Coming Out in Heterosexual Relationships

Coming out is a challenging, process, whether you are 15, 21, or 50. The first step toward “coming out” is self-awareness or recognition of having feelings of attraction for persons of the same sex. This awareness may lead to confusion, attempts to deny or repress feelings of attraction, anxiety about unwanted feelings, or even attempts to “pass” as heterosexual. It is no secret that in our society there are a lot of societal stigmas, and negative feelings about being gay. As a result, some people delay, deny, avoid, and reject having any awareness of feelings of attractions for persons of the same sex. Sometimes these attractions are repressed deeply enough to be out of one’s conscious awareness.

In this state of denial (which can be either conscious or unconscious), men and women sometimes pursue heterosexual relationships. Some men and women experience many years of heterosexual relationships that sometimes include marriage and children. Sometimes, though, these men and women, for various reasons, begin to develop a greater self-awareness. This awareness may be triggered by various things such as: An undeniable attraction to someone of the same sex; a function of maturity and greater self-exploration; or from a sense of emptiness or longing which stems from having emotional needs that have not be met by their heterosexual relationships because of their same-sex attractions.

If you are someone in this position, and you are starting to explore, or allow yourself to become aware of attractions you have long denied, this can be a painful experience. Coming out to yourself and others is complicated when you experience this in the context of a committed heterosexual relationship. It is important, however, to know that you are not the only one experiencing this. There are many others like you. The following suggestions offer you some guidance about how to embark on this journey toward a greater understanding of your feelings and your authentic sexual orientation.
1. Identify a supportive friend, or person with whom you can begin to identify and share your conflicting feelings.

2. Start a journal. Document what you are feeling and find a way to express these. Containing conflicting feelings can be overwhelming and confusing. Take your time. Pay close attention to your feelings and expect to feel very sad and confused for some time. That is normal.

3. Find a gay-friendly counselor with whom you can process your feelings.

4. Acknowledge to your partner that you’re struggling with some confusing feelings. If your are in a relationship, acknowledge to him or her that you are struggling to understand some things about yourself that are confusing and that they are about you, not her. Explain that when you feel ready, you will share what you are experiencing with her. Reassure him in ways that feel honest to you such as: “you have done nothing wrong,” ”this is not about you,” “I need to understand myself better before I can explain to you what I am feeling and that’s why I am going to a therapist – to get help doing that.” ”I would like you to be a part of my process, but I need to understand what my process is before I can include you in it.”

5. Identify your potential losses (former identity as heterosexual and all that accompanies that) and allow yourself to feel sad about these potential losses.

6. Explore with your therapist what it means to you to be gay. Growing up we either learn incorrect information about homosexuality, no information, or accurate information. It is essential to recognize the messages you grew up with that may not be accurate or true. These incorrect messages can negatively affect how you feel about yourself.

7. Recognize feelings of shame and find ways to let it go. One of the most painful parts of what you are going through is the intense amount of shame that often overshadows how you feel about yourself. Shame is the feeling that you are a “bad” person, or that you have done something very wrong. Shame is a common emotion felt by people in this situation and it can revolve around a lot of things, such as:

* Feeling a sense of self-betrayal, for not allowing yourself to explore your orientation more directly, sooner

* A feeling of betraying others and feeling like you’ve “led a lie” or misled loved ones.

* Feeling like you’ve wasted years by not being honest with yourself or others.

* Simply thinking that being gay is a bad, sinful or wrong thing.

If you can identify your shame (if you are aware of this feeling) and let it go (by talking about this with your therapist, journal writing, etc.) you can also get rid of some of the denial, fear, disgust, etc… that may keep you from being honest with yourself in this process.

8. Be honest with yourself. (Often we become confused to protect ourselves from our own truths…one of the things that gay and lesbian people tend to do is distrust our own feelings because we are socialized to believe that what we feel is “wrong,” “bad,” or “not real.”)

9. Journal write what you are feeling. Writing is an excellent way to clarify and sort through conflicting feelings.

10. Read books on being gay, coming out, and related issues.

11. Find other gay/lesbian-identified people with whom you can connect. This is an important part of decreasing the sense of aloneness and isolation that you may be feeling.

12. Maintain balance in your life (such as eating, sleeping, working, time with kids/family/friends, etc). Coming out to yourself and others is an emotionally draining process. The sense of loss during this process can be overwhelming and leave you with a very lonely, scared feeling. Be sure to tend to the other important areas of your life so that you can retreat from this process to a place that is comfortable and familiar to you if you begin to feel overwhelmed.


What is normal?


Imagine that all humans were produced on a production line of various human production factories around the world.  Would all of the non-heterosexuals just be plucked right off the conveyor belt and tossed into a pile labeled defects?

Most of us, gay or not, are raised to believe that non-heterosexuals are some sort of alternate human design (the design without the standard human feature known as heterosexuality).  And this design is considered a deviation from the “normal” human design, which suggests that non-heterosexuals are defective.  Or worse yet, NOT NORMAL.

