Stages of Grief and Coming Out

by Dian Reid-Jancic· Follow Dian on

You know when you’re on a plane and the flight attendants go through that whole “in the event of an emergency, put on your own oxygen mask before helping others” thing? We should roll through life this way, too.

Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing or saying or needing and take care of your damn self first. I believe this to be especially relevant to the coming out process.

“In a perfect world, I don’t think [one’s sexual orientation] is anyone else’s business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted.”

~ Anderson Cooper

If only coming out were as simple as standing up, being counted and going back to being who you are. Oh, Life …

Unfortunately, because of the strong divide in American culture around being gay, many who move through the process of coming out also move through the five stages of grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Much like going through the stages of coming out, we don’t necessarily go through the stages of grief just once or in any kind of order.

For me, some form of denial and bargaining happened first. I knew at a young age that what I felt about my girl friends wasn’t what most (or, as I believed, any) other girls felt about their girl friends. All the same, I tried to learn from them, do what they did, say what they said, feel what they felt.

I learned, I did, I said, but I never felt. Not the way they did.

I tried denying.

But even in denying myself to everyone else, I was still me. I tried to believe that I was who you said I was, but deep down, I knew. I knew I was living a lie. I knew I was not like my girl friends who got excited and SQUEEEEE’d over some new boy who’d just [insert reason girls like boys]. I knew I wasn’t like those girls. (Hey, does anyone else need an oxygen mask? I totally don’t need mine.)

I tried bargaining.

I figured if I could just find a guy I wouldn’t mind hanging out with a lot, I could make it work. The thing is, guys in a relationship don’t want to just hang out; they want to have sex. I thought that by having the sex, then the intimacy, the feelings, the desire would come naturally. I was wrong, and then it wasn’t just me who I’d hurt. (I’ll just get an oxygen mask at the next emergency.)

When bargaining didn’t work, Anger took the stage.

I wasn’t angry all the time, but I could snap on a dime. There were so many things and people on the surface to be angry with—slow traffic, a pompous customer at work, a cat that raced across my broken-nosed-face—but it all boiled down to being angry with myself for being gay and not being able to overcome it. I’d found a way to not die after my mom’s death, for crying out loud, how could I not find a way to not be gay?! (F&*K this m*&^%f*&$ing oxygen mask, it doesn’t f@#!ing work anyway!)

I imagine I went through moments of depression, but I was lucky to escape this stage relatively unscathed. At times I wished I weren’t gay just so I could be “normal” like everyone else. But then normal drowns in seas of normal while the rest of us try and stand out. (So I guess I just have to go find my own oxygen mask, huh?)

There’s a part of every single one of us that’s normal—just like everyone else—and then there’s that part of us that makes us stand out (like it or not)—just like everyone else. The only thing left for me to do once I had this realization was to accept who I was (hey, I’m a real live lesbian!) and get on with my life.

If only it were that easy.

O elusive acceptance!

This is a process that continues to unfold daily. Not just around my sexuality, but around my life as a whole. Accepting that I am a lesbian seems to be the least difficult these days of the many things there are to accept about myself. (Oxygen mask – check! Wait a second, it was just right here…)

I could go through a laundry list of the things I need to accept about me, about life, about the world in general. It would probably look eerily similar to your list, and you’d come up with reasons why the things on my list are perfectly acceptable and why accepting what’s on your list is … complicated.

Let’s stop that, okay?

Let’s make a pact right here, right now to accept all the things about ourselves that we accept in others. This is where you put on your own oxygen mask before looking around to see who else needs one.

You got this. I have faith in you.

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