The topic of late-blooming lesbians — women who discover their same-sex attraction well into adulthood — is gaining academic attention. The topic is being addressed in a variety of studies and workshops.

How to Become Lesbian
How to Become Lesbian

You don’t have to be butch, femme, or stud to identify as a lesbian. Sexual orientation describes our feelings for other people, not their gender presentation.

1. Know Yourself

Figuring out sexual orientation is a personal journey. It can take time to know yourself as a lesbian, even for women who have had sexual experiences with women before. Some women may even date men while secretly knowing that only women excite and stimulate them sexually.

Some women say they first knew they were lesbians when they started fantasizing about female celebrities or fictional characters. Others say they became sapphic after a friend or family member came out as lesbian or bisexual.

No matter how you find out, remember that your sexuality is only one part of yourself. Being a lesbian does not change your interests in other things, like school, hobbies, or family and friends. If people start to treat you differently when you become a lesbian, remind yourself that it is not your fault and try to focus on the things that make you happy. If they get verbally or physically abusive, seek help.

2. Know Your Rights

Depending on your state, some schools may limit freedom of expression in certain circumstances (if it’s obscene or would disrupt class time, for example). But your school can’t tell you to take off your T-shirt because it supports LGBTQ rights.

This is true whether you’re a lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning person. You have the right to use the bathroom and locker room that matches your gender identity.

If you’re worried about how someone might react to you being a lesbian, try bringing up lesbian movies or TV shows, or talking about general LGBT issues, like the Supreme Court’s decision to allow gay marriage. You can also check out Lambda Legal’s Know Your Rights map for more information about your state’s laws.

3. Know Your Options

Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. Her work has appeared in magazines and websites like Shape, Women’s Health, Well+Good, Self, and Greatist. She also coaches CrossFit and reviews pleasure products.

If you know you’re a lesbian, make sure you’re aware of your community and the resources it offers. For instance, your state’s gay and lesbian newspaper can give you information on local organizations, social groups, and events.

If you’re dating as a lesbian, consider coming out at the start of your relationship. It can help you build trust and respect with your partner. But if you’re worried about how your family or friends will react, it may be better to wait until you’re in a safe place. For instance, if you live with your parents and they have expressed homophobic attitudes in the past, it might be safer to wait until you’re able to move out.

4. Get Support

When you’re ready, come out to the people in your life who matter. It’s a big step, but it can make you feel liberated and supported.

Remember that not everyone will be receptive, so try to avoid making homophobic remarks or comments. Be open about your queer identity and educate others by talking about the community, attending LGBT events, and supporting LGBT businesses.

Be mindful of how you present yourself to potential lesbian partners, and never assume a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This can lead to a miscommunication that’s hard to undo, especially if it turns out you have more in common than you thought.

Familiarize yourself with different lesbian archetypes, like femme/lipstick lesbians, butchy femmes, futch lesbians, soft butches, and stone butches. While not all lesbians subscribe to these stereotypes, it’s helpful to understand what to expect as you navigate the queer dating world. It will help your conversations run more smoothly.