(CBS) Ellen de Generes, Rachel Maddow, and Rosie O'Donnell may make "coming out" look easy from their powerful televised perches, but for many lesbians the process is still a struggle, say experts.
That was the case, to varying degrees, for the many of the women featured in Showtime's new reality series "the Real L Word."
CBS News asked the cast to share their "coming out" stories so others might learn from them.
Each was unique.
For Tracy Ryerson, a 26-year-old television executive, coming out was a two-step process. Eventually a "light bulb went off in my head," she says. "And I realized that I was gay."
Jill Sloane Goldstein, 33, was confused because she hadn't lost her "attraction to
or interest in men." Finding true love radically changed her outlook.
Rose Garcia, a real estate broker, had to face her Puerto Rican Catholic family.
Whitney Mixter, a special effects artist, says she was lucky her family supported her at a very young age, but worries about the backlash from conservative groups today.
Their struggles are not unique, says Jamie Trachtenberg, a social worker in New York with a specialty in sexuality.
"If you look at recent changes in our culture, one could presume that it is easier to come out," she says "But I am in New York. If I were in Oshkosh or someplace else where it is not so acceptable to be gay, it would be harder. It's an individual process, and everyone handles it in his or her own way."
"Real L Word" cast member Nikki Weiss, a Hollywood talent rep who was married to a man, did just that.
She came out on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and won a GLADD award for it. Try topping that story.
Mikey Koffman, a fashion promoter, had an easier time. "It has always struck me as odd that others would even have an opinion about who is in my bedroom, or who I choose to love."
And certainly many people working through their sexual identities are finding it easier than in the past.
"Times are changing, and society is changing," says Michael McGee of the American Association of Sex Counselors and Therapists, who is also an adjunct professor of Human Sexuality at Montclair State University.
"It is easier for young people to come out now," he says. "In my
classes I have about 30 students, and at least one will generally come
out in every class. Once I had two bi women, one lesbian and two gay
men. Generally the other students are pretty welcoming. Students who
may have an issue with it keep it to themselves."
As cast member Ryerson told CBS News, no matter who you are, if you're lesbian or questioning, the first step in coming out is "coming out to yourself."