Finding Self-Acceptance as a Lesbian

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Reader’s Question

As I ask this question, I can feel myself getting angrier at the fact that I’m asking for help. Every day I find that I’m fighting with myself. I know I’m a lesbian but I can’t stand it. I dread thinking about what would happen if people found out.

I’m not homophobic. My brother is openly gay and I have no problem with it whatsoever. I also have gay and lesbian friends, and love them too. I just hate it about myself.

I’m always attracted to heterosexual women. I think this is partly because I know nothing could ever happen. The only problem is, when I have fallen in love, I find it so hard to cope when I see them on a daily basis and have to hide all these feelings. I also hate having to adapt my behavior so that no one can figure out what I’m really like. I seem to change into someone else — the straight, normal me. I even do it around my brother, although I know he would accept me.

I’m 21 and have been angry and short-tempered all my life, and I’m sick of it. I am also a virgin, as the thought of letting anyone close to the real me horrifies me, and I also just hate the way I look. I know I’m pretty, but just can’t imagine how anyone else could see me that way. How can I expect other people to accept me when I can’t accept myself? When people talk about sex or my sexuality, I change the subject, walk away or make some sort of stupid joke. I have been hiding for so many years, it’s now second nature to me. It’s not just my sexuality or the talk of sex, though. I don’t tell anyone anything personal about myself. I think if people know things about you, they have something over you — they know you are weak.

I want what I can’t have because I know I can’t have it. Even if I think a girl likes me, that scares the hell out of me. If I like someone and I find out they want the same things I do, I go running. I like the fantasy of it but I could never do it. If I did, I would have to accept myself being in a gay relationship. and I just can’t do that.

I’m so angry inside because I have to always think about if what I just did or said may hint to people the real me. I like flirting subtly and getting the same back, but get so uncomfortable and avoid answering when asked about it. I’m just so confused as to why I am like this, and I am fed up with it. I don’t know what to do anymore. I can’t ever see myself in public in a homosexual relationship at all. I feel like being alone for the rest of my life.

Psychologist’s Reply

Even though writing to me made you angry, I’m glad you did. The fact that you cared enough to reach out, even to someone you will never meet in person, means that you are ready to change, and it sounds like it’s time. From your description, you’ve spent close to 20 years being angry and it hasn’t gotten you what you want. So now you need to see if some other way of being can help.

Frankly, I’m not at all surprised that you’ve been angry for such a long time. Anger is actually a secondary emotion that acts as a cover for fear, sadness and vulnerability. If I had to guess, Anger often serves as a way for people to feel strong, but in your case, it seems like it’s become a wall that’s kept people out and you in. It’s time to bring down that wall.

You made it clear that you feel very alone, but you don’t have to be. There are plenty of people out there, including your brother and probably many of your friends, who are willing and able to help if only you will let them. It is true that allowing some people to know things about you is risky, but that is certainly not the case for everyone. The trick is in knowing which people are the right ones, and for that you need trust. Many people mistakenly believe that trust is given; it isn’t. Trust is something that is earned. You tell people a little something about yourself — something relatively harmless — and then see what they do with it. If they share it with others or use the information against you, then you know they are not trustworthy and you don’t tell them anything else. However, if they keep the information quiet and use it to support you, then you can trust them with a little more of yourself. Eventually, you will decide who you can trust and who you can’t.

It sounds like you could start with your brother because he knows first-hand what it is like to be gay. It could be that he felt much of what you do and found some ways to deal with it. Even if he hasn’t, he is likely to be sympathetic to your feelings and needs. At the very least, he may offer some words of wisdom about dealing with your family, workplace, friends and the world in general. Whatever he has to say, just being able to tell someone how you feel could be a big relief. Many people find that it is keeping the secret that hurts the most.

You are correct, though, in that it is necessary for you to accept yourself first before you can move forward. Even though you say you are fine with other people being homosexual, the fact that it is not okay for you tells me that you most likely have some internalized heterosexism that you must exorcise. Again, this is not surprising given that our worldwide culture is pretty heterosexist, and it would be difficult to escape that. In an effort to combat this tendency, I recommend reading about inspiring people who are gay, long-term gay couples, thriving gay communities, and thoughtful discussions about gay issues. In other words, do your research. You also might get something out of a gay support group.

If neither the research nor the group helps as much as you would like, it may be time to seek out a mental health professional. Make sure it is someone who is gay-positive and is trained to deal with homosexual issues. This person may be able to challenge some of your negative thinking patterns, help you work through your emotions, and accept who you are. It will be tough work, but the end result will be worth it. I think you’ll find that once you learn how to accept your complete self — your sexuality and your appearance included — your anger may fade and your life will get better. At least, you owe it to yourself to try.

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