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Are Women Terrified about Coming Out?

Loren,

I just read your comment that concealed sexual orientation is like an abscess begging to be ruptured. Can this be true about women also? I work with a lady who is late middle-age and I think she is struggling with this. Her looks are gay or androgynous. I cannot imagine being that terrified of my sexuality. I feel like I have fallen in love with her.

First let me say that most of my work has been with men, and I don’t want to attempt to mansplain women’s experiences. Women need to do that for themselves. I did ask some women to read my book, Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight, to see if they felt their experience paralleled my own.

In her endorsement of my book, attorney Sharon Malheiro wrote, “As a sixty-year-old lesbian, I can attest that [Dr. Olson’s] experiences are not too different from what women also experience in the coming out and acceptance process.” I think we can safely assume that the fears of the consequences for coming out are similar regardless of gender, economic status, religion, or culture.

I can also say from my experience as a psychiatrist that when people have a hidden secret about which they feel deeply conflicted, they often experience a strong need to share that secret with someone who will be accepting, empathetic, and understanding. For example, a woman who’s had an abortion but was raised in a religious tradition that strongly opposes the termination of a pregnancy may have a powerful wish to relieve that guilt by sharing with someone her secret, which can feel like an abscess waiting to be ruptured.

Your coworker may indeed be struggling with this. On the other hand, she may feel quite comfortable with her life as she is living it. You cannot know what she is thinking unless she tells you, and she may have no desire to speak with anyone about this. Your assumptions may be entirely based on stereotypes and not real facts. Her dress and mannerisms are no proof of what goes on in her conscious or unconscious mind. She—like many of us—may not even know about any same-sex desires, if she even has them.

Although you may have been aware early in your life about your own same-sex desires, her life experience is likely much different from your own.

You wrote that you have fallen in love with her. I’d refer you to my essay “I Love My Husband, and I Love My Wife,” in which I discuss the different meanings of love. I assume when you’re saying that you’ve fallen in love that you are feeling something more than just a wish for friendship.

Erotic love is wonderful to experience but is often the result of making the desired one into a fantasy that meets your needs more than hers. I suggest that you focus first on friendship; anything more could easily overwhelm her if she’s conflicted about same-sex feelings. I would also suggest that you not ask her anything directly about it. The best approach would be to demonstrate that you’re there for her, a friend who will be accepting and nonjudgmental, and that you’re open to listening if she wants to share with you.

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