I facilitate a Women's Coming Out Support Group for the Pride Center of New Jersey. It is one of the more rewarding things that I spend my time doing. Twice per month, women of all backgrounds, ages, ethnicities and sexual orientations come together to share their experiences with the coming out process. There are those who are just starting to question their sexuality and some are ready to come out to family and friends and work mates. All of the women who come to the group want and give support. It is a beautiful thing to witness.
When I came out in 2000, I also came to the Pride Center's Women's Coming Out Support Group. It was different then. The women were identified almost exclusively as lesbian (vs. bisexual, asexual, pansexual, demisexual) and the group was attended by women who were clearly allllllll the way out of the closet. They were...how to put this kindly...providing a kind of "welcoming committee" to the newly out (or near out) women. I never took advantage of their welcoming committee offers to go out to the diner after the meeting, as I had to get home to my kid and, more importantly, these women scared the shit out of me.
I've learned many things running this group for the past 2 or 2.5 years. One thing is that the term "Coming out" is really apt. It is a process. Starting from "Being in" to "Being out" and in between...one is "coming out." It makes sense and fits what all the women who come to the group now are experiencing. A process. Usually a very slow and painstaking process of feeling disconnected, then feeling connected, then feeling rejected, then feeling accepted. It's a huge challenge. My own coming out process was easy, relatively speaking. I had this inkling that I was gay. I sat on it for four months. Then it seemed like something inside me was coming to life. Then I had a transformative conversation with my dear friend Dina during which I realized that I am a lesbian. And then I spent a week freaking out about it. And then I came out to e v e r y b o d y. Basically, all at once. But for a year after coming out I fell into a crazy identity crisis. Questioning everything I knew about myself - or that I thought I knew about myself.
That year was one of the hardest years of my life. I questioned everything: my choice of profession, my motherhood, where I was living, who my friends were -- everything was on the chopping block. This is the part of coming out that people rarely really talk about. Yeah, sure, you're out, but how do you deal with the fall out?
I dealt by leaning heavily on my best friend who talked with me everyday about e v e r y t h i n g. And I had therapy once, maybe twice per week. I went to lesbian bars and clubs and hung out. Alone. I felt pretty much lost. But also I felt I had more agency, that I was freer for knowing/admitting this part of myself to myself.
These days, 15 years later, my life seems so comparatively easier that it was back then. In this way it does get better. But I think if I had been told that back then, I wouldn't really have believed it.
Coming out is one of the most difficult life transitions there is. I give honor and mad props to all who go through this crucible.