Outing Yourself: How to Come out as Lesbian or Gay to Your Family, Friends, and Coworkersby Michelangelo Signorile
From the author of Queer in America comes a complete, step-by-step guide to coming out of the closetthe first coming-out guide to the '90s. Signorile's pull-no-punches style gives this book a Susan Powter-ish Stop the Insanity! approach to a difficult and often mishandled experience.
- Random House Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.57(w) x 8.19(h) x 0.88(d)
Read an Excerpt
Perhaps you have had one or two homosexual experiences. Perhaps you've merely thought about it. Neither scenario necessarily means that you have told yourself you are gay.
Such thoughts and actions don't actually mean a person is gay. In some cases a heterosexual person, particularly an adolescent, may simply be experimenting -- mentally or physically.
"People may be experimenting and seeing where their sexuality lies," notes Dr. Richard Isay, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical College and the author of Being Homosexual. "However, if someone has persistent homosexual experiences -- and not necessarily encounters but day dreams and night dreams -- and has had them for a long time, then that person is gay."
Some people are truly bisexual, equally attracted to both sexes. "I was always really turned on by men," says Sheila, a thirty-six-year-old rural Tennessee health-care worker.
Then in my early twenties I realized I was also really turned on by women. At first I thought I must be a lesbian, but my realization that I liked women did not stop or cover up my strong sexual attraction for men. I've accepted that I'm really bisexual, and I realize there aren't many people like me.
The vast majority of people who have recurring homosexual thoughts or experiences, however, are truly homosexual, although they often don't want to face the fact. Society has placed such a terrible stigma on homosexuality that even thinking about sex with someone of the same gender can be frightening. After having had several homosexual experiences, many people still deny that they are gay. Theytell themselves that they are really heterosexual, they continue to live as heterosexuals, and they maintain that their homosexual incidents or thoughts don't and can't mean anything. Perhaps they tell themselves that they are bisexual as a way of holding on to some form of heterosexuality, some form of what they have been told is "normal" and "right." This is common, and has made many homosexuals -- once they have fully come out -- unfairly suspicious of the existence of true bisexuals.
Rudy, a twenty-four-year-old northern California law student, remembers how he couldn't face the truth when at age eighteen he began to realize his homosexuality.
I had what I guess you could call a crush on a guy at school -- I mean I used to dream about kissing him -- and every time I saw him in class my heart would start pounding and I'd turn red. I would then get this queasy feeling in my stomach, like I was sick, because this feeling of liking the guy made me ill, because I thought homosexuality was disgusting.
I convinced myself that I was bisexual, and that I could control the gay side and not act on it. But I soon realized that I didn't like girls in a sexual way at all. Two years later I began dating a girl who really was bisexual -- I mean, she liked girls and guys and had had relationships with both. And, well, she and I had very little sex. After a lot of long talks she eventually said to me, "You're not bisexual. You're gay."
I went home that night, and for the first time wrote in my journal, "I'm gay." Then I crossed it out. I just couldn't face it.
DECADES SPENT WITHOUT IDENTIFYING ONESELF AS GAY
For some people, this first step of identifying oneself as gay or lesbian (or even bisexual) can take many years to complete. Doris, a fifty-four-year-old Buffalo, New York, business owner, married a man and had four children before eventually coming out as a lesbian and divorcing her husband -- after thirty years of marriage. "Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be near women, to be physically close to them in a way that I really never wanted to be with men -- even though I forced myself to be with men in that way," she says.
I admitted those feelings to myself for a very long time. But still, in those days that didn't matter. If you wanted to do well, you got married. Besides, I wasn't able to deal with the feelings anyway. They were too frightening, too eerie and weird, you know?
Then, after years of just barely acknowledging to myself that I had a longing to be intimate with a woman, I finally did experience it with a very close friend who was also married. But to actually identify myself as a lesbian? Oh God. No, it was years and years before I could actually do that.
"From the moment one begins to suspect that one might be 'different' from others the seed of doubt is sown, sending out corrosive roots to obstruct and inhibit the process by which self-esteem naturally grows," declares author and journalist Mark Thompson, who has written much about the coming-out process and the dynamics of gay life. Thompson stresses the notion of "coming out inside," coming out to oneself. "There's a valuable part of ourselves that was stolen at an early part of our lives," he says, "and we need to get it back. The doubt is sown deep inside of us because society still carries the message that being gay is bad. We internalize all of that."
Because of the social stigma attached to them, the mere words "gay" and "lesbian" -- not to mention "homosexual," "fag," "dyke," and "queer" -- are terms that most people don't want associated with themselves. It's amazing how powerful these words can be. Some people engaging in sex with people of the same sex, many even in their first same-sex relationship, still cannot bring themselves to say that they are lesbian or gay. For some, the reluctance is subtle: They get around such identification by saying that they shun "labels" of any kind and don't like "categorizing" themselves. For others, the unwillingness to identify themselves as lesbian or gay is more conscious, tinged with internalized homophobia.
"I liked being with guys and having sex with guys, but I kept telling myself that I wasn't 'gay,' or a 'fag,' or any of that," recalls Ramon, a twenty-six-year-old Miami sales clerk.
My family is Cuban, and in our culture being macho is very important. So I'd tell myself that I was every bit a man, and that the men I was sleeping with and hanging out with were real men -- we just had sex with each other, that's all. "Gay" was something else.
To me, it was all the stereotypes -- effeminate men, drag queens, you know. I wouldn't have sex with someone who identified themselves as "gay." I believed that if I didn't say I was that -- even to myself -- then I wasn't.
BEGINNING A JOURNEY
Ramon's experience resonates for many gay men and lesbians who refuse to accept their homosexuality. But many people who think they accept their newfound homosexuality have never really identified themselves as gay or lesbian. Self-identifying is a way of starting the coming-out process: You can't tell other people that you're lesbian or gay until you've told yourself. It's also important to identify yourself as gay as a way of rejecting the hatred directed at you and the lies told about you. Identifying yourself starts you on a long journey.
"I first identified myself as gay when I was about twelve or thirteen years old," says Lincoln, a nineteen-year-old West Virginia college student.
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