Lesbian or Queer?

We’ve had discussions on the blog about what to call ourselves, which can be particularly daunting when you are first coming out. A label might not sound right to you or you may even have some negative stereotypes associated with it that you’re unaware of consciously. Below is a good post on the difference between using “Lesbian” or the more umbrella term of “Queer” as an identifier.

I like what one person said about the label “Queer” transcending stereotypes, which they felt as empowering. There can be much “to do” about identity politics, which some believe is just over-intellectualizing a non-hetero experience, when at the root of it all, it’s simply about who we are attracted to and who we love.

What are your thoughts about labels? Let us know what you think even if it’s “What’s the big deal?”

http://feministing.com/2010/06/16/whats-the-difference-between-lesbian-and-queer/

Rainbow hugs,
Jan

The Marriage Naysayers

The stats are in and just look at that huge spike in the number of people who are coming out on FB since the Supreme Court marriage decision in June of 2015! [See graph] I’ve been fighting for marriage equality since the early days when HRC wasn’t even on board. They felt it was pushing for “too much, too soon” and it was better to fight for civil unions. Fortunately for all of us they were eventually persuaded by grass roots organizations like Marriage Equality USA and Marriage Equality New York.

I had conversations with many people in our community who didn’t want marriage equality because they believed it was entering into a “heterosexist institution.” All I can say is, look at what this has done for people’s pride in standing up for who they are. We are no longer riding at the back of the bus. Perhaps we always knew our love was equal, but now it’s legal.

Some queer folk say we will use our unique gay culture as we become more and more accepted in society. I think some unique elements will remain since we will always enjoy those moments when we can steal away from mainstream society to be with one another. Will our numbers grow as we become more accepted? Will gay culture be not 10% but 20% of society some day, simply because people won’t be afraid to embrace it? Or does nature balance us out around 10% just enough to keep the population under control. (Um, memo to nature, with the gay baby boom this isn’t exactly working.)

What do you think, dear reader? Does the legalization of marriage help with coming out? Do you feel we will lose our queer culture? Post your thoughts below.

Coming to Terms : Part 2

We are complex beings and fall into many different “categories,” one of which is our sexuality. This is Emily’s story with labels…

“While many of the people in my coming out group have a hard time with the term, I claim “lesbian” as a sexy word. It is also my preferred word when coming out to others [over gay, queer and certainly homosexual]. Yet, most people respond back to me with gay or homosexual, which I find interesting. I think it says more about their culture and the words they are used to hearing in that culture. My mother barely squeaked out the word lesbian after I repeatedly used it the night I came out to my parents.

For many to whom I have come out, gay is associated with a negative connotation. Perhaps I preference lesbian precisely because it isn’t A) spoken and B) used negatively. I am free of the baggage because I am introducing a “new” word; I get to define/model/teach what that word means rather than one putting me into a box that’s already full of their ideas].

I also had a very positive introduction to the word lesbian. A dear friend came out to me by saying she is lesbian. She and I are both deeply influenced by 2nd wave feminism and call things as they are: lesbian. vagina. breast. etc. For centuries society silenced anything remotely close to female sexuality. So we ended up with a psyche that couldn’t name our own body parts without sounding and feeling dirty. I don’t want that for the next generation. By using lesbian or vagina, I normalize it. I also think my choice to use lesbian is where I am at right now: I am not interested in men.”

~ Emily

Thanks for guest blogging Emily!

Emily is the co-facilitator of our coming out group, and in the process of coming out herself, she is able to share real-time experiences with the group in a supportive framework. Have you had any specific people in your life that have had positive or negative influences on the terms that you choose to use? If you do have a negative connotation with a term, how might you reclaim it?

Coming Out Day: When in doubt, validate…?

Hey everyone,

Yes, it is coming out day here in the land of the free, home of the brave. If anyone reading this decides to tell someone today, know that your lesbian sisters are here for you. If the fear and reasons not to tell someone feel too great, we are also here for you. NO JUDGEMENT. This stuff is not for sissies and you are loved either way.

I liked Anu’s concept of “assuming the best” as a powerful context from which to react. But what does it take I wonder to mentally make that leap and assume that someone will be a supportive parent, sibling, friend…? (To do “the right thing”)  If they are not supportive, how will you respond to them in a powerful way that protects yourself, yet doesn’t make them wrong?

Sometimes making someone else wrong and being angry may feel like the most powerful stance at the time. (We’ve all felt how good self-righteous anger can feel.) Go there in the moment if you must — sometimes it’s all we can do. But remember the high road, which is the knowledge that we have all had time to adjust to our new identity. Shouldn’t we offer someone else the same courtesy? This doesn’t mean we lose our center of power. In fact, when genuinely embodied there is no more powerful place from which to speak.

