For many people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), coming out of the closet is a huge moment in their lives — and also sometimes one of the most nerve-wracking. It can be so tough and scary that it’s easy to forget that it gets better.
I didn’t come out until I was 19. While some people knew they were LGBT for years but just took a while to admit it, for me it really took me a process to even realize I was a lesbian, never mind tell anyone about it. Looking back now, it feels like I was the last person to know!
Even from when I was really young, sometimes I’d get nervous and have a weird feeling in my stomach when I saw a pretty lady, but I didn’t know that that feeling was called “attraction.” Being raised in a hetero-normative world (with a religious upbringing for which I was ingrained with the belief of homosexuality being wrong and unnatural), I just assumed that the feeling I had when I was around guys was what “attraction” was.
Meanwhile, I saw most of my guy friends as brotherly figures to hang out with. I always got along better with guys than girls: we’d play ball, manhunt, climb trees, get lost in the woods — all of which was much more appealing to me than getting dressed up, playing with makeup, or getting my nails done.
In middle and high school locker rooms, I’d always felt so awkward and would stare at the floor when I walked in because I didn’t want any of the girls to even accuse me of looking at them and call me gay.
For the longest time, I would feel super uncomfortable even being around gay people because I was taught they were gross, sinning, sex-crazed people. I couldn’t accept even the thought that the way I felt on the inside was actually this type of person that I’d been discriminating against my whole life. It took me a long time to realize and admit that I was wrong.
When people would ask if I had a boyfriend, the answer was always “No,” and that I just hadn’t met the right guy yet. Even after going on a few casual dates with guys, it always felt awkward and unnatural. I soon realized that if I got intoxicated somehow, that I wouldn’t have all that noise in my head about how awkward I felt. As long as I had some drinks in me, I could try to convince myself that nothing was wrong.
Maybe something more…
It wasn’t until getting into college that I really started to be more aware that this might be more than a coincidentally timed stomach ache every time I was around a lady I liked.
I started hanging around some people that were part of the LGBT community and would do some “undercover research” and ask them about their story, how they knew they were gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender, when they came out, etc.
I would read about the LGBT community, which in my mind I justified as just a way of understanding them more. I’d watch some movies featuring gay characters and even went down to my local LGBT center’s coming out groups, just stating I was there to learn, not to share or come out myself. (Looking back, I’m sure they knew.)
Finding a safe space
At one of the support groups I went to I found a mentor in this older, gay gentleman named Daniel. Maybe I saw him a bit like a grandfather figure. He was safe for me, and I think I subconsciously felt like just maybe he could help me figure out what was going on with all these feelings I was having.
Long story short, he did. He was patient and didn’t push me to come out, but just listened and shared his experience, giving me the open, safe space to find myself. Years later, I can’t imagine what my life would look like without him, and he remains one of the most important people in my life, both as a life coach and as a friend.
The one thing that stands out most from what he told me was how by not being honest about who I love, I was actually hiding the most beautiful part of myself. That really hit home for me.
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It was still super hard to come out because I thought all my friends and family would just see me as this sex-crazed girl that I always thought gay people were.
So, I kind of came out in stages. First, I tried to just be okay with the possibility that if I was gay, I could be okay with it. I wasn’t saying that I was, but that somehow, if I was convinced that that being gay was my truth, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Then, I was on a feverous search for evidence. If I was actually gay, I needed proof. I needed hard facts about myself being a lesbian that I couldn’t deny even if I wanted.
The reality was that the proof was there the whole time; I just didn’t want to see it. Even thinking back to grade school, I remember feeling a weird way about my female teachers and not fitting in with the other girls.
Finally telling someone
The first person I told was my grandma. I was so scared because I valued her opinion so much; I have so much respect for her. I remember shaking and studdering as I told her. And her response was so casual, “Well, yea! Good!” She taught me how I don’t need to explain myself to anyone about being gay. It doesn’t need an explanation or a reason; it’s just who I am.
She gave me the courage to tell the rest of my family and friends.
I was probably the most nervous to tell my one good friend, Jenna. I really valued our friendship and was so afraid that she wouldn’t want to be associated with me, or that things would go sour and get awkward between us. I remember telling her one day after we had an awesome afternoon hanging out. I was so afraid. When I finally told her, she was above all else honored to be my friend and someone that I trusted enough to be that open and honest with…and she said she kind of figured all along.
My dad had a reaction that he was okay with it, but he didn’t think God saw it as right. Instead of arguing about it, I just let that be that. And now, years later, he’s fully supportive of me, my partner (whom he treats like one of his own children), and just wants me to be happy. I think a lot of times people forget that as much time as it takes for the LGBT person to internally process their feelings and come out, it can also take friends and family time to process it too. Don’t rush their process of acceptance.
What I’ve learned through coming out is that lying or being in denial (to yourself or others) about your sexual identity isn’t just one thing you’re being dishonest about — it’s actually putting your whole being in the shadows. Coming out is more than just being real about who I love or find attractive — it shows up in how I live my daily life in that I can feel free and unafraid to be myself.
I also remember seeing coming out as such a huge hurdle, but in reality, once you come out to those key people in your life, you don’t really need to have many of those big “coming out” conversations anymore. From then, you’re just living daily life as your authentic self. New people you meet know you as someone who is free and accepting of yourself. And the peace and joy that comes from that can be a source of hope to other people as well.