Taking that first important step
Originally published in The Link's first Gay Issue on November 19, 1982
Coming out is often a difficult, lonely process. It involves identifying yourself as a lesbian or a homosexual man, as part of a group that has a negative image.
As well, coming out is often a liberating, joyful process. It is a time of accepting your natural desires.
Although that process differs for each individual, depending on age, gender, the people around you and the way you feel about yourself, coming out tends to involve a recognizable series of events.
First comes the dawning awareness that you are attracted to a member (or, if you're greedy, to members) of your own sex. This generally spurs a period of intense self-examination and/or struggle, attempting to come to terms with the realization that you are "one of the people your parents warned you about."
One you have accepted your sexual orientation to some degree, you'll probably want to make contact with other gay people, looking for support and role models, as well as friends and (blush!) lovers. This can be done in several ways, by phoning in a gay crisis line, attending a drop-in group, going to a gay bar or advertising for friends in an underground newspaper.
As you get to know other lesbians and gay men, you will gradually assume your identity as an individual within the gay community. Even if you're no longer a teenager, you may feel like you're in high school again as you learn to adapt to a variety of unfamiliar social and sexual conventions.
As well as being integrated into the gay community, you will probably arrive at an integration of your personality, as you begin to feel more comfortable with your own preference.
Your past may begin to seem more cohesive because you will be able to understand certain feelings of "being different" and "not fitting in" and to accept past feelings, once firmly rejected.
It is usually at this stage that you will want to tell certain selected relatives and friends about your homosexuality. By this time you will be better prepared to deal with their reactions.
After this, there seem to be three main paths. You may settle down to a quiet life with a lover, socialize mainly with a circle of gay friends or choose the dubious bliss of becoming a gay/lesbian liberationist. (Activists work to help other gays through community outreach programmes, for law reforms, write for gay liberation and/or feminist journals.)
Oh yes, about sex. You may have your first lesbian or homosexual experience at any time within this process. As this point, our coming out stories vary widely (and get very interesting).
Your first gay sexual experience may be an unexpected encounter with a stranger or lovemaking with a friend of many years' standing. It may lead to, or result from, a relationship or love affair. And it may spark off the whole chain of events of coming out, or an affirmation of your security in your homosexual/lesbian identity.
Women generally have their first same-sex lover later in the coming-out process than men, probably because females have been trained to be passive sexually (if, indeed, allowed to be sexual at all). With the increased self-assurance that usually marks coming out, women feel freer to initiate sexual relationships. (But it still ain't always easy!)
So there's a capsule guide to coming out. Now the question remains--why come out?
If you are living a heterosexual, celibate or closeted life, but believe that your deepest emotional and sexual feelings are lesbian/homosexual, you probably feel pretty schizophrenic. Coming out will help you to drop the burden of guilt and fear you may be carrying and to reveal yourself more honestly as a human being to your family and friends.
Coming out is a rite of passage, the equal of which many non-gays never experience. It will allow you to know and like yourself better.