What has worked for me in tough situations like this is validation.  You can validate the person without agreeing with them, “Yes, I know how hard it can be to see someone you love in a new light. You may feel as if you don’t know me. I struggled with this myself in the beginning, but I assure you I’m the same person. This is just one aspect of me and it feels good and right… and I want you to know that I’m happy.” (Or something along those lines…)

Of course if they could be happy for you, that would just be the icing on the cake, but give them some space and time.  If there’s a religious reason you might say that you had to do a lot of soul searching yourself, but you realized (for example) Jesus actually never spoke out against homosexuals… (but I digress!)  I have found that engaging in a debate (religious or otherwise) with the person at this time will not be productive in any way.  Simply tell them that they are entitled to their beliefs as you are to yours, and that you will pray for them. (Sorry I couldn’t resist that last prayer bit, say what feels authentic to you!)  The most important thing is to stay within your power center which comes from a place of unconditional love, not a place of shame or blame.

Rainbow hugs,
Jan

“Gender preference does not define you. Your spirit defines you!”

Coming to Terms : Part 1

It can be difficult to pin down something as complex as sexuality in just a single term. “Gay, bi, lesbian, pansexual, demisexual…” We are fluid beings (some of us more than others) and our labels may reflect that and change from time to time. This is Jenn’s story with labels…

“With every ounce of shame, guilt, and dependence on my former self that I shed, I am constantly bumping into newer versions of myself, and, consequently, the labels become easier to navigate.

When my coming out process first began in June of 2014, I was adamant about not wanting to be labeled, for I was certain it was not fair to compartmentalize my sexual orientation into one box or another. I was against “labeling,” because, and I say this retrospectively now, I was still struggling with coming out and revealing my truth. While in the throes of disclosing this recently raw, authentic self, naming my sexuality was the least of my problems.

A 60+ year old radical mentor of my ginger girlfriend claimed that it took her many years of clearly annunciating the word “lesbian” in a mirror before she became truly at ease with connecting her sexuality to that term. She knew she liked girls, but calling herself a lesbian was too daunting a task because of the legal, political, social, and emotional implications the term implied, particularly when she came out over forty years ago.

I came out at 38 years old while I was in a (dwindling) straight 13 year-long marriage, including two amazing daughters, an exceptionally hyper dog, a tabby kitty, and even a multi-colored Betta! So, you, my imagined reader, may correctly assume it is an understatement to say that people in my life were not only outraged and shocked at my reveal, but, instantly, they implored me to name my sexuality:

“Well, then, what are you?!”
“So, now you’re a lesbian? All of a sudden? Just like that?”
“Are you bi? You must be bi because you were married, right?”
“Are you straight but you just like to fool around with girls?”
“Wait. You’re gay? You’re not gay. You’re bi. Are you bi? Wait. What are you?”
“Tell me.”
“Tell me.”
“Tell me!!”

No.

To their probing I often replied, “No clue” or “I don’t know WHAT I am” as though I was considered a mere, filthy spec of some outrageous life form though not quite human at all.

Or, at times, when my mother or cousin or best friend asked what I “was,” I’d breathe deeply and simply respond, “Jenn.”

After being out for over a year now, the struggle to name my sexuality exists, though the debilitating anxiety I experience every time I am asked to put my love in a box and stamp some word on it has greatly lessened. I play around with terminology, though presently I prefer “dyke” (for its grunge, in your face-fuck you!, and, in my mind, relation to the “type” of women I’m into), “queer” (an umbrella term that’s a bit radical and covers all sexualities), “gay” (though this term has historically been used negatively and in connection with queer males), and, yes, sometimes “lesbian.”

The more sexually and emotionally secure I become, the clearer I am able to envision what term suits me best and what I feel comfortable with. I am beginning to recognize my ability to identify what feels right to me, and that recognition is exhilarating!”

~ Jenn

Thanks for guest blogging Jenn!

What terms do you the reader feel comfortable with? Are there any terms still make you want to run for the hills? What is it about them that makes you feel that way? What do you associate with that term and where did that association come from?

Can we really rank our sexuality?

I was talking with some colleagues about the difference between the Kinsey test and the Klein grid this week, and looked online to research it a bit further. There are many tests we can take to help determine our sexuality and for people just coming out it may help remove some of the confusion. But I often find these tests even more confounding, because let’s face it, sexual orientation is just not as cut and dried as we want it to be. We are fluid beings, and perhaps that’s a beautiful thing. So even though I identify as a lesbian, I am not 100% off the chart as a lesbian. I have known some women who are, but I fall somewhere close to the coveted gold star but slightly tarnished. LOL.

