Jennifer Wilber is a writer, teacher, and bisexual rights activist from Ohio.
Questioning Your Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity
Coming out can be a difficult process for many young LGBT+ people. For some people, the most difficult part of the coming out process is coming out to themselves and accepting their sexuality, especially for people who grew up in an environment where LGBT+ people were not widely accepted. Because there is still so much stigma surrounding gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in certain communities, it can be difficult to admit to yourself that you may be attracted to people of your own gender or that you might be questioning your gender identity. If you feel shame because of your feelings, you may wonder if you actually are actually gay, lesbian, bi, or trans, or if you are simply “confused.” If you were raised in a homophobic family, you will likely be reluctant to accept this part of your identity and may be tempted to continue to live in denial. It is normal to feel this way when you first begin to wonder about your sexual orientation or gender identity, but it is important to learn to accept yourself for who you are for the sake of your own happiness.
How Do I Know I’m Not Just “Confused?”
If you grew up in a family or in a community where LGBT+ people were commonly accused of being “confused,” you might wonder if your own feelings are valid, or if you, too are actually just confused about your sexual orientation or gender identity. How can you know if you really are gay/lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or simply just "confused" about your orientation or gender?
If you are a man and find yourself attracted only to other men, you are likely gay. Likewise, if you are a woman, and are attracted only to other women, you are likely a lesbian. If you find that you are attracted to men, women, and perhaps people who identify outside of the gender binary, you are likely bi or pansexual. It is as simple as that.
The reason some people feel confused about their sexual orientation is because they may be denial about who they are, which is deeply rooted in the shame they feel about their orientation or gender identity. This “confusion” comes from religious or cultural narratives that make many people feel guilty for their feelings.
Most children are told from a young age that they will eventually settle down with someone of the opposite sex to start a family. This narrative is so pervasive that many people have internalized this "goal" and feel like they must follow this cultural script to have a successful and meaningful life. Because of this, it can be difficult for some people to determine if they are actually attracted to the opposite sex, or if they are simply attracted to the idea of settling down in that "normal" life that their family and society always wanted for them. For example, many lesbians date men for years, and often get married and have children with these men, simply because they have been socialized to want marriage and children someday. It is not uncommon for these women to come out as lesbians later in life after realizing the life they lead wasn’t what they really wanted. Their “confusion” over their sexual orientation comes from the fact that their real desires do not match the traditional cultural narrative that they have been living.
If you feel confusion about your sexual orientation or gender identity, it is likely because you are still, on some level, in denial about who you really are. You may have internalized feelings of shame from growing up in an environment that is not supportive of LGBT+ people. Once you accept yourself, you will not feel confused anymore. Homophobic people like to throw the word “confused” around to make non-straight and non-cis people feel like there is something wrong with their sexual attractions or gender expression.
Journaling to Help You Accept Your Identity
It is important to feel comfortable with yourself and to learn to accept and celebrate who you are before you come out publicly. You should come out to yourself and fully accept yourself before you begin the process of coming out to the other people in your life.
As you begin the process of self-acceptance and coming out to yourself, it can be helpful to write down your feelings. Though it might feel childish, keeping a journal or diary to work through your feelings can be a helpful way for you to begin accepting yourself. Your first entry can be as simple as just writing “I am bisexual” or “I am gay,” or whatever identity you think might best describe you. Getting these words out on paper can go a long way in helping you to accept your orientation.
Once you have taken this first step, start writing how you feel about this new revelation about yourself. Some things you may want to consider while writing are:
- When did you first start thinking you might be different?
- How did it make you feel when you first learned someone else you know is LGBT+?
- How does writing this down make you feel about yourself?
Remember, no one else is going to read this, so you don’t need to censor yourself. You might feel silly writing down your feelings about this at first but getting it out on paper can go a long way in helping you to process your feelings and to begin to accept yourself.
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Finding a Community
Once you have begun to accept yourself and feel comfortable enough with your identity, it may be beneficial for you to meet other people like yourself. While the thought of coming out to your family and straight friends might still feel too intimidating, you might wish to connect with other people in the LGBT+ community.
If you are in college, check to see if your school has a Gay-Straight Alliance or other groups for LGBT+ students. If you are not in college, there may be other local LGBT+ support groups in your area. This will allow you to connect with other people like yourself in a non-threatening environment. Connecting with other people who have been through similar experiences as you can help you to feel less alone and to come to terms with your own sexuality.
If you don’t have a local group in which you can participate, or if you are still too nervous to let anyone know you are LGBT+ in person, you may want to consider joining an online forum for LGBT+ people, where you can connect with other LGBT+ people all over the world either anonymously or semi-anonymously.
It is important to have a support network in place, especially if you don’t think that your family or existing friends will be supportive when you do come out to them. You want to have someone to turn to if you need someone to talk to if your family and friends don’t support you the way that you had hoped. Having a support network in place will help you to feel less alone and help you to become more confident and comfortable in your own skin.
