How Embracing Uncertainty Can Help Transform LGBTQ+ Lives

question marks on blackboardThe 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.

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jeremy Schwartz, LCSW, LGBT / Gender and Sexual Identity Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Chadd

    June 22nd, 2015 at 3:15 PM

    The uncertainty that I have always felt since fin ally admitting to myself that I liked boys has never been about me, because I have known for a long time who I liked and who I wanted to be with. The uncertainty that I have felt has been about how my family would then accept me and what society would think about me as a whole. I didn’t really care about people outside of my family so much but it was important for me that my parents have a clear understanding that this was who I was ad I that I in no way wanted to alienated form them because of that. they have been great and though I can;t say that I suppose this was always their hope for me, they have never been anything but supportive and loving through this whole coming out process and I could never ask for anything more than that.

  • Morris

    June 23rd, 2015 at 7:55 AM

    Being from the south it hasn’t always been that easy to be an openly gay male. But I never wanted to leave the area, so there came a time when I had to decide to not only love myself but to openly do that in the place that I called home and always want to call home.

    I won’t say that it has always been easy, but it has become a little better since I stopped denying that part of my true self that I was tired of trying to hide

  • Chrissa

    June 23rd, 2015 at 11:24 AM

    You cannot always be certain of the kind of person someone is but I think that when you watch how they treat others during a difficult situation like this can be, then that will give you a pretty good indication of joust how caring and open minded they actually are.

  • Paul

    June 24th, 2015 at 7:34 AM

    This is also a good lesson for families encountering this kind of change as well.

    So this may not be the life that you always imagined for your loved one.

    So what? If this is what makes him or her happy then why not dive in and support them just like you always have with the other decisions they have made throughout their lives?

    Are you really going to let this one thing drive you apart?

  • paige

    June 25th, 2015 at 11:27 AM

    If you let the fear of the unknown always dictate what you o and control you, then how are you ever to live a happy and fulfilled life?

  • Lee

    June 26th, 2015 at 7:15 AM

    The most helpful thing that I have done is find more people like myself to hang out with. I didn’t necessarily leave the old friends behind but it is nice to have a group of friends now who can very much relate to my own personally struggles and who have been through some of the same things that I have.

  • Kristine

    June 26th, 2015 at 2:08 PM

    I appreciate this article! So often the unknown is completely tied to fear. Viewing uncertainty as an opportunity for curiosity, acceptance, learning, etc. is excellent! This concept is so helpful with the clients that I see who suffer from anxiety and uncertainty about their identity in general, whether it be gender, sexual orientation, career, etc.

  • Hester

    June 27th, 2015 at 3:35 PM

    With the news coming form the Supreme Court regarding marriage equality, I would think that more LGBT members of society could fee a lot more safe and secure that their rights too are being considered.

  • Brian

    June 28th, 2015 at 8:03 AM

    The fear remains for many of us though that we can still lose things in our lives that are important to us, like our family or our jobs even, just because we come out. Doesn’t mean that it is legal or right but very much still a reality.

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