Stephanie Farnsworth goes through different steps which can help people coming to terms with their sexuality and/or gender.
Coming out is one of the most painful and, frankly, embarrassing processes any LGBTQ+ person has to go through, but coming out isn’t just about telling someone who you are. It starts way before then; when a person is wondering just who they are and that can be years before ever even telling anyone that they may be gay/bisexual/transgender/queer.
The cisgender gay coming out story has been portrayed in the media since the nineties but that hasn’t made it less of an issue. We may be living in more liberal times but it’s still a lot for a person to get their head around that they aren’t what society has expected them to be from birth, let alone the fact that bigots do still sadly exist in this day and age. I’ve worked with many people in this position (and was once a confused mess myself) and the worst feeling in the world is that you are completely alone. This piece was designed to try to combat that and offer reassurance to anybody curious about themselves as well as provide information that they should keep in mind. Figuring yourself out is a personal journey but that doesn’t mean that anybody has to go through it alone.
Be patient with yourself.
It is partly the rush to figure out who we are that puts so much pressure on us. The haste to claim labels which we’ve not yet fully come to terms with can cause massive anxiety and even depression. It is okay to take the time to figure out what you like and how you feel. Trying to figure out gender or sexuality needs to be something that is worked out every day. Some people do know exactly who they are from being a child and for others it’s a more complicated process of breaking down internalised homophobia/biphobia/transphobia. If someone thinks they might be gay that doesn’t mean the next day they have to marry someone of the same gender and if you’re trans you don’t have to instantly transition (not that it is even an option with our healthcare system). It’s about getting comfortable with what works for you. It’s about starting slowly; whether that means plucking up the courage to look at naked women online for the first time, trying on make up or heading to an online forum for LGBTQ+ people.
It can be unbelievably confusing if one is bisexual. There can be stages of thinking “but I think men are fit but I’ve only really crushed on women but I can’t think about women that way” and so forth. This is so common because bisexuality is still thought of as a myth. It’s also important to remember that denial runs deep. If you’re confused about where your attractions lie then you have to be open to exploring them. It’s very difficult to really let yourself feel attracted to anyone if you want to throw up with the anxiety of just the mere thought of it.
For trans people it can be even more confusing. There’s a great deal of misinformation of what it means to be trans due to bad media portrayals over the years. Nonbinary identities are almost unheard of in the media and so it can be incredibly isolating as though there is no one else like you.
Manage expectations and make sure you have support
For trans people, trying to be patient when it comes to health care is a bit insulting and so the above does not apply to this but only to expectations of yourself and not others. When it comes to medical transitions they can be a terrifying concept but what concerned cis people often won’t tell you is that hormone blockers can be stopped at any time. It’s important to know all of the potential stages so you could can decide what is best for you.
Due to the NHS waiting lists and costs of private care unfortunately you’re unlikely to get the treatment you need for a few years. The national health care system is underfunded and transphobic so trans identities are managed by doctors when they have absolutely no right to do so. The patient needs to be the one in control. This is when being patient can feel like the understatement of the century. During this period it’s important to keep good emotional support around and it’s particularly helpful if there is a local trans group in your area.
Become more familiar with labels
Some of these labels will seem absolutely terrifying. Most people who went to school will have at some point heard “gay” and “lesbian” used as slurs, bisexual people being slut shamed and the “t word” used- and probably more than once. This means that these labels for many can feel disgusting or tainted for those confused about who they are. It took me years to not think of “lesbian” as an insult and so suddenly trying to apply such a term can make feelings of inadequacy worse. It takes time to break down the stigma and those awful memories to get to a place where one can feel comfortable to just be. Try to find them in more positive contexts even if that’s looking at pro LGBTQ+ sites so that they don’t retain those negative connotations. You don’t need a label if you don’t want one, but don’t let fear push you from them.
Take time for yourself
This can come in all shapes and forms from just having a wander to the park or going out to a gig or shopping. Whatever makes you feel at ease. It’s really easy to get sucked into a black hole of identity panic where every single second becomes about what gender or sexuality you are. There’s more to life than that. You’re still the same person so take the time to do the things that have always given you a bit of inner peace. This will put you in a much stronger position when it comes to dealing with the bigger questions in life.
This should be on any page looking to promote a positive outlook anyway as for any sexual person it’s generally a good way of feeling positive about yourself. It’s also vital for anybody trying to work through their sexuality. This is the most private and easiest way to take time and see what is going on, what turns you on and what doesn’t. Feel free to wander in your own mind to any fantasy that you want.
