How do you know if you’re gay?

Understanding your sexual orientation is really about understanding your long-term feelings and attractions. It has nothing to do with whether you have acted on those feelings yet or not. Just about all mainstream mental health experts now believe that someone’s sexual orientation, regardless of whether they are gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual or asexual, is something that forms in each person either before we are born, or within the very first few years of each person’s life. Way before we are making conscious decisions about anything. So people don’t choose to be gay, just like people don’t choose to be straight. Being gay, lesbian or bisexual may not be as common as being straight, but it is considered just as normal. While not everyone falls perfectly under the labels of “gay”, “straight”, “bisexual” or “asexual”, generally someone who is attracted in a physical and/or romantic way to only people of the same-sex might consider themselves to be gay or lesbian. People who are only attracted to people of the opposite-sex might consider themselves to be straight and someone who has some level of attraction to both males and females might consider themselves to be bisexual. People who have low sexual desire or no sexual desire fall under the asexual umbrella. They can feel attraction and enjoy romantic relationships but in general the desire for sexual contact is either extremely low or is not there.

What does “transgender” mean, and what does it include?

The term “transgender” is an umbrella term that includes different things, all having to do with gender identity. This can include someone who occasionally enjoys dressing in the clothing of the opposite sex (cross-dresser) or someone who knows that the gender that they feel on the inside of their body does not match the gender that they appear to be on the outside of their body (transsexual). Being transgendered is different from being gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual, although some people who are transgendered may also happen to be gay, lesbian, bi or asexual. For those people who are transsexual, and know that the gender on the outside of their body does not match the gender they feel inside, they may sometimes decide to make changes to their appearance in different ways. Some people make those changes only through the clothing that they wear, others will work with a knowledgeable physician for hormone treatment, and a relative few will have some form (or many forms) of sex-reassignment surgery. The term “transitioning” applies to the period of time when people are making these changes. You can find local transgender resources near you, by visiting our resource website, and easily searching through all of our 15,000 listings at www.GLBTnearMe.org .

Should I come out to my family and friends?

Deciding to come out to a family member or friend is a very big decision. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer as to whether you should or shouldn’t do that. Many people first come-out to themselves, and give themselves some time to understand and become comfortable with their feelings. The decision to come-out to another person often involves two decisions. First, should they come-out, and second, when should they do it. If someone decides to come-out to another person, the most important criteria is to think about whether you will be physically safe if you do so. If you feel that the other person might react so negatively as to cause you physical or emotional violence, then you might decide to wait until you would feel safer. Many people who do come-out feel like a great weight has been lifted off of their shoulders, and living your life in an open and honest way is certainly the most desirable thing to do. It can help to think about all the positive things that would come from being out to someone, and any of the negative consequences of doing so, and then weigh each possible choice to see which makes the most sense for this time in your life. If you do decide to come-out, some people find it helps to first pick one person who they think might be the most supportive and respectful. Sometimes that person could be someone who is themselves GLBT, or if not, a close friend or family member.

My child told me they are gay or bisexual and I don’t know what to do.

Finding out that a son or daughter is either gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual can be big news for a parent. Many parents want to be supportive, but they aren’t sure how, and they have many questions. The first step is to remember that your child is still the same person they were before you knew their sexual orientation, the only difference is that you now know more about them. If they have shared this information with you, it’s a very big step for a person to take, and regardless of whether they told you soon after understanding this for themselves, or after some time, they have told you because they want to be able to talk openly about their life, in the same way every other child does. Often, parents need time to educate and inform themselves about issues related to sexual orientation.   But the most important thing to do is keep your lines of communication open with your child, and remind them that you love and respect them, and that you are a safe person for them to talk to. Just about all mainstream mental health experts now believe that someone’s sexual orientation, regardless of whether they are gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual or asexual, is something that forms in each person either before we are born, or within the very first few years of each person’s life. So nothing causes people to “turn” gay, just like nothing causes people to “turn” straight. People are whatever sexual orientation they are, often from birth. Being gay or straight has nothing to do with the way a child was raised, or who did or didn’t raise them. Some parents often make the mistake of thinking that if their child has not yet acted on their feelings, then they can’t really know “for sure”. The best analogy to put this in perspective is that if a 16 year-old boy was 100% heterosexual, nobody would think that he can’t really be sure until he has sex with a girl. They would accept that he knows that he likes girls, and that he is straight. The same is true for a 16 year-old boy who is attracted to other boys. He knows his feelings, just like anybody else, and whether he has physically acted on those feelings or not, really is not relevant to understanding and accepting his sexuality.  Likewise if the person does not feel any sexual attraction at all.

I think my child is gay, and I don’t know what to do.

