Gaurav was 16 when he started becoming aware of the possibility that he might be gay. While his friends ogled at girls, he on the other hand, seemed to notice all the interesting guys. Eventually, he realised that he was attracted to boys, and felt nothing for girls. By the time he was 19, Gaurav was clear about his sexuality, and declared the same to his close peer group. Family was a different story. It took him many more years to finally fully come out to his parents. Looking back, he realised that the years 16 to 24, when he should have been busy focussing on his career, networking, building friendships as well as romantic relationships, he spent figuring out his sexuality, and trying to find a way to fit into the society without being ashamed or apologetic about the same.
While alternative sexual preferences are now accepted by the law, and also grudgingly accepted by the society at large (at least superficially), the journey that a young person goes through, from the moment they start realising their alternate sexual preferences, to the time they finally find a place of their own in the society, tells a different story altogether! Unfortunately, this journey, at times, takes up so much of their time, thought, and emotion, that other aspects of their identity either get inadequate to no attention, or become fused with their sexuality.
Let us look at some ways in which a person’s sexual identity can impact their overall identity.
Self-esteem: Often, our sense of ourselves is closely linked to our gender identity and sexuality. With the realisation that we could possibly be ‘different’ from others, self-esteem can at times take a dip. This is especially true for someone whose self-esteem is shaky to begin with. In such cases, having a sexual preference that is different from the norm can create lots of insecurities, anxiety, and loss of confidence.
Preoccupation with sexuality: Going through a period where hormones are raging, and one is only thinking about one’s sexuality is not uncommon for most people. However, this preoccupation with sexuality can last a long time for someone who is trying to figure out or explore what their preferences really are. There is lots of questioning, checking, exploring that goes on, which can take up a lot of mental space. And if the person is ambivalent about their sexual preferences, this preoccupation can last a lot longer.
Peer relations: At times, same-sex friendships can suddenly become fraught with tension and uncertainty. While many LGBTQIA+ persons have strong and robust friendships with both the same and opposite gender, for some, this can become a potentially difficult area. Thus, a lot of energy is spent figuring out friendships in the context of their sexuality.
Family dynamics: Jia and Tania were both 24 when they came out to their respective families. They had been friends since preschool, and partners since they were 19. Both their families had always known that they were very close but were clueless that they were together in a romantic way. Jia’s family was shocked and shattered by the revelation, and Jia went through a very rough few months at home. Her mother wouldn’t stop crying, father refused to talk to her, and they forbade her from meeting Tania. They even roped in family elders to convince Jia that what she was doing was ‘wrong’, and they would never be able to accept it. Tania’s family, too, was shaken to know of their relationship, but they were a lot more accepting and philosophical about it. They told Tania that it wasn’t something that made them happy, however, she was an adult, and if she was sure about this, then they would find a way to be okay about it.
The family equation often undergoes a seismic shift in the light of one’s sexual preferences. To begin with, individuals go through a period of withdrawal, alienation, and uncertainty while they figure out when, if, and how to come out to their families. Thus, emotional distance can get created. Moreover, a lot depends on how the family members take it, as we can see from Jia and Tania’s situation.
Feelings of isolation: The withdrawal, at times, can be not just with family and friends, but a more encompassing withdrawal from the world at large. There may be a sense of being not understood, feeling different or not included in very subtle ways, that can leave a deep impact.
Compensatory emotions: Often, individuals learn to deal with all these difficult aspects through anger, bitterness, and an overall sense of mistrust. All interactions with others get filtered through this anger, and it can result in a loss of perspective, and make one sensitive to the slightest of real or perceived discriminatory actions or words of others.
Mental health challenges: The stress and pressure before one comes to terms with one’s own sexuality can often create a lot of anxiety, nervousness, and even panic. Clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms may show up.
Ensuring a healthy, balanced identity
Needless to say, your sexuality is a very important part of your identity, the way you see yourself. While owning up to that and being proud of who you are is undoubtedly crucial, what will really help is to ensure that you allow yourself the opportunity to develop all aspects of your life and your identity. Few ways you can do this are:
Acknowledge and accept your sexuality: Whichever part of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum you may be, it is who you are, and it is one of the things that makes you unique. Own up to yourself, and be proud of who and what you are, including your sexuality. If that means shouting from the rooftops, so be it. If you prefer to keep quiet about it, so be it. There is no right way to come out; simply follow your heart and do what is right for you!
Build a strong network: Make sure you create a strong network of friends – same sex, opposite sex, same age, different age – does not matter. There may be ups and downs in your romantic life, but friends are ones who stay rock steady in your life, and having that network is super important. So make sure you are focussing on building strong friendships even while you are exploring your sexuality.
Know your preferences in all areas of life: What are your hobbies? What is the kind of music you like? What career preferences do you have? Life is a multi-coloured spectrum of experiences of all sorts. Give yourself an opportunity to dip into as many experiences that appeal to you. This will allow you to know yourself better and know yourself beyond your sexual preferences. You are a lot more than your sexuality, and knowing these different parts of you can be an incredible experience.
Talk to someone: If you experience any internal conflict, ambivalence, or confusion, do talk to someone you trust. It could be a parent, a close friend, or a colleague – as long as it is someone who can be objective, compassionate and non-judgemental. It might also be a good idea to talk to an LGBTQIA+ affirmative therapist, who can help you with many of the above mentioned aspects.
Your sexuality is an important part of who you are; but remember, it’s only a part. It’s one part of the beautiful mosaic that is you. While you need to cherish and honour that part, it is also important to see the whole mosaic, and to ensure that you nurture and honour every part of this mosaic and allow it to bloom and blossom. So go ahead, become the best version of who you are!