Each week, The CSPH answers questions that have been submitted anonymously through Formspring. This week’s question is:
I heard you’re a good person for this. I’m having a problem. I am a male. I’ve suddenly found myself liking a gay guy, and I don’t know what to do. The fact that I’m having these feelings freaks me out, and makes me scared and angry. I have no idea what to do or think, and it’s really taking a toll on my head. Also, I’m firmly religious, and I believe homosexuality and bisexuality are wrong. What are your thoughts on this?
There are a few components to this question: your fear and anger, your opinion on homosexuality and bisexuality, your feelings for your friend, your religion, and lastly, the broader theme of sexuality and sexual orientation. I will discuss these issues soon, but first I want to reassure you that you are not alone. Many people find themselves in situations such as yours, and it’s understandable that you find yourself scared, angry, and confused. These are common reactions, since for many people, questioning one’s sexuality can be difficult and incredibly isolating. In fact, according to one study, questioning youth have a higher risk of thoughts of depression and suicide than their hetersexual or self-identifying LGBT peers, which makes exploring, understanding, and coming to terms with your sexuality even more important.
Therefore, to begin, I think it would be worthwhile for you to explore and analyze the emotions surrounding your sexuality. While fear and anger are normal reactions, they can be emotionally damaging, especially to those without a support network and who are around anti-LGBTQ perspectives. Ask yourself: “What are the roots of my fear and anger? Are they related to my religion and culture? What are the beliefs I hold about LGBTQ people? Do these actually match up with the experiences/lives of LGBTQ people or are they based on stereotypes or third parties? Do I agree with the lessons I was taught about that community? Why do I feel the way I do about LGBTQ people? And why, exactly, are homosexuality and bisexuality ‘wrong’? What makes me uncomfortable about having these desires? Is it that they’re wrong under my set of morals, that I’m afraid someone will find out, that this is new and strange? Is it a combination, is it something else altogether…?” These questions will help you understand yourself better, which is integral to healing and addressing your fear and confusion. To put it another way: only when we understand the problem can we find a solution.
Another suggestion for dealing with your fear and anger is for you to make an effort to read and learn about, and talk with people about sexuality, sexual orientation, and sexual experiences. Not only will this be beneficial as you try to overcome your negative feelings towards homosexuality and bisexuality, but it will also help you to humanize other LGBTQ and Questioning persons, especially if you don’t often surround yourself with such populations. In fact, I feel that this is one of the best ways to encourage you to come to terms with your own sexuality, whatever it may be. This might also help you feel more comfortable with sexualities across the spectrum, as you re-educate yourself about sexual orientation without resorting to the stereotypes and prejudice we are often subjected to in society. You may want to begin your research on the Internet, which will allow you to explore your questions and sexuality anonymously and on your own time and pace. Google Chrome’s Incognito mode is a great tool for this, especially if you have a shared computer and do not want others stumbling across your browsing history. A few resources in particular that I feel may help you learn about sexual orientation include:
- 5 Gay Myths about Gay People Debunked
- GLAAD: Be an Ally and Friend
- WikiHow: How to Understand Gay and Lesbian People
- American Psychological Association: Sexuality and Orientation, Answers to Your Questions for a Better Understanding
- New York Times: Coming Out Stories
Furthermore, as you navigate your beliefs, it may be helpful for you to express your emotions throughout the process. You can explore this by journaling, making art, writing down brainstorm lists, etc. This can be useful in that it can help you organize things more visually/concretely, which may be better for your confusion and conflicting emotions than keeping it all in your head. Moreover, if you write it on paper, you can shred it or burn it once you’re done, which can help keep your thoughts private while also being cathartic.
Similarly, it may be helpful for you to talk with others about what you are feeling. Do you have a support network available to you in which you can safely discuss and explore your sexuality? Can you reach out to your friends and family? If so, and if this is something you’re interested in pursuing, I’d recommend doing so– as you navigate your sexuality, it can be incredibly beneficial to surround yourself with people who love and support you unconditionally. If you do not have such a support network, you can do an Internet search for local groups and organizations. For many, such resources consist of the only safe haven for LGBT persons, and so you’ll likely find people in situations similar to yours. That said, not all communities have these support networks, and moreover, not everyone wants this journey to be shared or public. This makes the role of the Internet in the process of questioning one’s sexuality all the more important. Indeed, in this regard, I want to stress the importance of you taking care of yourself– while you by no means have to talk with other people about your sexuality, you should nonetheless make sure that you are in fact working through your confusion. Self-isolation and suppression will likely increase your negative emotions in a long-term sense, and if you’re not dealing with your feelings now, they’ll probably resurface at some point anyway.
