When should you come out?

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I’m somebody who came out relatively early in life (13). No matter what age you came out (or come out), there are some very clear stages of the process of coming out, like a political stage (EVERYTHING MAKES ME ANGRY), and an unstable identity phase (Am I butch? Am I femme? Will you, random gay acquaintance, tell me what you think of me?), a smug first relationship, often followed by feverish dalliances with a few more randoms. These may stretch out over several years, or be compressed into a few months.

Identity is a really nebulous thing, and for some of us, having lots of time to mull over our particular identity and watch 300000 hours of questionable gay movies and several TV series for the sake of seeing women kiss is a very important process. For other people, possibly the less touchy-feely feelings-process-y among us, this is a less necessary step.

Obviously, everybody gets to decide who they want to date and when, but there is this bizarre paranoia about dating women who are newly out as queer, as if anybody would be ready to get married by the third date. Everyone is newly out at some point in their life, whether they are 19 or 29 or 49, but now they know. It isn’t necessary for anybody to disavow any previous attraction in their lives to people that aren’t women, unless it feels that way for them. It’s reductive, but I think that there is a certain pressure to do so, because if it wasn’t gay, then it wasn’t “real.” (That may feel true for you; it doesn’t have to feel true for them or vice versa.)

Coming out is hard, but hopefully when people do it later in life, they have a greater emotional intelligence than their 19-year-old selves, or whatever age it was decided that is socially appropriate to tell people you like kissing girls. Coming out won’t necessarily destabilize them in the way that it sometimes does when they’re younger. In addition, coming out a little bit later also means that they likely have some experience dating and having sex with other people. Even if the people they’ve dated aren’t women, it’s still some life experience they have under their belt, and some insight into their emotional landscape.

What happens too often is that, because some women are relatively new to sexing ladies, it’s like they become virgins again, totally incapable of saying what they want, having no relevant experience. There are some people have had this happen to them, and for that, I’m very sorry, honey. But for all the rest of you, that woman has a fair-to-middling chance of knowing her sexual proclivities. Feel free to take her to a higher place—not because she’s never had sex with a woman before, but because this is a fabulous exchange between humans that you get to be part of. Rock her world because she wants you to, not because you need to teach her how to be a “real lesbian.”

(Also, there’s no such thing as a “real” lesbian. Y’all can knock that shit off right now.)

So quit giving newly-out girls such a hard time. Take them out if you like them, and leave them alone if you don’t. There’s no one way to be gay, and there’s no gay timeline that they missed if they’re coming out a little bit later than you did.

Maria Turner-Carney is a therapist and writer in Seattle. You can follow her at seattlefeministtherapy.com/blog.

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