Discussing Sexuality

Discussing sexuality is a difficult choice

NOTE: What might be an intelligent choice in one culture is often unacceptable in another culture. Even in the same country, even among people of the same religion, a choice one person sees as intelligent, might seem totally unacceptable to others. This is true especially with questions about sex, abortion, and homosexuality. Please understand that I am an American writing from my own perspective.

In my experience the most difficult decisions are related to homosexuality.The long-haired father and his son are comfortable discussing sexuality

1. In some families, the subject has been discussed when the student was young and children were assured that their parents will continue to love them, no matter what, and that if they are gay or lesbian, they will still be part of the family and totally loved and accepted. These children are lucky.

The father in this picture is comfortable discussing sexuality and assures his son that homosexuality will never be a problem. He tells his son how much he appreciates having this conversation.

2. Other families may accept gays and lesbians they know but are extremely upset when it involves their own children. Most of these are likely to eventually accept their child’s sexuality.

3. For other families, of course, homosexuality is totally unacceptable and seen as evil.

If you are considering coming out to family and friends, you really need an understanding of their feelings on the topic. You might discuss a famous person who is gay, lesbian,bisexual, or transgender.  Discuss the legal question of gay marriage rights. Talk about a student in your class, real or hypothetical, who is gay. This will help your understand their opinions.

Meeting people and having friends who are gay or lesbian

Actually, I should say Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Transgender, or Queer. Some prefer the word Queer instead of one of the more specific terms.

In college you are likely to meet many people who are gay. Sometimes students are so upset that they really don’t know what to say, and try to avoid everyone who is or might be gay or lesbian.

I knew a college student who asked a girl for a date. She simply said, “No thanks.” He later learned that she was a lesbian. He was so horrified that he had asked out a lesbian that he transferred to a different college, a small Christian college, assuming this couldn’t happen there. It could, of course. There are GLBT students in every setting.

I discussed this question in a high school class I taught. The students  would all be going to college in a few months. I asked them what they would do if they had a really nice roommate, someone they got along with very well, and halfway through the year this roommate said, “I really need to tell you something. I hope it won’t make any difference to our friendship. I am gay.”

My students were horrified at the idea. I think many of them would have stared in shock, then gotten out of the room as fast as they could, demanding a new roommate. They wouldn’t have wanted to spend another night there.

I asked the students to consider other alternatives. We finally agreed on something like this. “You are gay? I had no idea. I have to be honest and tell you this is really hard for me. I grew up thinking anyone who is gay is a pervert. You’re the first person I’ve ever known who is gay. But I also need to say that I really appreciate the fact that you trusted me enough to tell me. It’s going to take me a little while to get used to the idea, you know. But I enjoy having you as a roommate, and I don’t think there would be any reason not to continue.”

What was most amazing to me was first, having one boy’s mother come to thank me. Her husband was terribly homophobic and she had never known how to bring up the subject.

Then, to my surprise, over the next year, a good number of those students came to see me. The usual comment was, “Mrs. Fishel, the most important thing I learned in Physics last year was about how to react when we meet someone who is gay. I know you said we’d meet and get to know a lot of people who are gay, but I don’t think I believed you. Now I have some good friends who are gay. I just wanted to say thank you.”

Even More Difficult: What if you are gay or lesbian?

Sometimes children already sense who they are.  A little boy may insist that he is a girl. He might prefer to wear dresses and play with dolls. A little girl may insist that she isn’t a girl. She is a boy. Such children tend to be transgender, with their genitals not matching their hormones.

With gays or lesbians, the first clue normally comes around puberty comes when a young person feels an attraction to someone of the same sex.  He might wonder if he is really gay or just curious?  Is she really a lesbian or does she just admire this other girl?  Some people wake up one morning, and they know. Some spend months or years, sometimes experimenting with partners of both sexes, before coming to terms with their sexual identity.

Some find it comparatively easy to accept the idea, especially if they have good friends who are gay or lesbian. Others, especially those who had been taught that homosexuality is a sin, and that all homosexuals are perverts, may find this an agonizing situation, often leading to denial, sometimes even to suicide.

Find someone to talk to. If there is a gay student group on campus, you might go to a meeting or call someone and discuss your problem on the phone.

This leads to other difficult decisions

  • Will you continue to deny it? Will you marry and have children, forever hoping that this terrible desire will go away?
  • Will you choose to remain celibate and spend the rest of your life “in the closet,”  or perhaps only sharing this terrible secret with a few friends.
  • Will you share your struggle or your new identity with your parents? With your roommate? With your friends?

In my opinion, it is never healthy to lie to yourself and say it isn’t true. You can choose not to act on your feelings but do not deny your feelings.

It is wise to go slowly. There is no need to stand up in class the next day and make an announcement, “I want you all to know that I just realized that I’m gay.”

Take your time. First talk to a few people and get accustomed to the idea yourself.

Think about how this affects your future goals.

1. Some people choose to be “in the closet” at work, not sharing this information, knowing it will affect their evaluations, their relationships with workmates, and that they may end up losing their job.

2. In a different area where people are more accepting, you can often be “out of the closet” although that will still be taking a risk. Sometimes it is possible to move to an area where people are more accepting.

3. Others, feeling the stress of trying to hide who they are, find a job where they are accepted.

Think about how this information will affect your relationship with your parents and family members.

It is my opinion that you should take plenty of time to prepare before talking to your parents. You might want to start by bringing home a gay friend. Hopefully, they will get to like your friend. At a later time, you might ask your parents if they realized that your friend was gay. When homophobic people meet and like someone who is gay or lesbian, they may rethink their attitudes.  You might mention well-known people, people your parents would like, who are gay or lesbian. Only after you have given then time to adjust slowly to these new ideas, should you come out to them.

A student I knew many years ago, knew all through high school that he was gay. A few of his friends knew, but he had never told his parents.  He decided to tell them just a few weeks before he left for college. After the shock wore off, his mother was supportive and understanding. The father, however, could not deal with it. He began drinking. He was drunk so often that he lost his job. Finally, his wife got a divorce.  In hindsight, we might say the student would have done his family a favor by never telling them. But it is impossible to predict how people will react.

Other families have the opposite reaction. They ask questions. They sympathize with the struggle their child is going though. They thank their child for trusting them and sharing this information. As a result, the whole family grows closer together.

If your parents have threatened to throw any child of theirs out of the house if they were gay, you might be wise to at least finish college before telling them. You could use the time to make an effort to change their opinion.

You might learn that they are more accepting now than they were a few years ago. You might decide that the best choice is never to tell them.

Later,you might be able to introduce them to your “best friend” and explain that you are sharing an apartment or a house to save money. When they urge you to get married, tell them you are still looking, that the right person hasn’t come along yet.

In my own family, I know my mother would have been supportive. But my father would never have been able to handle it.  One summer I announced that I was a pacifist, expecting their approval of my being against killing for any reason.  My father exploded, threatened not to pay for me to go to college, and got physically ill because he was so upset.

If I had been a lesbian, I definitely would not have shared this information with him.  I would make this choice, not to protect myself from his anger, but because it would the caring thing to do. I would make the choice that would maintain family well-being.

You should also consider how “living a lie” will affect you. Being constantly afraid that someone will discover your secret creates terrible stress which can lead yo health problems.  People who can be open about their sexual orientation are often much happier.

If you have personal questions in this area, please use the “Contact Judy” page where all comments and questions are kept private. If I cannot answer your questions, I can usually refer you to someone who can.

You can leave public comments and questions on this page if you’d like.

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