How to: Embrace your Identity
A person’s “identity” is a blend of many factors – some factors that are a matter of chance or choice and other factors that have been fundamental since birth: one’s spirituality, race, abilities, economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and nationality all contribute to how a person might “identify.”
Sexual orientation and gender identity, in particular, may remain a topic for political grandstanding in some parts of the country, but the reality is that more members of the LGBTQIA+ community are stepping into the spotlight and redefining representation for everyone.
In fact, the current Congress has broken the record for lesbian, gay, and bisexual representation, showing that being one’s authentic self can be a path to many kinds of success. Two senators and 11 members of the House of Representatives identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of lawmakers’ official biographies, personal statements, and campaign materials.
This is just one of many past and present examples of how LGBTQIA+ individuals aren’t shying away from being true-to-themselves. That phrase, though, means many things to many people, as everyone’s journey is different. How to “be you” is a determination that only you can make.
For an LGBTQIA+ person, there may be challenges in openly validating this part of their identity. The present-day expression “coming out” is a spin on the old high-society tradition of having a “coming out” debutante ball for young women who were now old enough to be eligible for marriage to high-society young men.
Now, “people don’t have to ‘come out.’ However, it has become this cultural thing where people began to celebrate. In queer communities, it’s a celebration, meaning like if someone changes their pronouns, we celebrate that,” said Ana. While influencers and celebrities may post coming-out pictures with humongous pride flags on their social media accounts, everyone’s journey isn’t joyful.
In particular, teens must navigate whether or not to be open with their parents, who may have opposing views about sexuality and gender identity. If there is a threat to your safety, make sure to have other outlets of support present. “If you need your parents’ financial and emotional support and are really scared they would ‘cut you off’ if you came out, then wait until you can tell them with less fear and anxiety. This may sound like ‘hiding,’ but it’s not,” Dr. Richard Niolon of PFLAG advises. “There’s no reason why you can’t build up a network of friends and other family who will be supportive of you and provide some ‘emotional backup’ to get ready for and recover from a difficult coming out to family.”
Niolon notes that coming out as a process. In many instances, conservative parents have grown up in a religious household rooted in hate against the queer community. Generally, PFLAG advises against coming out either during a heated argument or during a big family occasion, as that can be risky. “When I came out, I knew I was going to be safe in my family, but there’s still that scary factor of how people are going to react. It will all eventually just make sense for when you have that foundation to come out,” the senior said.
No best timeline or place works for everyone. In fact, some people choose to never officially come out. Each person’s choice to reveal aspects of their self and identity is highly personal and may take months or years, depending on one’s circumstances and environment. “There’s so much more conversation about sexuality and gender existing on a spectrum. Just because you happen to live one way, doesn’t mean that you are in this one little box,” librarian Nicole Coover-Thompson said.
Resources exist to help on the journey. If one follows a Christian faith, the Des Plaines Unity Church invites all people of all sexualities and genders. Organizations like the Trevor Project are available online 24/7 for LGBTQIA+ support. For private support, organizations like PRIDE counseling provide low-cost virtual therapy resources. PFLAG, which is an organization originally founded for families, has meetings for parents and vast online resources. “If you are going to come out, make sure you do it in a way that’s comfortable for you. if you only want to tell two people, you only have to tell those two people you trust,” said Thompson.
Local organization SPEAK Des Plaines has partnered with Maine West in planning an annual Des Plaines Community Pride Celebration which will be held June 4, 2023. There will be organizations providing resources for support, games and activities.