I work with many young adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, agender, etc. One of the most common questions I am asked is about telling others they are LGBTQIA. Recently a client said she would rather identify as lesbian with other lesbians because there is a stigma around being bisexual with lesbians. She also said she would not want to tell guys she is bisexual because they might assume she wants to be involved in a threesome. For transgender individuals they feel compelled to tell people ahead of time if for instance they meet on internet/app dating sites. They do not want to be accused later of misleading some one. But then they are stigmatized online. Then there’s everyday life that happens. I have told some of my clients my journey about coming out and how that has changed and grown over time.
There are situations that are not appropriate for me to disclose I am married to a woman. However the older I get and the more solidified in our marriage we become (and the more of an I don’t care what you think of me attitude I develop) the less I care about correcting people. The person I was at 22 would not tell anyone at work or in everyday life I was dating a woman. I was not comfortable with it. I faced discrimination in high school, I saw my sister face discrimination. I was scared and unsure of myself. I thought telling my family and friends would be the hard part. For me, that was easy. They didn’t care. Literally no one close to me cared. They all basically said “I just want you to be happy.” I know I was lucky to be surrounded by accepting people.
I found out quickly that coming out to one’s family and friends was only the beginning. Every day of my life I am faced with the decision who and when to come out to. Every time I meet a new person I have to try and slip it in somehow, or do I? Every time I am with my sons with or without my wife we navigate questions.
Recently we moved into a new house. We had the plumber over within a week to deal with some issues. He was very nice. My sons were obsessed with handing him tools which he tolerated with a good sense of humor. At one point he asked me about their dad. I said, “Oh actually I have a wife.” He smiled and said “oh okay,” surprisingly not awkward at all, because some people get real awkward there. They start to stutter and then they often tell me how their cousin’s friend is a lesbian. Or their stepsister. Or their Aunt. I generally stare at them like they are nuts. I don’t tell straight people how many straight people I know. You don’t need to tell me your distant connections to gay people. It’s okay. But the plumber handled this all in stride, until he looked at the boys again and then he said, “So how did you get these guys?”
I sort of laughed out loud to myself in my head. I actually wanted to pull up my post on how lesbians get pregnant. But instead I smiled and said “Oh I had them,” end of discussion. He moved on, and asked if we have family around who helps. I said “Just my family, hers doesn’t talk to us because of the gay thing.” He looked genuinely sad, and said “I just don’t understand.” Then again calmly moved on in the conversation and told me we would likely need a new toilet because this one basically sucks.
He was so nice and appropriate and in the span of 5 minutes I disclosed a lot to him about my life. By him asking very general and seemingly innocent questions he hit on two very hot spots. We are gay and my wife was disowned. And those two things come up more than you would think in casual conversation. Because it’s what every one talks about. Who’s your spouse, wow you have twins, you must need a lot of help. These are all natural comments to make. Not many people are prepared for my responses. Honestly, five or ten years ago I wasn’t in a place where I could make those responses comfortably. I was younger and less sure of myself.
I still like to think of myself as young-ish being only in my early thirties. But I am more sure of myself. I told this story recently to a client because I wanted to demonstrate that while I did “out” myself it happened naturally, in the comfort of my own home, with only one other person. The middle of a Baptist church may not be the place to confirm your sexuality. There may be times in your life when you don’t feel comfortable and you don’t have to disclose to anyone. You can always say “It’s none of your business.” It may sound rude, and there are nicer ways to say it, but the message is the same. Everyone wants to be liked, and the LGBTQ community walks around with a core piece of themselves that not everyone likes. It breeds a certain amount of discomfort and fear when meeting new people.
My message to all young adults and teens questioning or firm in your own sexual identity would be to not feel pressured to say anything to any one. You can come out in your own time in your own way. Be prepared for people to become immediately awkward and embarrassed at times. Be prepared to instantly have a soft spot for some one because of how amazing they are when you come out to them. And unfortunately be prepared for negative responses. Because they happen too. I reached a point in my life though where I just don’t care about negative responses. I am who I am, I love my family to death, and I am not ashamed of myself or my family. Like I said, it’s been a decade. That’s a long time. I’ve grown a lot, and still have more growing to do. I also have been through a lot personally and professionally that made me stronger and less vulnerable to fears and insecurities. Whenever someone mentions my “husband” I correct them to wife. But that only started in the last couple years. Previously depending on who it was I wouldn’t engage in that discussion. Or I would just agree. There are certain times and places that I was not going to allow that vulnerability. It sucks that the world is like that, but it is.
For all the friends and family members of gay people just be aware that the coming out phase isn’t a phase. It’s a lifelong dilemma.