I mentioned to some of the women in my coming out group this week that I thought pan-sexuality seemed like the most evolved choice that anyone could make. I worried later that saying this would confuse them, but they seemed undaunted. Getting philosophical here, this was just a half-formed opinion of mine, based on the idea that loving a human being for who they are at the level of personality and perhaps the soul seems to be more in line with our higher self. While I can hold pan-sexuality as an ideal, my reality is much different. Lust I realize is not based on ideals, but on raw human sexual energy.

While most people can recognize that bodies of all genders can all be attractive, it is our energies (butch/femme, top/bottom, lead/follow, giver/taker, sweet/salty, and on and on) that have so much to do with attraction. Energy can be both ephemeral and hard to define. It is that spark we feel, that electric heat that shoots down our body. So let’s face it, how we react to these energies just isn’t something we can control. For me, I find the energy of a man to be too in polarity with mine and I enjoy the subtle energy play between two females better. I have no better way to describe this as the reason why I am gay. (Not that I need to give a reason any more than a heterosexual does, damnit.)

So is our sexuality really a choice? I don’t have a clear answer to that, nor do scientists though they have tried to prove there is a gay gene. The only thing I know for sure is that we are at the mercy of energies that play upon us and lure us into our sweet attraction.

What are the various energies in which you show up in your life? We may be “butch on the streets, but femme in the sheets” as the saying goes. Comment below about what you have noticed about your own energy and others.

10 Reasons to love Coming Out Support Groups

If you live in a large city that offers coming out support groups, I recommend taking advantage of them.  If you don’t have an in-person support group, the next best thing is a telephone support group (see resources.)  There are things a support group can offer you that a one-on-one session with a therapist cannot, though I recommend doing both if possible.

Peer support groups can be extremely powerful in the following ways:

  1. It’s important to know you’re not alone on your journey.
  2. There is enormous acknowledging and validating going on —  you’re all in the same boat with similar goals and you each have very similar struggles.  When you’re sharing your story, your other peer members are usually nodding their heads saying “That totally makes sense, that happens to me too!”  They may even chime in with “This is what worked for me when I was in that situation…”
  3. The facilitator or peer coach can help show you the “path beyond” when you are stuck.  It helps to have someone there that has been through it all before because they know there is an opening on the other side.  There is no way out, but through–and they will be the fearless leader walking by your side as you make your journey.
  4. There is great “peer wisdom” to be shared. Even in the midst of a struggle or emergence, there is a great wisdom that is generated within the group. Often the group will run itself without the need for the facilitator to interject.
  5. The peer group holds each other accountable to their greatness.  They call each other on “playing small” and encourage each other to create a life that will bring them joy.
  6. Your peers get to know you in many ways your family and friends may not because you’re talking in-depth about a subject that you typically aren’t sharing with many other people.  There is a bond or closeness that is created that can be like no other, particularly when in person, but phone is really good too.
  7. You laugh and you cry in group. It is a great release of all the pent up emotions you have been feeling.
  8. You can set goals if you want in group, but you will come out (or not) at your own pace with gentle encouragement.
  9. Homophobia tends to get nipped in the bud when the bond between you and your peers starts to form.  You respect and care so much for the other people in the group (who are also coming out) so how can you look down on gay people?  Some of the homophobia may have been engrained since childhood, so we work on that over time.  But a large part of the self loathing involved in coming out tends to melt away amidst the love of your peers.
  10. You may make friends for life.  Even if they turn out to be shorter term relationships, you are in the process of building a very important support network.

In our support groups we laugh and we cry.  But above all we are there for each other week after week, and we accept each other no matter the decision.

Coming Out While Married

One of the most challenging situations to come out in the midst of is a heterosexual marriage.  Add children to the mix and the guilt can be excruciating.  This is not a rare occurrence I have discovered, so how does one deal with all the ensuing pain and guilt?  And how do you create a new lesbian or bisexual lifestyle and still maintain your straight friendships and close familial ties?  There is no simple answer, but the best advice I can offer is to join an LGBTQ or divorce support group, and find a gay-friendly therapist or coach, because girlfriend, you are in for a journey.  In the best of all worlds, sign up for all of the above and see what works best for you.  You cannot have too much support at this time!
 
Recently I have been meeting women who understandably afraid to leave their marriage nest, and some who are in the midst of a painful separation, finding it difficult to say goodbye to their old life.  It requires great reserves of strength to give up the life you’ve known and venture out like a vagabond into unknown territory.  You may feel that you don’t have the right to bring your children on such a “selfish adventure.”  You may tell yourself all sorts of unkind things, but be assured that honoring your true nature is not a selfish act.  It is the trailhead to discovering your true path and purpose. Only by being true to ourselves can we begin to be truly there for others and really make a difference in the world.
 
