Coming Out: An Overview

by Dian Reid-Jancic· Follow Dian on

A few weeks over a cup of tea and some snacks, I talked with Lisa Mae Brunson, author and Spiritual/Creative Collaborator, Extraordinaire, and she shared with me a bit of her coming out process. I’ll be interviewing her in April and sharing some specifics, but in the meantime, I wanted to talk about some of what our conversation sparked in me.

When it comes to Coming Out, I believe we’re always in one of these camps, or a combination thereof:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Questioning
  3. Self Realization
  4. Saying the Words Out Loud
  5. Living Authentically

Since I can’t speak for anyone else (and Lisa’s story will tell itself in good time), I’ll use myself as an example in each of these areas.

Curiosity.

When I was eight years old I knew there was something different about me, even if I didn’t know exactly what it was. I spent the early years of my adolescence in quiet exploration of my sexuality because to be different—or even to ask questions—was “frowned upon” in my family, as I suspect was the case in many families of my generation. In elementary school I played “house” with both boys and girls—boys because that’s what the other girls were doing, and girls because that’s what felt natural to me. I wondered what it felt like to kiss a girl, to hold hands with a girl, to love a girl, to be with a girl, even if I couldn’t yet put it into those terms.

Before I ever thought about coming out of a closet (or even knowing there was a closet to come out of), I was curious about my likes and dislikes, my wants and desires, and who my internal compass drew me to. I didn’t yet understand who I was or what I wanted, let alone what to do about it, but I was curious about all these things, just the same.

In the midst of my curiosity, I found that my inner explorations led me to being attracted to the same sex, sometimes being attracted to both sexes, and sometimes even feeling a sense of oppositeness to my physical sexuality. I wondered, since I was attracted to girls and only boys were “supposed” to be attracted to girls, if my insides just didn’t match my outsides.

When I was twelve years old I would put a wad of toilet paper in my underwear to create a bulge and see if anyone thought I was a boy. Only once in my adolescence did I ever get mistaken for a boy, and that was due to a short haircut, not a wad of toilet paper stuffed down my pants. In time I grew to understand of myself that I felt like a girl on the inside, I just didn’t find myself attracted to boys unless my friends told me I should be. It took a lot of questioning myself (and years) to come to that understanding.

Questioning.

Questioning sounds a lot like curiosity, but in the context of this article, I’m looking at “curiosity” as exploration and wonderment, and “questioning” as asking specific questions around the findings of those explorations. So when I was questioning, I was asking myself, “Am I really gay?” “Am I really a girl on the inside and not on the outside?” and “Can I really be attracted to both sexes?”

I tried to figure out the answers on my own before involving anyone else in either the question or the answer. Part of that was wanting to understand myself before trying to explain it to anyone else. Greater than that, though, was my fear of being different and the intuitive notion that a girl who “LIKE-likes” other girls would not be accepted by my family. I spent the entirety of my junior high and high school years questioning whether I was a lesbian or bisexual, or if I really did “LIKE-like” girls or if it was just a phase I was going through. It wasn’t until I was out of high school, out of my father’s house, and on my own that I came to any kind of self-realization about the answers to those questions.

Self-Realization.

My palms were sweaty, my heart raced. I stared at the computer screen, nearly in disbelief at hitting the “submit” button on Yahoo! Personals. I’d never looked for a date with a guy this way, so how did I find myself posting something in the Women Seeking Women section? At the time it seemed a safe way to explore my sexuality in its physical state and move past the awkward kiss and heavy petting with a close friend of mine. For days, weeks, months, her lips and body were all I could think about. I knew she didn’t feel the same about me, and still I couldn’t stop thinking about her. She wasn’t the first girl I thought about making out with, just the first I allowed myself to make a move on (if I can even call the fumbling I did that night “making a move”). And still, in all its awkwardness, it felt right. For the first time in my life, being intimate with another person made sense. Being with a woman made sense to my head, my heart, my body, my being. I guess it was wanting more of that feeling that had me posting a WSW profile online.

For some, the questioning and the curiosity lead them to the realization that they’re gay. For others, it takes years of wondering and trying on different experiences. For me, it took a single experience—mere milliseconds—to know that I had always been and would always be a lesbian. Saying that out loud and actually honoring myself in that…well that took a bit longer.

Until I found my voice, I would continue my explorations and questioning and realizations via the privacy of my own mind and the Internet.

Saying the Words Out Loud.

Most friends took the news well. Some wondered if I’d ever been attracted to them, some wondered why I hadn’t told them sooner, while others still seemed indifferent to the news and went on being my friend as if nothing had changed. I didn’t realize that even after I spoke the initial words to friends and family and others that I would still need to talk about my coming out. I thought that coming out was something you did once, and then you just go on living life, happily ever after. Reality was not so kind.

Years passed before I understood how helpful it was to talk about my varied experiences in coming out, and before realizing that coming out is an ongoing life-long process. Telling my father was different than telling my best friend. Which were both different than telling my boss. Which were all different from telling my grandmother. There were the different people that made coming out different, and then there was me.

I’m constantly: curious about who I am; asking questions; in self-realization; saying things out loud and repeating the process all over again—and not necessarily in that order.

In that process, I’ve found that saying the words is just not enough. Saying the words puts them out into the air, where they dissipate as quickly as they’re spoken. Actually living those words, loving those words, being those words, that takes a different kind of commitment. A commitment (also life-long) to living authentically.

Living Authentically.

This has been the tricky one for me. First I began living authentically with my close friends. It took years for me to be honest and authentic with all of my family members, coming out to them one by one. It was a slow process. Then came friends of friends and coworkers. Then came strangers. Then came Potential employers and clients. Each time it got a little easier, but the fear hasn’t completely gone away.

I still fear what some will think every now and then; I’m human. It’s nothing like the first time I spoke my truth, though. Part of that is practice and part of that is knowing myself better. Part of it is also talking about my experience with others. I learn from what others experience just as much as I learn from my own coming out experiences. I take a conversation you had with your parents and apply it to a conversation I have with the Wildcat’s parents. I take an interaction I overhear at a restaurant and apply it to a situation at work. I take my life experiences and apply them to coaching sessions.

It’s all about learning and growing.

::

The Space Between

Then of course, there’s the space between each of these stages. For me that space tends to be filled with fear and hiding. I lived in fear for much of my twenties. Fear of being found out. Fear of being abandoned. Fear of being unloved. Fear of being me. And so I hid. From my friends, my family, my coworkers, my self. Sometimes I still find myself in hiding, and I need to step out of fear and into one of the spaces above.

I need to be curious about the fear and the hiding (or whatever’s in the space between me and who I want to be). I need to ask questions. To come to self-realizations. Speak the words out loud. Live my life authentically.

::

What’s Next.

In the coming weeks there’s more to come on this and surrounding topics. I’ll be posting a short video series on Coming Out, going in-depth on each topic above. I’ll be sharing an interview with Lisa Mae on her coming out experience, and explore resources for coming out at age thirty-something. I’ll have a few guest posts exploring similar and complementary areas. And maybe even a few more surprises.

If you have questions, experiences to share, or would like to contribute your own story, please share in the comments below or shoot me an email. I dig conversation, yo.

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