live in an area where there are either limited or no resources, it might be a matter of calling an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) hotline to talk. It's important to know that you're not alone. There are many other people who have gone through this same process and are continuing to go through this process. And it's important not to isolate. Finding support and places to socialize in your area can be affirming to your identity and emotional well-being.

The next challenge is usually coming out to family and friends. It's easier to come out to supportive family and friends first before considering coming out to others who might not be as supportive. Of course, this is always a judgement call and you might be surprised, for better or worse, how people react. It's important to realize, too, that if coming out is a process for you, it might also be a process for your family and friends to see you in a new way. They might need time to understand what this means to you and to your relationship with them.

Coming out on the job can present a particular challenge for many people. Even if you live in a city like New York, where there are laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation, it doesn't mean that you won't be discriminated against, sometimes in subtle ways, or that your employer will feel comfortable with your sexual orientation. Your employer should only be taking into consideration your work performance, but the law doesn't control people's personal likes or dislikes. And actually proving discrimination, of any kind, can be difficult. If you're in a relationship, there's the question of how to talk about your partner or how comfortable you feel inviting your partner to company events. Again, this is another choice and what you decide can have repercussions for your relationship. Some people have the attitude that they're out to everyone and they feel this makes their life easier because they don't want to have to think about it all the time in each situation. As previously mentioned, other people choose when and where to be out.

Coming out is a complex issue and one post cannot possibly cover all the topics involved. I've touched on some of the main coming out issues. If you need further assistance, please see the resource list that I've provided towards the end of this post.

If you're gay or bisexual and you're thinking about seeing a psychotherapist, whether it's specifically for coming out issues or not, it's important to find a therapist who is gay affirmative and has experience working with gay, lesbian and bisexual clients. If you're not sure, you can ask. You don't want to see a therapist who has an agenda to "change" your sexual orientation or who views being gay or bisexual as a disorder. Even though the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from their list of mental health disorders more than 25 years ago, there are still a minority of therapists who either don't understand or, for their own reasons, continue to see homosexuality as a psychological disorder.

Some people want to know if their psychotherapist is gay or bisexual and others don't want to know anything about their therapists. Usually, therapists don't divulge a lot about themselves because the therapy is supposed to be focused on you and not them, but if it's important for you to have a therapist that you know is either gay or bisexual, ask prospective therapists that you meet for consultations.

Hopefully, your coming out process will be a happy and meaningful experience. But if you need help, don't be afraid to ask.

The following is a resource list primarily for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals as well as a national organization called PFLAG for families and friends.

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Resources:

In NYC:

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Center: http://www.gaycenter.org/

Identity House: http://www.identityhouse.org/

Gay Men's Health Crisis: http://www.gmhc.org/

Audre Lorde Project: http://www.alp.org/

Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE): http://www.sageusa.org/

Nation-wide:

GLBT National Help Center: http://www.glbtnationalhelpcenter.org/
1-888-843-4564

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG): http://www.pflag.org/

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist. One of my specialties is working with lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals and couples, including people who are going through the coming out process.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW

To set up a consultation, please call me at (212) 726-1006.


Top photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

Middle photo credit: LatinaPower2009 via photopin cc

Bottom photo credit: CharlesFred via photopin cc


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