Being gay is okay: Information and advice for gay, lesbian, bisexual and unsure under twenty-fives.
Frequently asked questions (page 1 of 2)
What is 'being gay'? Am I gay?
Being gay means a person is sexually attracted to their own gender. 'Gay' is a popular term for homosexual, usually used to describe male homosexuals. A woman who is attracted to other women is known as a lesbian, though some people use the word 'gay' to describe both homosexual men and women. If a person is attracted to both sexes they are known as bisexual (see the bisexuality page). People who are attracted to the opposite sex are known as heterosexual or straight.
You might hear people talk about the sexuality or the sexual orientation of a person. They are talking about what gender that person is attracted to. Your sexual orientation might be gay, bisexual or straight. Sexuality is also used as a broader term that can refer to someone's sexual behaviour and how they express themselves sexually i.e. what a person likes to do with a partner in bed and what sort of experiences they seek. Sexuality isn't a choice that someone makes. It's a part of their nature.
Broadly speaking, you are gay or lesbian if you are exclusively sexually attracted to members of your own gender. If you are attracted to both men and women - though not necessarily equally - this means that you are bisexual.
However, labels such as gay and straight don’t always fit a person comfortably. It's human nature to want to categorise things neatly in order to make sense of them and to better understand ourselves and the world around us, but don't feel pressured to label your sexual orientation.
Imagine a scale: at one end is gay and at the other is straight. There are many shades of grey in-between, like people who aren’t sure, or people who had same-sex relationships in the past but identify as straight now, or people who are bisexual but strongly prefer one sex over the other etc. There are no handy labels for all the ways people feel and behave. There are no rights and wrongs either, so just relax and let time and your changing mind and body help you figure out what you like and want.
Nobody fully understands yet what determines a person's sexuality. I believe – as do many others - that homosexuality is genetic. In other words, we’re born gay, bi or straight. Some people believe that sexuality is influenced by events and environmental conditions that a child experiences as he or she is growing up. Some feel that sexuality is determined by a mixture of both genetic and environmental factors. You might hear the popularly phrased question, 'nature or nurture?' around this topic. This asks whether a person is born gay or whether it stems from their upbringing.
There are all sorts of theories with negative overtones that attempt to explain the occurrence of homosexuality, such as absent or distant fathers, overbearing mothers, exposing a child to bad influences, being raised in a single parent family, what toys a child is allowed to play with, and whether certain behaviour is encourages or discouraged by the parents. You may even hear about mothers getting worked up about whether dressing a boy in pink might upset the father or alter the child's behaviour. I don’t believe that a naturally straight child can be turned gay by playing with Barbie instead of Action Man, or because Dad was away on business a lot, or because Mum was overprotective, or a gay uncle visits regularly etc. All such suggestions are merely theories - often biased or with an agenda - and are not based on proven science. If children are allowed to explore who they are and express themselves without guilt, they'll discover their sexuality naturally without hang-ups about gender appropriateness.
Sexuality is a fundamental part of your being, of who you are, but it doesn't define you as a person. You are much more than your sexuality. It should be given the relevance it deserves by yourself and others.
Some people believe that homosexuality is an unnatural deviation from what’s considered normal and sometimes attribute it to an odd choice made by the individual. I have yet to meet anyone who decided to be gay, or straight, for that matter. A person can’t opt out of their sexuality, or adopt another. See Is homosexuality a choice? Can it be changed? in the religion section.
Why are some people so against homosexuality?
The most common reasons for homophobic behaviour are:
I've dedicated a whole section to this topic. See it here.
- Traditions and expectations
The traditional idea of a happy, normal life is based around heterosexual marriage and having children. A lot of people feel that heterosexual relationships are better, normal and morally superior. We celebrate straight relationships in every area of life. We spend thousands on wedding plans and throw parties for pregnancies. And we whisper very quietly about divorce rates! A lot of problem page emails I get are from young people who's parents are completely devastated that their offspring won't be getting married and having children. They simply can't see, through their rigid adherence to tradition, that someone can be happy in a different kind of family. A lot of unhappiness is caused in gay peoples' lives via the struggle between following their true desires and living up to the expectations of family and society at large. So powerful is the hold that tradition has over people that some gay people do marry and have children because they feel that there is no other option. This behaviour isn't just limited to conservative religious parts of the world.
- It's different
Seeing a same-sex couple holding hands in the street is different. For some, this creates suspicion and hostility. It's the same with racism. It's about ignorance and a person's capacity for negativity and hate and their belief that they are better. I've met men who have said that they've imagined kissing another man and how it made them feel ill. It's ridiculous for a person to deliberately imagine doing something that isn't part of their nature and then use that as a justification for homophobia. For some, homosexuality is a big mystery, something wholly different, abnormal and weird, and they may feel threatened by it. They use stereotypes, guesswork and homophobic humour to form opinions about the unknown. What a lot of people don't know is that a same-sex couple has more similarities to an opposite-sex couple than they do differences. Gay people experience the same romantic feelings, sexual desires and emotional pain as any straight person, and their relationships are as likely to succeed or fail. Being gay is different from being straight, but that's only a negative if someone decides that it is.
Will life be harder for me as a gay person? Can I be successful?
Being gay isn’t a problem, and shouldn’t be seen as such. Nobody is born with a bad attitude about it. It’s not an illness or a disability. It's often the people around us and society at large that can make life difficult for us as gay people, but you can be happy and successful. Life can be tough sometimes no matter what your sexual orientation, especially while growing up and getting to grips with the big issues in life for the first time.
The hardest thing in life is to be yourself, but it's also the most rewarding. The closer you come to accepting your sexuality and liking who you are, the happier you’ll be. Some gay people try desperately to hide their sexuality from others, thinking that by pretending to be heterosexual they will get the acceptance of their peers. Some gay people go as far as getting married and having children in an attempt to conform or to escape from their true feelings. Putting all your energy into playing a part and living up to other people’s expectations is draining, damaging to mental health and leaves a person unfulfilled and unhappy. Imagine a straight person having to pretend to be gay, to have a same-sex partner and behave in a way that doesn't feel right for them. It’s unthinkable, but it’s equivalent to the way a lot of gay people live their lives.
Often life is only as hard as we make it. The most important person who needs to accept your sexuality is you. Self-acceptance and making the most of what life has given you is the best way to be happy.
Try not to isolate yourself and see obstacles that don't exist. I’ve met many gay people who are very angry and permanently ready for an equal-rights fight, even if they've never had problems doing what they want as a gay person. Give people a chance to be okay about your sexuality before you get the banner out, and don't imagine problems before they exist.
- Bisexual: Someone of either gender who is sexually attracted to both men and women.
- Gay: A man who is sexually attracted to other men.
- Homophobia: Prejudice against (fear or dislike of) homosexual people and homosexuality.
- LGB: Lesbian, gay and bisexual. Sometimes LGBT is used, with the 'T' standing for 'transgender'.
- Lesbian: A woman who is sexually attracted to other women.
- Sexual orientation: Whether you are heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.
Do you think I've missed anything important in this section? Let me know.
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