Thinking that a son or daughter might be gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual can raise many questions for a parent. Often a parent is unsure whether they should talk to their child about this. Communicating is almost always a good thing. If you feel that your child might be gay, first think about what feelings this brings up for you. If this isn’t something you are comfortable with, it might help to know that just about all mainstream mental health experts now believe that someone’s sexual orientation, regardless of whether they are gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual or asexual, is something that forms in each person either before we are born, or within the very first few years of each person’s life. Way before we are making conscious decisions about anything. So people don’t choose to be gay, just like people don’t choose to be straight. Being gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual may not be as common as being straight, but it is considered just as normal. So nothing causes people to “turn” gay, just like nothing causes people to “turn” straight. People are whatever sexual orientation they are, often from birth. Being gay or straight has nothing to do with the way a child was raised, or who did or didn’t raise them. Once you feel ready to talk with your child, it can help to find a quiet and private time, and let them know that you realize that some children can be gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual, just as some can be straight. And you didn’t want to make any assumptions about their sexuality, so you thought you would ask if this is something they might want to talk about. Letting them know that you are respectful of whatever they are, and open to talking, can make a huge difference for a child. But remember too, that not all kids are ready to talk. But as long as you’ve let them know that you are a safe person for them to talk to, you’ve laid the important groundwork for a discussion in the future, when they are ready.

I like another kid at school and don’t know what to do.

Starting to discover that you are attracted to another person can be exciting, terrifying, wonderful and scary, often all at the same time! But it helps to remember that sometimes, the person you may be attracted to may not have those same feelings, often because of something that has absolutely nothing to do with you. The other person might only be attracted to people of the opposite-sex, or may not have developed feelings for anybody yet. Of course, the most direct way to let someone know that you like them is to tell them. But we realize that is not always easy, especially if you don’t know if the other person is gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual themselves. If you are uncomfortable asking, some people bring up a topic that has to do with being gay, and see what the other person’s reaction is. If they are homophobic (disrespectful to gay people), then that can let you know this isn’t someone worth your time anyway. But if they are gay-friendly, while it certainly doesn’t mean they are gay or lesbian themselves, it might make it easier for you to let them know about yourself, and see how your friendship develops. The bottom line is that you deserve to be with someone who can have the same feelings for you, that you have for them.

I’m married with kids and gay. Should I tell my spouse?

We realize that this must be one of the most difficult decisions to make, and to go through with. That said, it helps to remember that you can’t change decisions that were made in the past (often for very complicated reasons). All you can do is think about what is going to make the most sense, and ultimately be the healthiest for both you and your spouse going forward. Many mental health experts believe that having a very difficult, but honest conversation with your spouse will lead you both in a direction that will turn out to be the best for both of your lives. From our experience talking with many gay men and women who at one time had been married, almost all have told us that coming-out to their family was one of the most difficult things to get through, but they have never regretted the decision, only the fact that they didn’t do it sooner. Because this can be such a complicated issue, many gay men and women find that speaking with a professional counselor, either alone or together as a couple, can be a big help.

What does it mean when someone is bisexual?

Being bisexual is a wonderful gift, since it means that you have the capacity to be attracted to either males or females, depending on the person. Some people who are bisexual may have a stronger attraction to one gender over the other, but there is enough of an attraction to both for them to consider themselves to be bi. Bisexuality, like homosexuality or heterosexuality are all normal variations of sexual orientation. Being bisexual is not a phase, nor does it mean that people can’t “make up their minds”. While it is true that some people who are gay or lesbian may initially identify as bisexual, the vast majority of bisexual people have genuine feelings of physical and romantic attractions to both genders. Bisexual people also have the capacity to form long-term, loving and monogamous relationships with another individual, if that is what they are looking for at that point in their lives, just as anyone else can.

What does it mean when someone is asexual?

Like with all sexual orientation there are different degrees of attraction, sexual desire and romantic feelings towards others. Someone who is asexual may have very low sexual desire, or none at all. Some asexual identifying people may feel some sexual desire for a particular person and no one else. Some have romantic feelings for others. Some are very tactile in showing affection. Some do not like physical affection. Some absolutely do not want to have sexual experiences.  Some do not want any romantic relationships, and are more than happy with platonic ones. In general asexuals have different experiences of affection and connectedness. All of these fall under the asexual umbrella, and are all normal.

I’m religious and believe in God. Is being gay a sin?

While some religions still maintain homophobic viewpoints, more and more people of all religious faiths are coming to understand that what really matters to God is that you are a good and honest person, and not what your sexual orientation happens to be. Many religious people now believe that being gay or lesbian or bisexual is perfectly normal for many people. As you probably know, some people who consider themselves to be religious, choose to use their religious faith as a reason to practice discrimination and homophobia. That’s the last thing religion should be used for, as the Bible teaches us not to judge others. The Bible was written and translated by men two thousand years ago or more, often hundreds of years after the events described in it supposedly took place. So in many ways, the Bible is an historical document, and a product of the time it was written in. Remember, the Bible also talks about women being the property of men, and the right to own slaves, etc. Fortunately, today we as a modern society understand more about science and sexuality than people did two millenniums ago. It would be a terrible waste of the brains we were given if we didn’t grow as individuals and as a society, taking into account all the knowledge we have learned in the past 2,000 years. As more people distance themselves from the discrimination of others, more and more welcoming congregations of all faiths are serving the GLBT community, allowing people to practice their faith in a loving and supportive environment.