The experience of coming out to oneself and others as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and/or transgender is an ongoing process that often shapes how LGBTQ+ people see themselves and how they interact with the world at large.
According to common theories of identity development, as a person starts to compare their identity to that of others, and to consider the possibility that one’s identity is aligned with a minority group, isolation and self-alienation often kick in. This social alienation decreases as a person meets others like them and moves toward not only tolerating a stigmatized identity but accepting and embracing it with pride.
While much has been written about this process and what coming out to oneself and others means for identity, less has been explored about what the process means for personality and character development overall.
Curiosity and Uncertainty: Key Relational Tools
Curiosity, a precursor to empathy, is a key component of healthy relationships. Humility, combined with a willingness to learn, opens us up to better understanding ourselves and others. It also allows us to receive positive emotional experiences while reducing our time spent with unpleasant emotions such as anger and frustration.
The experiences of LGBTQ+ people uniquely support the development of a healthy level of uncertainty. We learn to embrace ambiguity. The experience of coming out to oneself, of discovering that one’s identity does not entirely match the messages received in our upbringing, can be an eye-opening process. We learn that assumptions sometimes prove false, that how other people define us is not always accurate, and that we are the creators of our own experience.
The ability to tolerate uncertainty is important for healthy relationships. When we can’t deal with not knowing, we make assumptions and judgments. We decide what other people’s motivations are, what they should be doing, and what they are doing wrong. We may close ourselves off to curiosity, to not knowing, and to being willing to listen.
Dealing with Discrimination: Ambiguity and Resilience
In this period of increased acceptance and rights for LGBTQ+ people in many places, there is still violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender that happens every day. This interpersonal and structural oppression particularly impacts people of color and transgender and gender-nonconforming communities.
The experience of coming out to oneself, of discovering that one’s identity does not entirely match the messages received in our upbringing, can be an eye-opening process.
While prejudice against LGBTQ+ people still happens in the open, it also happens in more subtle and covert ways. These microaggressions can leave people wondering what happened in an interaction, what was meant, and what it means about their identity. This more under-the-surface negativity can be even more damaging over time.
Often, these very real threats of danger and loss can change our behavior in ways that, while intended to protect us, end up getting in the way of living the lives we want. While taking steps to reduce risk and establish safety is important, a narrative of fear need not define our lives.
When something seems to not be going well, you can wonder how this will all turn out. You can embrace not knowing the outcome. You can be open to writing your own story, rather than having your story dictated to you. Embracing uncertainty means saying yes to the adventures on the journey that is life.
Creating Resilient Communities
Resilience is worth celebrating not just at the level of the individual, but also in terms of how communities help us find support and lend support to each other. By being curious, embracing uncertainty, and celebrating that which is ambiguous, we can bring out the best in ourselves and each other.
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