Everyday I get an email from a reader struggling with coming out or even questioning their sexuality. Confused and lost searching for answers. It upsets me to know how many of us feel alone and with more barriers and walls in front of us in discovering who we are then is needed.
Coming out is stressful issue in an LGBT’s life and that can cause us to make poor decisions. Finding your sexual identity is crucial in being a healthy person, understanding the process even more so. Dealing with that stress may be to go through the transformational process and find ways to stay healthy.
I am going to briefly describe the stage of finding ones identity, so as to provide a guide. Now you may not experience these in order and do not compare the stage as one is no better than the other. Just because you find yourself in stage 3 and not 5 does not mean you are any less mature or “underdeveloped.”
1. Identity Confusion: In this stage you may experience denial or confusion regarding your feelings of attraction and sense of self. Using alcohol, drugs and other substances (AODs) to manage the fears of being homosexual may occur at this stage. Also individuals in crisis in this stage may use AODs to numb their sexual feeling for the same sex.
2. Identity Comparison: In emotional pain and still confused, contemplation occurs at this stage for the same sex attraction. You may feel vulnerable and exposed and use AODs to help with the anxiety.
3. Identity Tolerance: There is some settling on the idea that one is gay in this stage “I could be a lesbian?”
Questioning and slowly knowing this could lead to feelings of isolation. This is a stage where you may seek out other LGBTs and want to explore the LGBT culture and community. If growth continues in this stage ones self-image may change to “I am a lesbian.” For some of us we may first identify as bisexual before admitting we are gay, simply as it is more socially acceptable, and that is okay.
4. Identity Acceptance: Creating experiences and connecting further with LGBTs to normalize the new self.
However this can lead to more AOD use and even abuse in order to socialize and meet potential partners as there is a fragile sense of self and our LGBT status is still shaping and vulnerable. Also this may be a time where disclosure is made to another of one’s homosexuality, which could lead to anger and abandonment therefore more AOD use!
5. Identity Pride: During this stage there is an acceptance of how we feel about our sexuality and the rejection of society.
Anger may be felt here towards the straight world and you may reject the dominant heterosexual world. Many will become active in the LGBT community and form alliances with others who share their view and fight for equality.
6. Identity Synthesis: There is an integration here of the homo and hetero world. Anger and the rejection of society lessen and we become less fueled by anger.
Our homosexuality has become incorporated with other parts of who we are. If you have been drinking and drugging heavily through the coming out process it may be difficult to get to this point, and many problems may have developed by now in our life due to the choice of coping with AODs.
The less positive your self-identity, the harder it will be to build self-esteem and intimacy with others.
Finding the right fit with your sexuality will allow room for growth and self-worth. When you have negative sense of self which could be an identity disorder you are more likely to seek out relationships with partners that reinforce your sense of worthlessness.
All the identity confusion, drinking, drugging and any other forms of abuse could lead to three kinds of isolation.
The first one being cognitive isolation, where there is a lack of information about the LGBT community, how same-sex couples function, how long they stay together, how they determine gender roles, and how they solve relationship issues.
The second is social isolation. Here there is a lack of contact with positive role models which in turn reinforces negative beliefs that our society places on LGBTs. Unfortunately there are not many LGBT role models to grow from as many of us with extreme potential and knowledge live closeted or are indifferent on giving back to the community at large.
Emotional isolation is the last one, poor social support and few resources lead to unhealthy behavior and poor self-esteem which creates a dysfunctional, stressful living conditions and a lonely community.
That is why it is so important and pressing that we encourage coming out, building stronger connections to each other, and building a healthier community with abundant resources and role models to help our future and our future families.
Coming out should be a celebration of your true identity being unveiled and released into the world, and it’s difficult without the right individuals leading the way and supporting the process.
I wish there were a more beautiful and transformational term to refer to the process of developing and sharing your sexual orientation. I believe if it were a more affirmative term it would create a more positive and hopeful experience. Words have a powerful and energetic effect on people when said, thought, and expressed.