We all at times know the experience of feeling like an outsider, or that in some way we aren't understood.  Children who grow up to be gay, lesbian or bisexual can feel alienation particularly deeply, not only in their communities and schools, but within their families as well.  Far too many gay people have struggled with shame, low self-esteem, and self-loathing.  As a result, coming out to oneself, one's family, and one's friends can often be an experience full of fear and dread.

I'd like to share how I worked with two people who were struggling in different ways with their coming out processes.  I have changed their names and identifying information to protect their confidentiality.

Taisha came to see me about six months after the birth of her child, whom she was raising with Kim, her partner of eight years.  Taisha and Kim had a solid relationship and a strong community network.  What she didn't have was an honest relationship with her parents.  All these years she had told them that she and Kim were simply roommates.  Taisha had never told her parents that she was lesbian.  With the birth of their daughter, this distance from her parents was gnawing at her.  While Taisha was comfortable coming out to her friends and co-workers, she choked up whenever she thought about telling her parents.  She felt this amorphous fear and panic, and always backed off from sharing this significant part of herself with them.

Taisha and I explored her memories of when her mother would be angry at her --- her mom would retreat to her rocking chair with a book, and refuse to talk with or acknowldedge her.  During our sessions she discussed her hurt, anger, and how lonely it was to feel so misunderstood, and most of all, about feeling abandoned during these silences.  She and I focused on these memories and worked together to help her tolerate her ongoing fear of abandonment by her mother.  Taisha and I also worked on helping her develop a wider range of ways to respond to her mother's silences, rather than just slinking away.  Taisha came to accept that she could not ultimately control whether her mother would lapse into silence --- which is exactly what her mom did after Taisha finally came out to her and her father.  Subsequently, Taisha and her mom have been going through a rocky distanced period.  But Taisha now feels able to tolerate her fears of abandonment and continues to work on new ways of relating to her mom.  She is hopeful that over time they will reestablish a better relationship.

Bill, at 22, had just graduated from college, obtained his dream job, but was miserable.  He came into therapy because, while he knew that he was gay, he'd never told anyone.  In fact, I was the first person he had told, and sweat was pouring down his forehead as he revealed this to me.  During this first session he asked --- demanded --- to know whether I was gay.  I told him that I was, and he then took a deep breath and started talking more about what life was like for him.  Bill did know a number of gay people from college and at his new job.  He also had a close lesbian friend.  But he was too flooded with shame and anxiety to consider opening up this part of himself to anyone. 

We spent many months with Bill pouring out stories of isolation and loneliness.  And over the course of the next year Bill gained the courage to start telling selected friends that he was gay.  He even got up the courage to go to The LGBT Center ( and join a support group for people just coming out.  That was particularly challenging for him because of his panic that inadvertently someone who knew him might see him enter the building.  Bill is slowly but surely starting to feel more comfortable about being gay.  Currently we're working on him dating, having sex, and telling one of his brothers that he's gay.  It's a gradual but steady progression on his part.

Luckily, our culture has become much more open to the diversity of people's sexual expression.  But on an individual basis, many people still struggle with taking that first step.  A supportive therapist can often provide a significant bridge to opening up this part of oneself with family and friends.