Advice for the journey of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people into becoming themselves
(* a political label used to include a variety of sexual and gender minority people)
In a perfect world, there would not be any great difference for people in discovering they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, as opposed to discovering that they are heterosexual. There would be no difference in discovering they are transgendered as opposed to finding the male/female dichotomy relatively appropriate for them. In a perfect world, individuals would be given the opportunities and safety to explore and learn about their own sexual orientation and gender identity.
Instead, our society strongly enforces codes of behavior regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. Many authorities give the message, particularly to young people, that they must be heterosexual and act according to society's definition of their gender. Yet, this prescription just doesn't fit for some people in our society.
If you are questioning your sexual orientation or gender identity, you probably have already figured out that society is telling you what it wants you to be. Families, religions, and different cultural and ethnic institutions communicate expectations to us, both in direct and indirect ways, about how to be. Often as children queer people get a sense that they don't fit with society's codes. It may not be completely clear to some individuals at first in what way they don't fit; instead they feel a vague sense of difference. For transgendered people, there is usually a clear sense of gender difference at a young age. For gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons, there may be a sense of being different before puberty, along with a growing awareness of feeling attracted to the same gender or both genders. For other gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons, this awareness of attraction might not develop until later in life.
Whenever you began questioning your sexual orientation or gender identity, it can be very difficult because you can feel very isolated and alone. There are a great number of negative stereotypes about queer people. Virtually everyone is exposed to hate terms and negative remarks about gender and sexual minorities. Too many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, particularly youth, are verbally, physically, and/or sexually harassed. You can feel scared, think that no one else is like you, and even feel suicidal. It is important at this time that you get accurate information and support. Reading about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people is a way to come to understand yourself better and to replace society's prejudicial myths with facts. It also lets you learn about role models and see that you can be queer and happy. At some point, though, it becomes important to meet and talk with other people like you, including other people questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity. There are support groups, hotlines, and even pen pal organizations for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. They are a wonderful way to reduce your sense of isolation. See the resources listed at the end of this article.
Eventually you will probably want to come out to some friends or family members. Pick someone who you feel is very supportive of you for the first person you come out to. You might be aware that this person is accepting and supportive of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from things he or she has said in the past. Choose a time to talk when neither of you has to be anywhere soon and aren't likely to be interrupted. Explain that you want to tell them something about you because you are close to them and you would like their support. After you tell them about yourself, they may or may not have questions right away. Be aware that, just as your coming out to yourself was a process that took time, it will probably take some time for your friend or family member to process this information you've just given them. You two will likely talk about it over several occasions. Try to keep communication open and continuing between you.
If you are thinking about coming out to someone whose reaction you are very uncertain about, then make sure you take care of yourself and your safety. Think about when and where it would be best to come out to them. Have a plan for where you would go if this person reacted hostilely. Let a supportive ally know you are planning to come out to this person and arrange to talk to your ally afterwards about how things went.
At any point on your journey of self-discovery, it can be helpful to seek professional help and support from a counselor or therapist. At the UNH Counseling Center the staff is affirming of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people and have received training on working with these groups. There are also other university professionals who can be of real help to you, including residential life staff and other professionals who are listed at the end of this article. Make use of these services to help yourself in coming out to yourself and others.
There is much happiness and validation to be gained as you come out. Only you can open the "closet door." Reach out to others and grow into the person you truly are.