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Exploring Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & The Coming Out Process

sexual orientation

Exploring Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & The Coming Out Process

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity are an important part of each person’s experiences. Knowing about the diversity of these identities is just one way of becoming more acquainted with yourself and the people in your lives. For members of the LGBTQIA+ community, Coming Out or sharing your identity with others once you explore yourself, can be a very challenging process. In this blog post, we will explore different sexual orientation & gender identities, and review how mental health professionals support safety in each phase of the coming out process.

What is Sexual Orientation?
Sexual Orientation is the part of our being that determines the gender identities we are romantically or physically attracted to. Below are some examples of different sexual orientations:

Straight or Heterosexual individuals are people who are attracted to people of the opposite gender.

Lesbian individuals are women who are attracted to other women.

Gay individuals are men who are attracted to other men.

Bisexual individuals are people who are attracted to both men & women or people of various gender identities.

Asexual individuals are people who do not desire physically intimate relationships but can still desire emotional connection.

Queer can refer to people who are not heterosexual or whose gender does not meet established norms. (Once used as a slur, the word Queer has been reclaimed by some members of the LGBTQIA+ community to affirm identities).

It is important to note that some people define themselves in more than one way! Some people experience sexual orientation on a continuum, and some people do not wish to label themselves at all! No matter one's understanding, each sexual orientation deserves to be validated and respected.

*To learn more about Sexual Orientation and other identities please visit

What is Gender Identity? How is it Different from Sex?

In simple terms, Sex is the body and Gender is what is inside (Green, 2017). Sex is biological and is often assigned at birth as “male” or “female.” Sex can be chromosomes, and physical body/reproductive anatomy. Gender is the role we have, and our behaviors in society- meaning how we feel, who we are and what personal traits or attributes we express.

Oftentimes, gender is linked to sex, such as “female with woman” or “male with man,” however, there can be more than just two sexes and two genders! People can also discover that their gender identity doesn’t match their sex assigned at birth (this is true for Transgender individuals) and sometimes people can have multiple sex characteristics (this is true for Intersex individuals).

People can affirm their gender identity by changing their name, pronouns, attire, legal documents, or by receiving medical care-which can improve both physical and psychological health! (American Psychiatric Association, 2017), (Journal of Adolescent Health, 2021).

*To learn more about Gender Identity please click here.

The Stages of Coming Out
Due to fear of discrimination & rejection, many LGBTQIA+ people have difficulty sharing their sexual orientation and/or gender identities with their loved ones and peers. Some people only come out on the basis of who they feel safest with, and some people wait to come out until they understand themselves better. Mental health clinicians can help LGBTQIA+ individuals during their coming out process by providing unconditional non-judgemental support.

The following are The Stages of Coming Out- a developmental theory developed by
Psychologists to help clinicians & LGBTQIA+ people navigate feelings of safety and feelings about identity:

When an individual may be unsure of their feelings or in denial about their sexual
orientation or gender identity.

When an individual may begin to question their orientation or familiarize themselves with LGBTQIA+ community information.

When an individual accepts that they may be LGBTQIA+ and begin to actively seek
community & peers.

When an individual fully accepts their LGBTQIA+ identity and embraces cultural outlets + relationships.

When an individual expresses pride towards their identity.

When an individual is able to be out to friends, family & co-workers.

We must remember that not everyone experiences these stages of coming out in the same way, and no one should ever feel pressured to come out when they are not safe enough to. This is why affirming therapy or having a confidential, non-judgemental space to be oneself, can be valuable for LGBTQIA+ community mental health. There are also a growing number of queer therapists who can model pride and connect people to community resources.

Below is a list of resources for LGBTQIA+ people and their families:

Mental Health Hotlines:
The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 , Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860

Community Organizations:
The Center, GMHC, Anti-Violence Project

Callen-Lorde,, Folx Health, Planned Parenthood

International Organizations & Asylum:
InReach for LGBTQ Asylum Seekers, The International Lesbian, Gay,Bisexual, Trans & Intersex Association

Family Planning & Fertility:
Queer Birthing Project:, Gay Parents To Be:

Trans Toolshed:, Queer Lit:

Siena Vaccara, LMHC Siena Vaccara received her master’s in Mental Health & Psychological Counseling from Columbia University. Siena believes in encouraging personal growth through education, cultural awareness, and building trusting relationships. She utilizes Feminist and Narrative treatment plans, as well as Cognitive Behavioral and Person-Centered techniques in session to incorporate an integrative psychotherapy approach that honors the unique needs of individuals. She understands the importance of the collaborative therapeutic space being non-judgemental, unbiased, open-minded, and strength-driven. Siena treats individuals with concerns ranging from personal transitions to family planning, identity, mood fluctuations, and stressful life events.

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