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?

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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?

Should We Assume the Best? A Coming Out Strategy

Coming out is a process. We may find it’s easy with some and harder with others. This is Anu’s new strategy to assist her state of mind when coming out…

“I, for one, can get caught up in the whirlwind of fears and assumptions when I think about coming out. It’s easy to do. And time-consuming. And not all that productive. So then I got to thinking…

We are conditioned to assume the worst of people. When we assume the worst of others, we are stopped in our tracks by fear. And it’s this fear that keeps us from embracing our most authentic selves. So what would happen, I thought, if instead we assumed the best?

I pondered whether making a good assumption about someone is the same as having expectations. We know how dangerous expectations can be, right? As a general rule, expectations lead to disappointment. And disappointment is hard to bounce back from. So couldn’t making a good assumption about a family member’s response to your sexual identity also lead to disappointment? Indeed. Except for one very important power shift.

When we assume the best of someone, and they prove us wrong, we are no longer the victim of that disappointment. Now we are the person who knows they could have done better, and we are disappointed with them, not by them.”

~ Anu Day

Thanks for the guest post Anu!

Hey everyone, do you think that assuming the best response from someone when you tell them you are gay might put you in the “drivers seat” or help the outcome? (If you are in a dependent situation you might want to find an ally before you try this.) Please respond in the comments below.

~ Jan

Welcome Intrepid Explorers!

Whether you are questioning your sexual identity or have already begun exploring it, you’ve come to the right place.  Feel free to write me about topics you’d like to see covered and post your comments or articles.  Ask me about the weekly support call and private Facebook group if you’re interested in joining a supportive group of “women-who-love-women” in the midst of coming out. Scroll down to read a plethora of articles on the topic.

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.