As far as I can tell, normal is actually a self-appointed status.  Not surprisingly, there are many self-appointed-”normal” people with whom my views differ.  It doesn’t matter that I think these folks are not my kind of normal because they get to define for themselves what normal is.  Furthermore, these self-appointed representatives of normal are not looking for the approval of non-heterosexuals for their beliefs anyway!  Imagine that – they don’t care what I think.  What a novel idea.

Imagine that one day something unexpected happens in this pile of defective humans.  One brave defective human being stands up, brushing herself off, and she climbs back up on that conveyor belt. She doesn’t ask.  She doesn’t sneak.  And she doesn’t force her way there either.  She stands up confidently, moves toward the production belt, and steps back on with grace and dignity.

After all, is it really normal to pretend we are something we are not?  Are we really defective, or are we just acting like it because others decided we are?

Upon seeing this brave woman reenter the world of humans with such confidence and pride, others begin to follow suit.

Is it normal to silence our truth so that other’s are not uncomfortable by the reality of who we are?  Is it normal to pretend that who we love is really not an important part of who we are?

After hundreds of thousands of men and women begin brushing themselves off and steadily placing themselves back on the conveyor belt of life, the powers that be begin to realize what is happening, and in a moment of brilliance they decide, “We need these humans on the production line with the others.”  Realizing, “While they are different than we had expected, it turns out there’s nothing functionally wrong with them, and because there are so many of them – they too can find happiness and joy in this life by partnering with each other!”  

This brilliant discovery propels this production company into the highest tech, most elite human production company around – with human production rates at least 10% greater than their competitors.  Before long, other production companies catch on, and soon, what once was considered a defect, is now embraced as business as usual.  All because of one brave woman who stood up, brushed herself off, and entered the conveyor belt of life with confidence, grace, and dignity. To the extent that we believe we are not “normal,” we are not. 

To the extent that we believe we ARE ”normal,” we are.  No one else can determine this for us, they can only determine for themselves what is normal and then project it to the world around them.  Our sense of normalcy, of wholeness and self-respect, is a function of how we see ourselves, not how others see us. 

Our feelings of self-worth and self-confidence grow from deep inside us where our truth resides.

We can not strengthen our feelings of self-worth by pandering to another’s truth.  We will instead strengthen their self-worth at our expense! We must find our own truth, whatever that is, however that looks, and we will be strengthened by the expression of this truth.

If you do not believe you are normal, who is going to?  If you do not believe your relationship is normal, who is going to?  If you apologize for who you are, what you are, and the relationship you are in, who is going to view it as something deserving of respect and support?  We’ve got to first take responsibility for how we treat our own relationship and figure out how to improve ourselves before turning our lens to others and holding them responsible for how we feel about ourselves.

Now brush yourself off and get back on that conveyor belt of life where you belong!


Read more about the dangers of labels to our mental health.

Speaking of normal, are you kiki? I am.


Coming Out

Rarely do I speak the words, “I am gay (or lesbian).” Although very early in my being out process, I attempted this strategy at work, rather unsuccessfully. This happened years ago when gay marriage was but a blip on the radar screen.

I was working at a private psychiatric hospital and it was the end of a very long workday. I walked my last client out to the lobby, and, after saying goodbye, the receptionist said I had a personal call waiting. She asked if I wanted the call transferred to my office, or if I wanted to take it there at the front desk. I opted to take the call right there in the lobby. After transferring the call, she picked up her Bible and started reading again – which is how she spent her time between calls.

The call was brief. I talked about what time I’d be home, what I wanted to do for dinner, then I hung up the phone.

The receptionist, with whom I had never had much communication, turned to me and said, “You’re married, right, Michele?” And I casually replied, “Nope, not married.” So she followed up with, “Well, you’re engaged, aren’t you?” To which I again replied, “Nope, not engaged either.” Finally she gives up and innocently said, “Well, why did I think that?” And as nonchalantly as I had replied to the questions before, I said, “I’m not sure why, either, because I’m gay.”

To my surprise, she burst into laughter, only pausing long enough to respond with a playful, “You’re so funny, you’re always joking!” We both smiled and I headed back to my office.

As I tried out various strategies for revealing the truth about my life and my relationships, I discovered that it was much easier (and often more fun) to stop working so hard to break things down for other people. Over time I just stopped censoring anything (within reason!) that I said about my relationship, my partner, and all of the usual social topics shared with friends, acquaintances, family, and even strangers. If I’m talking about my partner, I say, “my partner” and I use the pronoun “she.” There – I’m out. It’s that easy.

If, for example, I need to hire a service person to fix my toilet, I will indicate that I may not be there, but I reference my partner, saying, “she will be when you arrive.” I don’t pause for permission or acceptance, and I don’t invite comments or feedback about my sexual orientation either. To do so would indicate that it matters to me what the plumber (not Joe) thinks about my relationship status – I’ve invited him to my house to fix my toilet, not to judge my relationship. I will not pretend I have a husband or that I am single so that the plumber feels more comfortable. Sadly, there was a time I would have, though.


I vote we raise the bar. Instead of striving to come out, let’s be more specific about this – let’s set our sights on the never ending process of being out.