Your feelings for your gay friend is another topic that I believe deserves exploring. You mention specifically that your friend is gay, and so I find myself wondering, why did you feel that detail was important? Does your friend’s orientation contribute to your feelings of confusion, anger, and fear? Would you feel the similarly if your friend were another sexual orientation? In this regard, I want to stress that your friend’s sexual orientation does not necessarily mean anything for your identification or orientation. Just because your friend is gay, doesn’t mean you’re required to identify in any specific way, nor does it have to mean anything about your behaviors and actions during and after your self-exploration. Still, I do think it’s likely that your friend’s sexual orientation makes your concerns more immediate– as in, unlike if you were attracted to a heterosexual guy, your friend being gay then has a smidgen of potential that increases your discomfort, anger, and fear. Therefore, I think it would be beneficial for you to ask yourself: “What do I want out of my attraction to my friend? Do I want to fulfill it in some way? Am I ready to interact with my attraction at all? What do I fear will happen if I do or don’t explore this attraction?” I also think it’s important for you to recognize that just because you’re attracted to someone, doesn’t mean you are required to act on that attraction. Plenty of people are attracted to others and even fantasize about others without any desire to act on the attraction or enact the fantasies. Indeed, sexuality can be complex, and so identifications and orientation are not always clear-cut.
Another issue at hand is the influence of your religious upbringing in your perspectives on homosexuality and bisexuality. While in popular culture, religious—particularly Christian—condemnation of LGBTQ persons implies a homogenous religious perspective, the fact is that not all religious people, organizations, or denominations are against the LGBTQ community. If you were raised in a church that is anti-LGBTQ, I can understand why you are conflicted and how this ties into your fear and anger. Many people in your shoes have and do face similar feelings, and it can be difficult to disassociate yourself from the formative lessons you received regarding sexuality and sexual orientation.
If you are religious and searching for resources and a tolerant community as you navigate your sexuality, here are a few recommendations:
- Resources and support for Christians- a list of resources compiled by “I’m a Gay Christian”, emphasis on youth related links.
- Gay Christian Resource Links- a resource list focusing on books, bible interpretations, and helpful websites.
- Resources and support for Muslims- an internet resource list for LGBTQ Muslims, a few are on tumblr, a few are yahoo groups, and some have their own page.
- Resources for Queer Muslims and Allies- a list including Muslim GLBT nation-specific groups, websites, email discussion groups, inclusive mosques, literature and more!
- Resources and support for Jews- an organization resource list for GLBT Jews, organized by location.
- The Religious Institute: Faithful Voices on Sexuality and Religion- by the Religious Institute, a multifaith institute that focuses on the overlap of religion and sexuality.
- Gay Religion: Helpful LGBT Resources- a collection of websites with their own resources and/or archives.
- “Inclusive Justice” Resources- a list of literature and websites organized by religion.
Furthermore, in terms of resources, you may find it helpful to watch movies, which can assist in the process of humanizing and normalizing LGBT persons. I say this particularly due to the general lack of cultural and social media that tackles sexuality and sexual orientation in a meaningful, non-stereotypical way. This lack of visibility aids in the lack of awareness and education about the LGBT community, which contributes to the prevalence of bias and bigotry in this country. A couple of movies I recommend in particular are Jihad for Love and Trembling Before G-d. Also, if you are interested, you can take a look at PFLAG (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) has a project named Welcoming Faith Communities, whose resources may help you contextualize the work faith organizations across the country are doing in support of the LGBT community.
In terms of whether or not you’re any sexual orientation in particular, I’d really recommend that you not worry about it. I don’t mean this to sound trivial, but the fact is, for many people, sexuality is fluid, with more variety than we have labels. While these labels can be comforting, empowering, and affirming for some, they remain constricting, insufficient, and isolating to others. Furthermore, sexual orientation can be difficult to pinpoint, in that people experience attraction and arousal, and fantasize in a variety of ways, about a variety of people, and in manners that don’t necessarily coincide with their physical, emotional, and romantic desires. In other words, being physically attracted to a person does not necessarily dictate one’s orientation nor does it require a certain set of actions or desire for certain behaviors. This is even true for fantasies, which can be nebulous and not always indicative of what we want and are comfortable with experiencing in real life. In this sense, labels are not always useful for all people in all circumstances, and can add stress to those who are already feeling confused and conflicted. Therefore, I’d recommend focusing less on labels and more on your emotions regarding your sexuality and how your sexuality manifests itself.
Finally, I want to reassert my original point, which is that no matter how difficult this process may be, you are not alone. I implore you to take care of yourself, to seek support and community if you feel you need it, and most importantly, to love yourself no matter what. I know this may be incredibly hard to do, in consideration of your feelings regarding homosexuality and bisexuality, your religion, and your potential lack of unconditional support from loved ones, but nonetheless it is perhaps the most necessary piece of all I’ve written. Love yourself, because regardless of your sexual orientation/identity, you are deserving of love. Self-acceptance can be a long and harrowing journey, but as you find yourself reaching it, you may discover how little other issues and other peoples’ opinions can matter.