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prolificus's avatar

For those who are either LGBT or Q or (XYZ), how did you experience and handle grief and loss associated with the coming-out process?

Asked by prolificus (6583points) May 15th, 2010

In the chapter Lesbian Grief and Loss Issues of the Coming-Out Process, Carol A. Thompson writes, “As a lesbian psychotherapist, specializing in trauma and loss, I am interested in loss issues and ways to reframe loss as a normal process. In my work, I often see women in the process of coming out who are struggling with a variety of issues that contain a loss component. My belief is that lesbians are raised to value a heterosexual lifestyle, and that it is natural to grieve the loss of that value as part of the coming-out process. Additionally, lesbians lose the inherent rites and privileges of the majority position such as marriage, divorce, societal acceptance of the relationship, and the esteem of family and community. Finally, there is a broader loss that lesbians experience by virtue of often being isolated from the heterosexual community.”

Grief and loss may be associated with other things, too, such as feeling disconnect from family, friends, and religious traditions that are incompatible or non-accepting of homosexuality—regardless relationship status (i.e. identifying as gay while single or in a heterosexual relationship).

Coming-out does not need to be limited to the LGBTQ experience. Anyone who undergoes a process of differentiating and individuating from one’s family of origin and culture most likely will experience some form of grief and loss.

This question focuses specifically on the grieving process associated with coming-out as LGBTQ. If you’ve experienced grief and loss through this process, what was this like for you and how did you cope / recover?

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9 Answers

Draconess25's avatar

I was depressed because I thought my mom looked down on me. She gave me funny looks when I was with my girlfriends. It turned out the funny looks were because I was depressed!

As for everyone else, I probably told them to kiss my ass. I really don’t remember since I was 12.

MissA's avatar

I realize that you probably thought that anyone posting an answer would know what LGBT or Q or (XYZ) means. However, out of respect for other fluthers, it would be nice to spell out the acronyms. What does the above mean?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Because of my mother’s neglectful attitude about my sexuality, I felt invalidated. I worked for many years in the LGBT community and in my freshman year of college was being videotaped on behalf of the NYU LGBT community for the Student Voices series and I was very excited about this and told her and all she said was ‘LGBT? Why would you know anything about that community? Why would you get picked to represent them?” after knowing fully well that I meant what I said when I came out at 15 – that was hurtful. It was also hurtful to know that I shouldn’t ever tell my father or anyone else in the family to ‘keep the peace’ and all that BS and so my father passed away not knowing me completely. So it goes. How do I experience this loss? As I’ve matured, I’ve formed new bonds with people who I consider my family, rather than care about what my biological family knows or doesn’t know.

prolificus's avatar

I’ve been reading about Cass Identity Model, and found this description of the stages in coming out presented by the Allies Committee of Texas A&M University. I’m not sure where exactly I’m at in the process, but it is good to know that the stages do not follow a linear path. Coming-out can be a life-long journey. I like how the Allies Committee phrase stage VI – Identity Synthesis: “Acceptance and integration of new identity. May go through five stages of grief to let go of old identity and all advantages of heterosexual privilege. Internalize pride/positive feelings about identity. Typically is “out” (with friends, family, at work). More at peace with self.”

For me, one of the advantages of heterosexual privilege was being received as someone worth listening to when I participated in church ministry. There was a time in my life, before I came-out, that I was actively involved in children’s ministry in a large church (read: minor-league mega church). It was an amazing time in my life. I preached and taught on a regular basis in children’s church, and there were some adults who would skip regular service just to sit it and listen to my message. This was a humbling experience. Also, it was the most involved I had ever been in church, and it was shortly before I went off to Bible college to become a minister.

Regardless of the heterosexual privileges I enjoyed, I knew when I was in high school there was something different about me. I was attracted to both boys and girls, but more so towards girls. In my first semester at college (different from Bible college, which would be seven years later), I realized I am gay. This realization was toyed with, analyzed, picked apart, closeted, annihilated, and abandoned countless times before I finally accepted my sexual orientation and acted upon it. Not until after I graduated from Bible college did I have my first same-sex relationship. Even then, I bounced back and forth between self-acceptance and self-hatred while going through cycles of living as a lesbian vs. living as an ex-gay person (practicing the lifestyle of total annihilation of homosexual identity).

