Overview of Sexual Orientation
For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQIA) people, coming out is a process of understanding, accepting, and valuing one's sexual orientation/identity. Coming out includes both exploring one's identity and sharing that identity with others. It also involves coping with societal responses and attitudes toward LGBT people. LGBT individuals are forced to come to terms with what it means to be different in a society that tends to assume everyone is heterosexual and that tends to judge differences from the norm in negative ways. The coming out process happens in different ways and occurs at different ages for different people. Some people are aware of their sexual identity at an early age; others arrive at this awareness only after many years. Coming out is a continuing, sometimes lifelong, process.
While some anxiety related to sexuality is common among college students, the problems facing LGBT people are often more difficult than those facing others. Because positive role models are often difficult to identify, LGBT people may feel alone and unsure of their own sexual identities. Fear of rejection is greater among LGBT people due to the prejudices in society against them.
What Can Be Done
Coming Out to Oneself
Recognizing your own sexual identity and working toward self-acceptance are the first steps in coming out. First, with concerning sexual identity, it helps to think of a sexual orientation continuum that ranges from exclusive same sex attraction to exclusive opposite sex attraction. Exploring your sexual identity may include determining where you presently fit along that continuum.
In coming out to others, consider the following:
- Think about what you want to say and choose the time and place carefully.
- Be aware of what the other person is going through. The best time for you might not be the best time for someone else.
- Present yourself honestly and remind the other person that you are the same individual you were yesterday.
- Be prepared for an initially negative reaction from some people. Do not forget that it took time for you to come to terms with your sexuality, and that it is important to give others the time they need.
- Have friends lined up to talk with you later about what happened.
- Don't give up hope if you don't initially get the reaction you wanted. Due to inculcated societal prejudices mentioned earlier, some people need more time than others to come to terms with what they have heard.
Above all, be careful not to let your self-esteem depend entirely on the approval of others. If a person rejects you and refuses to try to work on acceptance, that's not your fault. Keep in mind that this initial refusal may get reversed once the individual gets used to the idea that you are LGBT. If time does not seem to change the individual's attitude toward you, then you may want to re-evaluate your relationship and its importance to you. Remember that you have the right to be who you are, you have the right to be out and open about all important aspects of your identity including your sexual orientation, and in no case is another person's rejection evidence of your lack of worth or value.
The decision to come out is always personal. Whether to come out and, if so, when, where, how, and to whom are all questions you must answer for yourself. Taking control of this process includes being aware in advance of potential ramifications so that you can act positively rather than defensively. Coming out may be one of the most difficult tasks you confront in your life, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. Coming out is one way of affirming your dignity and the dignity of other LGBT people. Remember that you are not alone; there is a viable LGBT community waiting to be explored, and more heterosexual "allies" are willing to offer their support than you might have first imagined.
How We Can Help
You can schedule an intake with a counselor at North Hall by calling (530) 752-2349. Acute Care drop-in services are available on the first floor of the Student Health and Wellness Center.