Take heart that I’ve also spoken with many women on the other side, who have created a wonderful new life for themselves, but it took time and a commitment to the goal of finding deep connection, love and intimacy within relationship.  Sometimes it helped to know that by being true to themselves they were teaching their children how to do the same.  Being a role model to your children, the neighbors, the world is a very powerful framework from which to gain strength.
 
Sometimes we may feel the “vagabond adventure” would be too disruptive of our children’s lives, but people get divorced all the time and manage to cope with overturning the apple cart.  Sometimes we do not have the financial independence to leave.  We may be dependent on our husband, particularly if we have been staying at home and raising the children for years. We may feel we won’t be able to provide for ourselves or our children sufficiently if we venture out on our own.  What steps can you take to help prepare for your journey now?
  • Do you want to learn some new skills to be able to provide for yourself and your children if you have been dependent on your husband?
  • What laws do you need to research in terms of child custody to make you feel safer about being able to keep your children?
  • What kind of emotional support system do you need to have in place to come out?  Is there someone you can tell that you know will love you no matter what?  What if you were to start there?
  • What physical support system do you need in place?  Do you have some place to go in case you need to leave your home?
No matter what your situation is, if you don’t have a system of support right now, take the time to build one up.  If you can talk with a friend, and find a way to meet other lesbians, this will help.
 
I have heard many women on their path to coming out lament that they are “Too old to be coming out.”  Know that there are women in their 50s, 60s and beyond that are still learning about their sexuality, sometimes after a husband has passed away or after the kids went away to college.  There is no such thing as being too old to come out and the advent of online dating makes it easier to find women in your age range, even if you are in a smaller town.  (You may have to drive a few miles to meet them!)   
 
Embrace this change in your life as though it were your next adventure (it is!), even if it feels horrible at times and you wish that you could wave a magic wand and be straight again.  It is life’s surprises that are the opportunities causing us to grow the most.  

Preparing for your “Leap of Faith”

Most of us are divided on the issue of being “special.”  On the one hand, we want to be unique, and on the other hand we want to fit in with the rest of the crowd.  The need to fit in dates back to our early tribal ancestors and is not to be taken lightly; if you were an outcast in those times you would not have survived. When we take the risk to come out, we are rubbing up against our primordial need to be loved and accepted by our clan.  We are risking exclusion.  Logically we know as adults that we have the means to survive without our families if needed, but it is nevertheless a scary step to take.  If we are still a youth, we may risk being kicked out of our homes, or bullied.  Even as adults we may be dependent on a husband or other caretaker that we now risk losing, particularly if we have been staying at home and watching the children for years. We may feel we won’t be able to provide for ourselves or our children sufficiently.

What can you do to develop multiple streams of support and take steps to grow your network of allies?

  • Reach out to gay people who you know and respect.  Ask if you can speak confidentially with them about your situation and ask what resources they found helpful when coming out.
  • You will likely be able to find a gay-friendly therapist in your area.  Social workers these days are trained specifically on issues of diversity and inclusion, which includes the LGBTQ community.
  • Find a support group.  In New York, Identity House offers coming out groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.   There is nothing as healing as being with other people who are going through the same thing as you.  You can laugh, cry and share your mutual struggles. I have also found internalized homophobia dissolves in the presence of a group of women whom you love and respect that are also coming out.
  • As a coach, I am here to talk if you need additional support.  I host an inexpensive and completely confidential Coming Out Group that meets in Brooklyn, New York, and am putting together a group via phone so women from anywhere in the United States can call in. Contact me at Jan@lifeaftertherapy.com if interested.

We do have to make a leap of faith to come out, but rather than rely on total trust that we “leap and the net will appear,” we can take steps to build a web of information, skills and support to make our landing pad soft.  Realize that just taking a few steps means you’re already on your journey–be proud of yourself for your bravery.

What is the antidote to the fear of being different?  Sharing your story with others who can relate. Relishing in the very differences that make you unique.  There is no one like you.  Share below what makes you unique and tell us your story!

In closing, I had a mixture of difficult times and great support when I came out. I was bullied in high school for it and the thing that kept me strong was knowing that I was helping to change the world.  By bravely stepping forward and claiming who I am, I was showing others that they could do the same. Teegan and Sara have released a new song on bullying, which I thought I would share. How will your coming out make things right?  How will it change the world?

Enjoy building your net!

Teegan and Sara