Feeling ashamed and fearful about being gay, lesbian, or bisexual (or other non-heteronormative sexual orientations, such as pansexual) is something that most of us in the community have felt before.

It is easy to understand why: most of us have been taught that being gay is a sin, and that it does not belong in our eastern community. In Malaysia, being gay or lesbian can even lead to jail time and even whipping, which leads to stress and fear.

But accepting our sexuality is important, both for our sense of identity and our self-esteem. After all, you have to accept yourself before others can accept you. Here are some tips to better accept yourself:

1. Know yourself well

In order to love someone, you must understand him/her first. This is also true with the relationship you have with yourself. Be honest with yourself as much as possible about who you are. You can do this by keeping a journal, for example. Dig deep into yourself and ask yourself what kind of people you are attracted to (not just their gender!), what you look for in a relationship, and what are your relationship goals, among other things. Hopefully, this discovery can lead to a path of self-acceptance.

2. Be loving and compassionate with yourself.

Your sexual orientation is not a punishment, or a life sentence. It is important that you love and accept yourself unconditionally. After all, being gay (or lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, etc.) is just another characteristic that you are born with, like being left-handed for example.

3. Confide in someone you trust

Find a non-homophobic person that you can trust. This could be a close friend, your counsellor, a trusted aunt, etc. Confiding in someone you trust will not only lift the burden off your shoulders, but it can also welcome love and acceptance from other people into your life.

4. Find your community

Is there a gay bar in your neighbourhood? What about an LGBTQ club at your university? Or perhaps there is a gay support group nearby. You can also make friends with a gay friend and one non-homophobic straight friend. Whatever it is, having support will ease your worries, help you create healthy relationships with your community and build healthy self-esteem.

5. See an LGBTQ-friendly counsellor or a therapist

Research has found that LGBTQ people are more likely to feel depressed, anxious and suicidal. This correlates with the discrimination and unequal treatment that we face in daily life. A good LGBTQ-friendly mental health professional can help you navigate your feelings and problems, such as your fear of being outed, or your feelings of shame regarding your sexuality. These professionals can also put things into perspective by assuring you that your sexual orientation is not a sin, and pin-point you to other LGBTQ-friendly resources.

6. Research about gay history and find gay role models

Homosexuality has existed as long as the human race has existed. History shows us many gay people who faced societal hate and discrimination head-on and came out stronger because of it. You can be inspired by their courage. There are many resources on LGBTQ history, starting from the internet and even your community library. You can also find a role model who is publicly out about his/her sexual orientation and correspond with them to seek their advice about problems bothering you.

7. Combat religious guilt

If you were raised in a religious household, you were probably taught that homosexuality is a sin. There are many resources, such as books by religious people who are also LGBTQ, and even community spaces such as LGBTQ-friendly churches and mosques, that you can seek solace in. If you need to cut off or distance yourself from religious, homophobic friends, do so. Do not consume material that condemns homosexuality.

If you decide to disconnect from religion altogether, that is another option too. Whatever it is you decide, there are many communities out there that can help you.

8. Above all, exercise good judgement

Even though the world is becoming more and more accepting it still remains hostile to gay people. Exercise your good judgement. For example, do not let anyone pressure you into coming out of the closet if you feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Or perhaps connecting to an LGBTQ club at your campus is not the right time at the moment. Perhaps you have no other option but to migrate to another country. There is no one correct way to lead your life. Do what makes feel good and safe for you.

Remember: You are normal, you are perfect and you are loved.

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