When expats move to their new country, it can be an opportunity to make a new start. Sweden, with its relatively inclusive attitudes to lesbians and gay men, would seem like a natural choice for gay expats hoping to live their identity more openly. But coming out is often more of an ongoing process than a point in time.
LGBT expats in Sweden experience the same difficulties as other immigrants with adjusting to Swedish culture, climate and maintaining relationships. But some aspects of the transition to Nordic life are often unexpected. It’s been suggested that the ‘Law of Jante‘ has Swedes downplaying differences in favour of viewing everyone as equals. And living in a city such as Stockholm where being gay or lesbian is generally not regarded as anything unusual might also mean that it is less likely previous difficult experiences will be acknowledged. One way of getting recognition of what you have endured is to speak to a counselling therapist who is understanding and supportive of gay identity.
Coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is often discussed as if it were an event. But it is more likely to be a series of events or an ongoing process that continues through life. Some would say we never stop coming out. Even in Sweden, we have a society where the heterosexuality is still the considered the norm and the assumption that a person is straight often goes unquestioned. This assumption is part of what has been called ‘Heteronormativity’, a way of thinking that also suggests people fall into distinct genders (man and woman) associated with specific gender roles. The reality of life is, of course, quite different. Humans are as diverse as other species so biologically, sexually, gender-wise and in terms of identity, there can be much individual variation.
Making the decision to share your identity with others is a personal choice and needs to be treated as such. At the same time, the relief that comes with inviting others into your life can reduce anxiety and free up creativity. Talking about who you are and having an audience for your experiences is personally validating. Being able to be yourself around others is one of the rewarding aspects of living in Sweden that might be less possible in certain other places in the world.
Coming Out Later in Life / Gay and Married
For people who are older, coming out can be particularly challenging. I have spoken with many men who have decided, after years of marriage to a woman or having raised children in a traditional family, to explore other aspects of their sexuality and identity. Starting to identify as gay, bisexual or trans in your 40s, 50s or later can seem like entering a new world and an unknown world at that. If you are in this situation, it can be important to remember that you already know a lot about life even if the ‘world’ you are entering seems to have its own set of rules or conventions. Coming out after a straight relationship or later in life is a journey in itself. It can be helpful to have a gay counsellor to assist you to navigate the way forward.
Gay Relationship issues
Many of the individuals who consult with me at my practice at Hornstull or online are going through couples counselling, recently ended a relationship or are dealing with the aftermath of a break-up. It’s quite usual to have a difficult time when a relationship ends, and upset feelings can continue, especially when the end was unexpected or if you had been with your partner for a long time. If you are gay, lesbian or transgender, it can be therapeutic to talk about the feelings and to find a way forward with the help of a professional.
For gay people, finding a partner in a ‘heteronormative’ world is not always easy. Gay Internet dating has become one of the most common ways to look for and find love but some argue that it has turned people into commodities that are marketed. Not everyone finds it easy to ‘sell’ themselves to others over the net. In Stockholm there are a few gay venues, social groups and sports organisations. And many people meet their partners through work or friendship networks. Taking the first step or returning to dating after a break might involve some effort and motivation, not to mention support.
Lesbian and gay expats in Stockholm and elsewhere in Sweden, even those who have settled into life here, sometimes have unresolved family issues that may or may not be related to their sexuality. In terms of sexuality, it can help to know as much as possible about being gay and gay life in case the time comes when questions are asked. Family members can take time to adjust to a new understanding about their loved ones and people tend to learn acceptance at their own pace anyway. For those who are struggling with particular relatives, geographic distance can be both a blessing as well as a barrier to resolution. Having the ‘sounding board’ of a gay therapist might make a difference when exploring options.
Dealing with Workplace Homophobia
I’ve just attended the Nordic LGBT Business Leadership Forum, an event organised in Stockholm by IBM to promote discussion about how organisations can maximise the power of diversity in the workplace and translate it to success in the market. Companies based in Sweden are generally much more inclusive of transgender, lesbian and gay employees than in other countries but that doesn’t mean homophobia and transphobia in the workplace does not exist here. Workplace equality and inclusion also means being able to talk freely about what you did on your weekends (if you choose to). Dealing with workplace harassment or simply feeling at ease with your colleagues can be dependent on a number of factors and it is important not to blame yourself if you feel uncomfortable. If your job is stressing you out, make an appointment to talk about it and get it off your chest so that you can work out what to do.
Finally, it is common for people to wait to come to see me until the point comes that they feel really bad about things. My advice is to act now instead of waiting. Often when you start discussing problems with a therapist, difficulties do start resolving themselves.
Counselling in English in Stockholm has advantages and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are always welcome at Forward Therapy Stockholm. Just contact me by email or leave a clear message on 08-559 22 636 if you are interested in meeting at my office, walking talk-therapy or online counselling.