Regardless of your personal coming out moment, women who love women will encounter challenges that are identical to and distinctly different from their LGBTQ+ and heterosexual counterparts.
Some women will realize that they’re attracted to other women from a very young age. (This “insight” into your romantic preferences doesn’t usually render the coming out process any easier, unfortunately). Other women are born fantasizing about girls but are “normalized” by their culture, religion, or families to view the dating world through a heterosexual lens, either rejecting their sexual identity or never realizing that being gay is an “option” until later life.
Other women are simply fluid. You can spend your entire life only experiencing attraction to men, when you suddenly meet a girl who gives you butterflies and it redefines how you’ve always defined yourself.
Challenges Lesbian Will Face
Detailed below are some challenges that may be more commonly confronted by LGBTQ+ members, with an emphasis on how each issue affects lesbian populations in particular.
Resolving uncertainty regarding your sexual orientation: Is my attraction to women a phase or does it mean that I’m gay?; acknowledging your sexual orientation and achieving self-acceptance; disclosing your LGBTQ+ status to family, friends, or coworkers (a personal choice); coming out as a lesbian in later life or when you’re already in a heterosexual relationship; broaching the “I’m gay” talk with your kids
Countering sensations of self-hatred and valuations of self-stigmatization (when you’ve absorbed distressing messages from religious, cultural, or societal resources that depict LGBTQ+ persons as inferior, sinful, depraved, deserving of violence/contempt, or as simply lesser; overcoming feelings of shame and the burden of continued secrecy; reconciling your sexual orientation with your moral and spiritual beliefs
Rejection By Family
Revealing your sexual orientation to your family and processing the spectrum of their reactions: from “duh, we already knew that!” to “pack your bags—we’re cutting you off financially!”; integrating your partner into those endlessly awkward family affairs (from silent Thanksgiving dinners to weddings where you both are relegated to that guest table on the fringe of the fringe); coping with parents and relatives who are in denial about your sexual preferences (like that one aunt who keeps trying to set you up with that sweet but clueless boy next door…)
Managing labels (the pressure to identify as butch, femme, lesbian, queer, as the “girl” or “boy” in the relationship, as liberal or feminist, etc.); navigating encounters with individuals who attempt to eroticize your relationship or convince you that your identification as lesbian is a choice (as opposed to your reality).
Handling those knotty and embarrassing conversations (such as, “Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean that I…” am attracted to you; enjoying watching sports; want to explain to you how lesbian sex works; or wear flannel and play guitar. Or maybe I enjoy all of those things—but being a lesbian is still not why!)
Discrimination and Violence
Handling bullying or lack of advancement in academic or occupational environments; holding your ground against adoption & housing agencies, healthcare providers, and political or law enforcement officials who reject or ignore your requests based upon your LGBTQ+ status; recovering from violence (a premeditated attack or stranger violence) or a sexual assault.
Mental Health Issues
Receiving treatment for mental health issues that affect lesbian populations in elevated proportions (such as substance abuse, depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc.); overcoming suicidal thoughts and self-harming behaviors, and learning how to love yourself as you are; connecting you to healthcare providers (as needed) who are qualified to treat LGBTQ+ clients with sensitivity and care.
Love and Dating
Learning how to navigate the dating landscape when… you feel as though you’re the only lesbian in a 200 mile radius; your girlfriend of two months is ready for a serious commitment or declares that she’s interested in exploring polyamory; you’re in love with a straight girl; the gay community in your town is so claustrophobic and interconnected that you run into your exes EVERYWHERE.
You and your partner have a bad case of “bed death” (your sex life has become virtually non-existent); or you’re experiencing the roller-coaster of “first” emotions: first female love, first same-sex sexual encounter, first heartbreak, first cohabitation experience with a romantic partner, etc.
Starting a Family and Parenting
Negotiating with your partner about the many nuances of starting a family, from identifying the ideal time to determining the how’s & who’s (from placing adoption applications to raging debates about anonymous vs. known sperm donors and selecting the optimal reproductive technology to pursue; appointing who will carry the child.
Once they’re born: explaining the structure of your family to your children; what to do if your child is ever teased about having two mommies; and piloting all of those non-LGBTQ+ specific challenges of parenting (from surviving the terrible two’s to maintaining your sanity during those rebellious teenage years to conquering the empty nest syndrome that settles in once they leave for college)