Should I disclose that I’m new to my queer* identity or new to queer dating?

*Labels and terminology can be tricky, sensitive, and limiting. In this blog post, “queer” is used as the umbrella term for sexualities on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum (ex- bisexual, queer, pansexual, gay, etc.)

femme person floating on their back in pool

“Should I disclose I’m new to my queer identity or new to queer dating?” is a question that comes up a lot in queer dating coaching. Mainly this is asked by folks who have primarily dated in a heteronormative way and now want to date beyond that, though sometimes it’s asked when folks are new to dating in general.

I find that the folks who ask this question usually fall into one of two categories. So, let’s think about this as a pool metaphor with two potential swimmers. The pool is called “queer” (very creative, I know).

Swimmer #1 doesn’t know if they like swimming or if they like this pool. They show up to dip their toes in the water. Perhaps they enjoy jumping in on occasion but then jump right out. They may not feel comfortable with being seen at this pool in the first place. Their relationship with this pool feels experimental.

Swimmer #2 might be new to this pool but they know they love swimming here. While they know that this pool is their jam, they’re still figuring out which part of the pool they like best. The might not know whether they like to stand on two feet in the shallow end, or tread water in the deep end. They might not know whether they prefer to dive in or take a step and go slow. Their relationship with this pool is exploratory.

Often, queer behavior (getting into the pool) and queer identity (knowing the pool is right for you) do not happen simultaneously. Some people jump in and out of the pool for years before knowing they belong at the pool in the first place (Hi! It’s me!). Some people jump in and out and realize it isn’t for them (straight folks with a history of queer behavior). Some people know the pool is for them without ever stepping foot inside (queer folks with little queer experience).

Swimmer #1 and #2 (and all of the incredibly nuanced variety of swimmers out there) are all on valid journeys.

And yet, I don’t think disclosure should be treated the same way for both swimmers.

So let’s involve someone else in this metaphor.

Let’s say you are Swimmer #1 and you make plans to meet someone at the pool. The assumption that the other person will make is that you like swimming, you like that pool, and you’ve probably swam before.

If you are Swimmer #1 and you are uncomfortable being seen at the pool, or if your mindset is to show up and just gather information about whether you like being at the pool in the first place, my vote is to communicate that to the other person ahead of time. That person may think that they’re making plans with someone who loves swimming as much as they do. When they show up and notice you don’t even want to get in, that might be confusing for them. They might take it really personally. They might’ve wished they made plans with someone who knows they like to swim!

I recommend disclosure for Swimmer #1 so others can consent to be on that experimental journey with you.

If you are Swimmer #2, someone who loves being at the pool but may be tentative to get in once you arrive- either because you’re used to swimming somewhere else or are new to swimming in general, disclosure is up to you. Perhaps disclosing will allow the person you’ve made plans with to be more patient. They might think about holding your hand as you step in instead of assuming you’ll follow them with a dive. They might be more careful, they might leave space for question asking.

Ultimately, for Swimmer #2, the goal is to be present at the pool.

If NOT disclosing your newness is taking you away from the moment, and disclosing that information would help you be present, my vote is to disclose!

And yet, there’s always a risk with disclosure. Someone might rather hang out with a more experienced swimmer. Maybe they, themselves, are new and want to be learning from folks around them and don’t feel in a position to lead. Maybe they’ve been hurt in the past by swimmers who get in and out of the pool too quickly. Maybe they will treat you in a way that is infantilizing, or maybe they’ll feel pressure to make your first time at the pool the best experience of your life.

And that’s okay. We can’t control how other folks respond to our truth. All we can do is express that truth in a respectful way and try to have a kind, loving relationship with ourselves regardless of how others respond.

So many aspects of dating are not “one size fits all.” Though I teach folks how to date/how to date better, there is so little that is actually black and white when it comes to connecting with others.

Because often, there isn’t as much of a map as we think. Yes, I give folks some coordinates on their journey, but more than anything, I want them to figure out how to be their own guide.

So! Whether you don’t know how to share what you want to share, or whether you don’t know how to receive something someone else is sharing, ask yourself, “If this situation were reversed, what would I want to hear? How would I want to be treated?” and tinker until what you come up with feels aligned for you.

In this way, we can be less focused on getting it right, and more focused on getting it right for us or right for this. We can be less focused on following the rules, and more focused on creating our own. Through this, we can trust ourselves to act from a place of integrity, lead with our personal values, and, ultimately, inspire others to do the same.

Ariella is a Queer Dating Coach who helps kind, queer folks navigate the dating pool, so they have the courage to go after what they want in dating and in life.

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