Jan Thompson, CPC, ELI-MP, is a Certified Professional Life Coach. During Jan’s education as an MSW student at NYU, she discovered coaching’s solution-focused approach and changed career paths. Besides being a certified coach, Jan has trained in Humanistic Neuro Linguistic Psychology, and has her certification in Conversational Hypnosis (member of National Guild of Hypnotists) She does most of her consultations on the phone or Skype, but is happy to schedule in-person sessions for a small room fee for those residing in New York City. Jan also volunteers at IdentityHouse.org, co-facilitating coming out groups and working at the walk-in center.
We are not our history, our problems or our diagnosis, we are an ever-changing and evolving being full of potential. It is the choices we make and what we choose to create that define who we are in this moment. I work with clients on changing the story they tell themselves to create the life they want.
The tagline says ‘We never stop coming out…’ and I believe this to be true. I came out as a teenager, at first because my mother found a love letter from my girlfriend, and later by choice to live an open and free life. The latter half of my senior year, my Oklahoma high school became a daily battle ground of snarling name calling and broken car windows, and I felt constantly threatened. I persevered because I had a few good friends, a (somewhat at the time) supportive family, and a loving and brave girlfriend. Amidst having food thrown at our heads in the cafeteria we managed to hold hands through lunch, even bringing an unlit candelabra as a table setting one day, as if to say “Oh yeah, we’re impervious to your petty sh*t.” While there was obviously anger, I tried to keep a firm stance of passive resistance.
One of the things that inspired me the most to get through this time was the opportunity to make a difference by being out, visible and proud. Years later other gay students from my high school have contacted me on Facebook to thank me, so I know now that it did impact other people’s lives. Even though I have been out for years (battle scars and all), I still need to come out frequently, whether it be at networking events or a friend’s birthday party when I meet a stranger. Depending on who the person is that doesn’t know me, I may or may not share my sexuality, but I am generally open if I feel safe. It’s easier to come out when you have a partner, because you can just say, “My girlfriend and I did this…” I don’t bother to say it if it doesn’t naturally come up in conversation. I don’t feel the need to proclaim it, but I don’t hide it either.
One of my passions is working with people who are in the process of coming out, particularly women. I know what a struggle it can be–whether due to internal and external forces. My work with Identity House in New York City has given me a breadth of experience in working with lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and people in the midst of coming out as a new orientation or gender. There is usually a lot of shame and guilt surrounding coming out. We are so afraid to hurt our families and feel guilty about that. We are often ashamed of the feelings we have and may even wish they would go away. Acceptance of your new identity is a process, and realizing you are a mosaic of many different identities, of which this is one fraction, can help keep you balanced. We work to integrate your newly found sexual identity into your whole persona and visualize what you want to create in your “new gay life.”
Sometimes we may feel irritated with all the questions we receive when we come out. People will often want to know when you first discovered this about yourself, and how you know you’re gay if you’ve never slept with a woman, if that’s the case. These can be challenging and it may be appropriate to kindly point out their heterosexual privilege in the scenario. Without being snarky you could gently say, “Those are difficult questions for me to answer. When did you first discover you were straight and how did you know for sure?” Try to be patient and answer as best you can, remembering this is new to them too.
Occasionally the annoying questions reach a new peak, “What do women do with each other anyway?” They mean sexually, but I suppose one could retort, “You know, go to the movies, out to dinner, the usual stuff.” The question can be disrespectful, because often there is an unspoken commentary in it that asks “Without a penis, what good is sex?” Answering the question is somewhat difficult because after all, lesbianism can’t be reduced to a series of sexual positions. If it’s a close friend I would sit down and explain some mechanics if they lacked the imagination. If it’s not, I might retort “Who do I look like, Dr. Ruth?” and then recommend they go buy a manual or visit YouTube if they really want to know. One woman I know said, “It’s different every time, my partner and I don’t always do the same thing… and it’s often very emotional. I didn’t feel that emotional with a man.” That is probably TMI for the cab driver who is hitting on me and just found out I’m a lesbian. (I learned not to bother coming out to them.) And hey, I don’t ask him what he does in bed with his wife. Often this type of question doesn’t deserve a thoughtful answer.