If you’re like many lesbians, coming out of the closet is a gradual process with stages that you must go through before you get to the other side. The process of coming out can be a difficult journey for many women because they can no longer ignore the homophobic attitudes of the people around them.
Typically, there are five stages in the process, although the steps may differ from one woman to the next. If you’re coming out of the closet, you will likely pass through the following stages.
Stage 1: Confusion
After realizing that you are attracted to other women, you naturally start to question your sexual orientation. This can cause a great deal of confusion as you wonder whether you’re bisexual, lesbian or just straight and confused.
Depending on your upbringing and environment, it can take years to wade through the confusion surrounding your sexual identity. Many women initially feel fearful and shocked to think they may not be hetero. They often keep their confusion under wraps to avoid the shame of being judged by others. Plus, they need to overcome their own homophobia and negative stereotypes that were learned while growing up.
Stage 2: Denial
Due to cultural conditioning, many women feel they must deny their attraction for the same sex and do everything possible to avoid having these scary feelings. These girls grow up receiving the message that they must be heterosexual and behave according to society’s definition of femininity. As a result, lesbians and bisexual girls often feel like they don’t fit into the roles expected of them by family, friends and society in general. They hide from themselves and others while going through the denial stage.
You may try to compensate for these unwanted feelings by dating a lot of men or acting promiscuously. Perhaps you try to convince yourself that if you just find the right guy, you’ll stop having these gay feelings. You might also brag to your straight female friends about your sexual escapades with men to quell any questions they have about your sexual identity.
Stage 3: Acceptance
There comes a time in every lesbian’s life when her desire to be true to herself is stronger than her desire to hide from reality. Acknowledging your feelings is a frightening prospect, especially if you’ve had little to no exposure to the LGBT community. However, once you actually admit to yourself that you’re a lesbian, your journey to acceptance can truly begin.
After you gain the courage to acknowledge your sexual identity, start to form friendships with other bisexual and lesbian women; new friendships are immensely helpful in the “coming out” process because these women will show you how fulfilling your life can be once you come out. This helps you move beyond mere acknowledgment of your sexual identity to full acceptance.
Stage 4: Decision – Deciding on the Level of Coming Out
When you’re ready to come out, think about what you want to say and try to choose the right time and place to do it. Coming out to your most open-minded friends and family members first can be a confidence booster. If you don’t get the initial reaction you’d hoped for, don’t give up hope because some people just need a little extra time to digest this kind of information. Although it might be difficult, try not to take their reaction to heart. Their negative response should never be taken as proof of your lack of value.
Just because you’ve finally accepted your sexual identity doesn’t mean you have to come out to everyone right away. The coming out process is different for every individual. You may feel like sharing this information with family and old friends right away, or you might need some more time to get comfortable with the idea. Trust your instincts and know that you are doing it the right way for you, no matter how long it takes.
Stage 5: Finding Love
Now the fun really begins. For many women, coming out as a lesbian is the most freeing experience in the world after living in the closet of shame for so long. At this stage, you feel proud of your sexual identity and truly begin to live your life authentically. This process has given you a new level of self-awareness that can improve every aspect of your life and add depth to all of your relationships, both romantic and otherwise.
Keep in mind that coming out doesn’t necessarily mean you should act on all of your fantasies and desires. It’s still important to be responsible with your sexuality and use your best judgment to stay safe before you begin experimenting. Ultimately, the goal is to find a meaningful and satisfying connection with another person. Enjoy exploring your new identity, but respect your personal boundaries in the process.