Within the past few years, I have been completely “out” – to family, friends, co-workers, and to myself. Only recently, though, I find myself going through the grieving process as described in Stage VI. Whereas I once felt I had a message worth sharing, I have been secretly struggling with the feeling that because I am gay and acting upon my orientation, I am no longer worthy to share, to be a minister. Even though I attend a gay-friendly church and have had the opportunity to speak, I feel like a withdrawn turtle scared to step forward and invest in life-long ministry. I grieve the confidence, the safety, the acceptance I once had from myself and from others, when I lived as a heterosexual woman. I grieve the freedom I once had just to speak, without having to defend or justify my life. I grieve the companionship of certain people I once loved and worked with while ministering in the former church (there are a few who knew me well, and even though we have accessibility through FaceBook, neither of us have made steps towards actual communication. I fear taking the first step because I know I will need to explain myself.) It is sad to me – I see my old life every day through the courtesy of FaceBook, and I am reminded over and over I am no longer “that” person, and I no long fit in with “those” people (in this instance, I refer to the “us vs. them” mentality). I grieve for the person who once was a part of that life. I grieve for the life I once knew. It has taken me almost ten years to realize this loss, the loss incurred by coming-out and embracing my sexual orientation.

I remember the day I wept for what I am currently going through, without realizing what I was about to experience. It was the day I stood up and preached my first sermon in a “gay” church, as an out-lesbian. This was a few months ago and shortly before my father (a retired minister) had a medical emergency in which he almost died. I have been grieving unknowingly since then, and I feel the depth of this process is yet to come.

So, this is how I handle, how I cope, and hopefully recover – by posting questions on Fluther. Yes, I have gone through counseling – in many different forms, and at different phases, for various lengths of time, in my journey. I am not a baby dyke. I am not someone who has never exposed my vulnerabilities. I am someone who has gone through many transitions, who has reached out and received help, and who has made major life decisions and changes in order to live my life. Through this, I am learning the hard reality – this coming-out journey never ends, but it does make me wiser and stronger, healthier and whole, the more I take each step gayly forward.

perspicacious's avatar

Decided not to answer as I misunderstood the question on the first read.

Kayak8's avatar

@prolificus As one who has also lived an examined life (and who has examined many of the same variables), I find that there are lessons in everything. It would be wonderful to be very clear on one’s message, to be respected for what one is able to share and how one can share the message, but the very nature of faith involves those introspective times when we are unsure (that’s how we know we are carried along by our faith). If someone is going to be an effective pastoral leader in my life (as one who has struggled), I need a leader who has struggled.

The challenge of being both gay and a Christian may be one of the most mind-bending combinations—sometimes you are distrusted by both sides and there is no way I have found to embrace both aspects of myself without a great deal of struggle in the process.

It would be nice to think that we could keep all the friends we have had along the way as we move forward through the next set of lessons in our lives, but as we are changing, so are the people around us. I wish I could be accepted by all the people I have known (even if just for being a human being who struggles), but my experience has shown me that is not how it feels. (I can’t honestly say how it IS, just how it FEELS). No one likes the sense of being judged and being found to “come up short” and it can be tempting to be defensive rather than open. It is equally hard not to judge ourselves in the very same ways. Most of the time, I judge myself far more harshly than I am judged by those around me. Every day I pray for more openness toward myself and my struggle so that I can recognize those same wounded places in others and can be more gentle (and less judgmental) of them.

I have read some amazing stuff by and about Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church and his similar struggles with many of the same issues. Whatever else someone might say about the man, he is the embodiment of personal integrity. For me to read and hear about his own reconciliation of faith and acknowledgement of self has been profound.

You are wrestling with some of the same essential issues and are doing it in an open and honest way. This process requires faith in large doses. By allowing God to work in your life (as you appear to be doing), He will use you in the ways He sees fit for His glorification. Sometimes the “who” of the messenger is as important as the message itself for some people to be able to hear what you have to say.

MissAnthrope's avatar

@prolificus – I just wanted to thank you for sharing so much of yourself in your post. I found it moving because I understand the struggle and I feel like I know you a lot better now, which feels like a gift. I also never even thought of the process as grieving until your question, but you are so right that that is what it is. Generally, I think it gets easier with time as we learn to integrate our new identities and find our places in the world. I had it fairly easy compared to some who have strong religious ties or very unsupportive family, but I do hope that you end up on the other side feeling strong and good about yourself, and that you can still answer your calling to ministry. The biggest thing for me to realize was that when it all boiled down, I was still the same person. I know that sounds simple, but it was the core of the sexual identity issue for me—How do I fit into this as this?

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