3 Ways to Navigate Questioning Your Sexuality or Gender

katy haney, LMSW on Aug 03, 2022 in Mood and Feelings

As we celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community this month, I want to highlight the Q in the LGBTQIA+ acronym which stands for queer or questioning. The questioning part of the Q refers to individuals who are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity. Questioning originates from a genuine place of curiosity. Unfortunately, this can lead to confusion due to much of our media and culture sending messages that gender is fixed and most of us will always be straight. These messages contribute to internalized homophobia, biphobia, and/or transphobia so that the state of questioning has potential to increase anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. The person questioning might experience increased anxiety due to fear of how curiosity around gender or sexuality might impact their social or romantic relationships. You might think — will I still be loved and accepted by my family, friends, or romantic partner? Those who are questioning also navigate safety concerns, knowing society does not historically affirm gender or sexual minorities. The questioning of gender or sexuality is a process that many people find themselves in at different stages of life. Gender and sexuality are fluid and it’s normal, healthy, and liberating to be curious! In fact, the dating app Bumble surveyed more than 4,000 users in 2020 and found that 21% of individuals plan to “express their sexuality differently compared to a year ago.” Maybe you find yourself happily married in a straight relationship and are having bi-curious feelings and thoughts. Maybe you are a single cisgender woman that has always identified as straight, but this label no longer feels true. This can come up for people who had heterosexuality imposed on them from a young age from family, friends, and their culture at large. In research, this has been coined as “unreconciled heterosexuality,” which is when a person’s sexual orientation has never been a journey of discovery for themselves. If you have found yourself questioning, you might also be in a state of unreconciled heterosexuality — wondering who am I? Perhaps you have always lived and identified as the sex you were assigned at birth, but you are reconsidering if this feels true to how you see yourself and would like to explore your gender identity and presentation. Or perhaps you have been in a straight relationship, but you have a partner transitioning their gender and are now questioning what this means for your sexual identity. Whether you are navigating unreconciled heterosexuality, considering your gender or sexual identity, or trying to find a label that resonates with you, the following are some ways to help navigate these experiences. 1. Be honest with yourself If you find yourself questioning your gender or sexuality, these thoughts might feel scary if you have never felt the freedom to explore or be curious. When we have scary thoughts, our automatic response is often to reject them from our consciousness. However, this can create more anxiety and isolation. Being honest with yourself can start with an exploration of interrogating your gender and sexuality. Some questions you can ask yourself are: How did I form my gender identity or sexual orientation? What and who influenced my beliefs about gender or sexuality? What were the consequences of not following expectations of gender or sexuality? What does my gender or sexual orientation mean to me? This honest exploration might clue you in to understanding why you are questioning at this time in your life. 2. Be honest with others When parts of us are unseen and unknown, we can feel isolated, alone, and experience increased anxiety or depression. Therefore, it is important to be honest with others. You can start this journey by sharing the fact that you are questioning your gender or sexuality with a queer affirming therapist to get support with how this may be impacting you emotionally and have a space to process your thoughts and feelings. If there is someone you feel you have a safe and trusting relationship with within your personal life, you may also find it helpful to talk to them. If you feel supported in community spaces, you may find a group of people who share your experience of questioning. If you are in a straight, different gender relationship, questioning your gender or sexuality can feel threatening to the relationship. However, talking to a queer affirming couples' therapist can help you navigate the experience with your partner. 3. The end goal doesn’t have to be a label While many people who have been questioning find that labeling themselves is affirming and helpful to their overall well-being, this doesn’t have to be the end goal for you. We are complex human beings and sometimes the process of questioning might just lead you on a powerful journey of self-exploration or a closer relationship with the partner you are already in a relationship with. However, part of your journey might be trying different labels to find something that feels more congruent with your sense of self. The process of questioning your gender or sexuality can be scary and anxiety-provoking. However, you are not alone, many people find themselves questioning! It’s important to remember that it’s not about solving who you are — it’s about getting in touch with what you need to feel happy, seen, known, and living more fully as yourself!

katy haney is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in New York, NY.

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