Help! My Partner is in the Closet

What do I do about my closeted girlfriend?

I have been with my current girlfriend for the last year. We've been best friends for three years. I have always been comfortable with my sexuality, and been pretty open about it. On the other hand, she's from an EXTREMELY religious family, and I am only her second girlfriend. (She's almost gotten married before, and regularly dated men.) We've been living together for the last six months, but I'm her "roommate".
I want take our relationship to the next level, we've discussed it and agreed, but I can't be okay with it if I'm just going to be a little secret locked up in her closet. What do I do? I love her deeply, but don't know if I can go on much longer with out being able to even look at her with love without her getting upset at me. Please help, I need some advice.
Secret Lover

Dear Secret Lover

You’re in a tough spot. Being out and proud and having a partner in the closet isn’t easy. You have to remember, some of us burst right out of the closet once we realized we liked the smell of another woman’s body. Others, like your girlfriend, have a lot of baggage from their childhood that keeps them from being truly open about who they are.

Of course you understand there are a lot of reasons for this. Besides the messages we get from our families and our churches, it also takes us some time to truly accept ourselves as a lesbians.

Our culture does not show us many examples of happy/healthy lesbian relationships.

What can you do as her partner?

First, support her and try to understand what coming out might mean for her. Could she lose the support of her family and all her friends? Although she shouldn’t put her family before you, it is still going to be quite a loss for her.
Try not to put pressure on her or make her feel guilty for not coming out.

Second try to have a discussion with her about it. Let her know why it is important for you that she acknowledge your relationship. What does taking your relationship to the next level mean for both of you? A ceremony? Getting a domestic partnership registration? Either of these are very public events and she should know that doing either of those does, in fact, out her.

Third help her take the steps necessary to come out. Like I would advise anyone, come out to someone you know is going to be supportive first. Let her have a good experience, something positive to carry her through the potentially difficult conversations she will have with her family.

Fourth, never “out” her without her permission. You have every right to be out and proud in your own life and you shouldn’t have to hide who you are to your family and friends, but don’t out her to her work, family or friends.

Fifth, be a role model for her. Show her how freeing and great life can be when you are an out and proud lesbian. Introduce her to your friends, especially other lesbian couples. If you know someone who had a hard time with their family, all the better.

She can learn from that person’s experience. I have never once ever heard anyone say they wished they had stayed in the closet. But it is a safe place to be--albeit for a short amount of time while you figure things out.

Finally, let her know that if she is to take her relationship with you seriously, this is something she is going to have to deal with. Perhaps she would benefit from counseling. Perhaps your relationship will benefit if you seek couple’s counseling. If you are planning on having a commitment ceremony, pre-marital counseling might be a good idea. I have some lesbian friends who insist that it really helped them get into the state of mind enter into their marriage and helped them resolved a few nagging issues that they had. Since this is a big nagging issue for you, it’s best that it’s dealt with before you “take it to the next level.”