There’s a real feeling of shame in society when it comes to sex, especially if a person is bisexual, gay or pansexual. It’s still silenced and thought of as sinful at worst and indulgent at best but there is nothing wrong with it. It can be a huge amount of fun and liberating.
This is essential if you’re living in a household where you’re worried the people around aren’t LGBTQ+ friendly. Any browser should allow for history to be erased and if you’re on Chrome then go incognito when you can. This means that you can explore what you want online but also have the peace of mind that nobody is spying on you: except perhaps the government in the name of terrorism, of course.
Make LGBTQ+ friends
Despite what the cis-hets think we are capable of genuinely being just good friends. It’s an important step and one which is actually one of the hardest for some but connecting with LGBTQ+ people can be incredibly liberation whether it’s online or off. Having at least one LGBTQ+ friend can seem like admitting to something you might not be ready for but this is the anxiety about being LGBTQ+ trying to work against you and isolate you. Nobody can tell what’s going on with you just by looking at who your friends are. The very worst thing for any person to go through when processing their identity is to be utterly alone. An LGBTQ+ person has been there, done that, understands the horror and embarrassment that comes with it and is far less likely to judge or spill your darkest secrets. Not only that but they are a positive reinforcement that anyone can be LGBTQ+ and that it is something entirely normal (and often wonderful). Plus, if you don’t want to talk about your identity then that’s fine as LGBTQ+ people understand, but if you do then we understand that too.
Keep track of your own health
This always gets neglected as it takes effort and generally any feelings of anxiety or self loathing will try to sabotage attempts at looking after oneself. However, it is vital. Low levels of stress for long periods of time can have run havoc with your health; from causing digestive issues, blood pressure problems to even impacting on the immune system. It can also lead to insomnia, irritability and concentration problems. Not only that, but it feels horrific but when someone gets to a stage where they are embedded in a certain issue (such as coming out) and it can be difficult to be objective about your own actions and what you’re experiencing. For instance, I can only recognise if I am stressed by my sleep patterns being way off. For some, it’s a notable increase in clumsiness. It can manifest itself in so many ways and people will turn to different things to get through it, such as an extra cigarette, junk food or an extra alcoholic drink during dinner. Letting loose a little and indulging oneself is never an issue. We could all benefit from it at time to time (except perhaps with smoking) but these things can take a toll over extended periods if left unchecked. It’s a good idea to keep a record/diary or even download a free app which helps with anxiety or stress such as Pacifica.
Gain financial independence
If you’re living with family, a partner or with someone else you are financially dependent upon and you have concerns they may not be accepting of LGBTQ+ people then I’d advise this before coming out to them, even if it’s ensuring that you have enough money each week to be able to go to a local LGBT bar and blow off some steam so that you aren’t trapped by them. For some, this may mean having enough money to be able to move out as the situation may not be able to be reconciled. Parents do have more information these days but many do still struggle not to be bigots to their own children. It can be struggle particularly if one is disabled and there might be familial disputes over who is entitled to any welfare money paid. It is something just be aware of and there are charities which can give advice and support.
Everyone will go through this experience in their own way. Some will hit the library and learn everything there is to know about LGBTQ+ rights and history, others will get hammered on their first trip to an LGBTQ+ bar and for others it’ll be a more gradual process. There’s no one way to be LGBTQ+ and it doesn’t suddenly mean you’re obligated to go to Pride every year. It doesn’t particularly matter what is right for different people so long as there is good support around the individual to be able to go through this is the healthiest and least stressful way possible. It can still be terrifying but it doesn’t need to be overwhelmingly so.
Here are a list of specific charities and groups below which can offer support and advice:
For LGBTQ people between the ages of 16-25 who worry about family rejection and/or homelessness the Albert Kennedy Trust is an inclusive charity which offers support online and off.
Stonewall have a good reputation among cisgender lesbian and gay people for being able to offer support. There is also the Stonewall housing group if worried about living arrangements.
Mermaids offers support for children and young people who may be questioning their gender. They also have a comprehensive list of trans support groups on their page.
There is an online support group for those who think they may be bisexual.
Imaan is a support group for Muslim LGBTQI people.
There are also a number of groups for LGBTQ+ Christians
Follow Stephanie on Twitter (@StephFarnsworth)