Accepting Yourself for Who You Are
Accepting yourself for who you are is important to your mental health and well-being. If you are still in the closet, you will likely feel better about yourself if you stop living in denial and come out. The first person you need to come out to is yourself. The number one person you need to accept you... is you!
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber
Jennifer Wilber (author) from Cleveland, Ohio on June 29, 2019:
Hi Ash. Thank you for your feedback. I will take your suggestions into consideration next time I update this article. :)
Ash on June 28, 2019:
Please forgive my impertinence. I had no idea that you were an adult. I've just stumbled across this website and thought that it was a blogging network for anyone. I did not mean to lecture you on something that you probably know much about. I apologize and realize that my earlier comment was overstepping my place.
Ash on June 28, 2019:
In general, I think this was a very helpful post. However, I have a few issues with it (I speak from a gay, trans perspective). First off, it is not true that "Once you accept yourself, you will not feel confused any more." I accepted myself as gay about three years ago, soon to be four, and I still get confused sometimes. I accepted myself as trans and non-binary about a year ago, and yet still I sometimes get confused. Confusion is very common, even if you completely love yourself for who you are. Saying that all confusion will go away once you accept yourself is very misleading, and could cause people to be disappointed when they don't feel everything become clear after they accept themselves.
A second note: in the second paragraph of, "How Do I Know I'm Not Just 'Confused'", you say "it's as simple as that" regarding sexuality. This paragraph is frustrating in that it generalizes something that really is quite complicated. Some bi people are very occasionally attracted to a third gender. Some gay people are very occasionally attracted to the opposite gender. Some people instead prefer the label homoflexible, or biflexible. Some people are asexual, and not attracted to anyone at all. Some people have no sexual attraction, but feel romantically attracted to the same gender as themselves, or the opposite, or two genders, or three, or four. Some bi or pan people are more attracted to one (or two, or three, or four) gender(s) in particular, but still like two genders (or three, or four). When you make blanket statements of something that really is quite complex, you risk making anyone who is outside the norm of those blanket statements feel upset, angry, frustrated, even more confused, etc. Instead of having that generalizing paragraph, what I think would be hugely helpful is compiling a list of common sexualities and genders, as well as their definitions. Here's a list you can start with: gay, lesbian, (note that gay is typically used for anyone with an attraction to the same gender, while lesbian typically only for girls, though some other people may use that label too), bisexual (it would be helpful to mention that bisexual can be used to mean liking both boys and girls, or boys and non-binary people, or any TWO genders), pansexual, asexual, queer (you might want to mention that queer is a reclaimed slur and is still considered offensive by some people, but many others use it as a label without a problem), polysexual, lithsexual, transgender, trans boy, trans girl, non-binary, genderqueer, agender, bigender, pangender, polygender, genderfluid, demigender, androgyne. https://gender.wikia.org/wiki/Gender_Wiki is a good place to research genders (you can search up a gender on the wiki search bar if not available at first sight), and a regular old Google search (i.e. "meaning of lithsexual") will often do the job for sexualities. If you need any clarifications feel free to comment above me to ask. Also, a section on the differenc between sex and gender might also be advised. Sex is biological, and is based solely on the genitals, chromosomes and inside sex organs. Gender is more mental. It’s how you feel, not how you look. It’s your idea and feeling of yourself. For instance, a transgender boy often has the sex of female but the gender of male. Also know that sexuality is labeled based on gender, not on sex.
Finally, using the “+” in “LGBT+” is very good, but it’s even better to use “LGBTQ+” to add people who are queer or questioning.
Again, your article was very good and had a fantastic message. I loved how you added emphasis on accepting yourself before anything else, and how you discussed making a support system. However, you also wouldn’t want to give the wrong impression on people. Please consider making the corrections I’ve suggested. Continue writing great stuff and have a good
Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on July 12, 2018:
Very good advice very well expressed.
For moral and practical support and finding an LGBTQ+ community, Kalamazoo, Michigan has OutFront Kalamazoo, the new name of Kalamazoo Gay Lesbian Resource Center. University of Western Michigan has the student organization OUTspoken.
Many Unittarian Universalist congregations participate in the Welcoming Congregations Program—a study-practice course that takes months to complete, followed by ongoing application—and are active allies of their local LGBTQ+ communities and are welcoming of LGBTQ+ members and friends of the congregation. In the UU church that I attend in Portage, Michigan, the minister is a lesbian in a same-sex marriage and better than 10% of the churchgoers are LGBTQ+ persons. ('Church' is used by UUs by analogy. Few UUs self-identify as Christians.)
RedElf from Canada on July 11, 2018:
"The number one person you need to accept you is you!" Well said. A lesson for us all regardless of gender or inclination.