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Q: I’ve been coming out (to myself, and a select few others) for about a year now. Being in my mid-20s has made this pretty difficult. Trying to reconcile the person I thought I was for nearly 25 years with who I now realize myself to be has left me feeling like someone has taken one of those hand mixers to my insides.
I guess my question is, in essence, “how do I get over the fear?” The fear that I’m doing something wrong all the time? The fear that someone I haven’t come out to yet will find out? The fear that because I cry myself to sleep and can’t bring my gayness past the threshold of my bedroom, most days, that none of this is actually real and I’ve forced myself into some sort of miserable fantasy world? And most especially, the fear that I will never get over this fear and never be able to start living my life: falling in love, having great sex, etc.
Please, you wonderful, intelligent, illustrious women at Autostraddle — please tell me how you got through this. Please tell me what I can do to make these terrible thoughts stop. Please. I need help.
I’m sorry to hear that you’re having a tough time! If we knew each other in real life, I’d give you a giant hug, take you out for hot chocolate, listen to your troubles, and play this song for you about a million times:
Since I can’t hand you a mug of cocoa right now, I’ll tell you this: it’s okay. It is really truly okay that you’re feeling these feelings. I’ve been there. So many people have been there. We all figure things out in different ways, at different times, and at different paces.
In my case, it didn’t even occur to me that I might be attracted to other women until I was most of the way through college. I didn’t kiss a girl until I was 24. I didn’t call anyone my girlfriend until I was 25. I didn’t have an identity label I felt truly comfortable and confident in until I was 26. And hey, I’m doing pretty okay now! At 28, I’m in a serious live-in relationship with that girl, I’m out to everyone I know, and I get to write weekly articles for all you queermos to read. But when I was first figuring things out, I often found myself at a complete loss. I was constantly turning a jumbled mess of doubts and worries over and over in my head, letting them tumble around for days, weeks, months at a time. That “hand mixer to your insides” feeling you described? I totally get it, because that was my feeling too.
In retrospect, I think the thing that messed with my head the most was that my story didn’t match the coming out story I’d internalized. I know you’ve heard the narrative before: A person is born gay. This person inevitably figures out at a young age that they’re “different.” From there, they either a) stay in the closet due to discrimination, or b) bravely come out and are are welcomed into the LGBT community with open arms. This is how it works for some people, and that’s totally awesome! But it isn’t how it works for everyone, and it isn’t how it worked for me. That dissonance gave me a lot of anxiety — and based on what you’ve said, it sounds like you’ve got a bit of it too.
So. Take a breath. Now take a look. Here are some other rad women who came out, in some capacity, later in life than you did.
- Julia Nunes (Musician) – 25
- Ellen Page (Actress) – 27
- Dijuan Trent (Miss Kentucky 2010) – 27
- Sharnee Zoll-Norman (WNBA Basketball Player) – 27
- Crystal Bowersox (Singer) – 28
- Raven-Symoné (Actress) – 28
- Lauren Morelli (Writer for Orange is the New Black) – 31
- Grace Bonney (Design Blogger and Entrepreneur) – 32
- Jenny Owen Youngs (Musician) – 32
- Vicky Beeching (Christian Rock Singer and Theologian) – 35
- Jillian Michaels (Biggest Loser Coach and Personal Trainer) – 35
- Michelle Rodriguez (Actress) – 35
- Zoe Saldana (Actress) – 35
- JoCasta Zamarripa (Politician) – 36
- Fallon Fox (MMA Fighter) – 37
- AB Chao (Design Blogger) – 38
- Ellen Degeneres (Comedian, Actress and TV Host) – 39
- Jenna Wolfe (Today Show Host) – 39
- Chely Wright (Country Singer) – 39
- Carlease Burke (Actress) – 40
- Carol Leifer (Comedian, Writer and Actress) – 40
- Wanda Sykes (Comedian and Actress) – 40
- Tig Notaro (Comedian) – 41
- Jenna Lyons (Executive Creative Director of J. Crew) – 44
- Maria Bello (Actress and Activist) – 45
- Cynthia Nixon (Actress) – 46
- Kristy McNichol (Actress) – 49
- Jodie Foster (Actor and Director) – 51
- Kelly McGillis (Actress) – 51
- Robin Roberts (Good Morning America Anchor) – 53
- Kellie Maloney (Boxing Manager and Promoter) – 61
- Meredith Baxter (Actress) – 62
- Susie Orbach (Writer) – 63
- Debbie Harry (Musician) – 68
There are quite a few more, but the point is: so many people have come out later than you! And they’re doing just fine. If you’re not comfortable coming out past the threshold of your bedroom right now, there’s no need to beat yourself up over it. You’ll get there.
The fact that you’re working through all this now doesn’t say anything negative about you or the way you moved through life for the past 24 years. What you did then was valid, and what you’re doing now is valid; you don’t owe anyone an explanation. (And by the way, this applies even if you use a different identity label in the future. You don’t need to justify being true to your feelings as you feel them, even if they change.)
I suspect that in several years, you’ll look back on this time and feel surprised by how far you’ve come. Until then, one practical piece of advice I can give you is to do what I did: flood your media channels with queer content. Fill your bookshelves with lesbian literature. Listen to queer musicians. Try and find some gay lady movies that don’t suck. Plug into the magical world of queer, feminist Tumblr. Look up the coming out stories of all the women I listed above. Marathon Buffy. Follow Autostraddle on Instagram. Follow Ellen Page on Twitter. Link up with legions of #ladygeeks and badass feminists. Fill your Facebook feed with supportive faces only. Unfollow all the rest.
The point here is to normalize gayness for yourself. That story you have in your head about what’s “right” (which stresses you out and makes you feel like you’re doing things “wrong”) is almost definitely not the whole picture. Seek out other stories. You’re doing fine. One step closer, every day at a time…
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