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Emily Rizzo

April 1997

The Parents' Corner

Q. I've finally come to realize that I'm gay. My friends will all reject me and I have nothing left to live for. I can only see bleakness and misery in my future.

A. First of all, if you are having suicidal thoughts, get help now! If you are in school go to counseling; if you aren't, then look in the Yellow Pages of your phone book under Mental Health Services. Some places even have suicide hot lines. But get help now!

A reputable therapist will help you deal with your immediate depression and also help you to accept your sexual orientation. For over 20 years now, both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have rejected the idea of homosexuality as a mental illness. They do, however, recognize that gay people do sometimes need help to feel better about themselves and assistance in coping with an adverse society. Being gay isn't a mental illness, but homophobia is.

Many gay people do have suicidal thoughts at one time or another as they come to accept their sexuality; it's a by-product of a homophobic society that teaches people that homosexuality is wrong, or sinful or sick. As these beliefs eventually change, young people just coming to terms with their sexuality won't have to suffer the way you are. Some day, I hope, being gay will be like being left-handed -- not wrong or evil or something to be changed, but simply different. That's why many of us, including parents in PFLAG, are working to change the way society thinks about gay people.

As for your friends, you don't have to come out to them until you are more comfortable with your sexual orientation yourself. No one says that you are obliged to come out to everyone as soon as you realize you are gay. It takes most people years to come out; first to themselves, then to their close friends, families, colleagues and eventually everyone so it no longer matters who knows and who doesn't. There's a great feeling of liberation when you no longer have to worry about keeping secrets.

My guess, from your message, is that you don't know a lot of openly gay people. You know more gay people than you realize, because probably many of them aren't out either. While no one can predict how a particular friend will accept the news, don't assume they will all reject you. For some people it simply won't matter and others may answer your confidence with one of their own.

If you are concerned about enduring friendships, try making new friends who are gay or gay-accepting. If you are in school, go to the gay and lesbian club; almost all colleges have one and a growing number of high schools as well. Try to form friendships with other gay people. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that you have more in common with them than your sexual orientation. If you are near a city with a gay and lesbian center, stop by. In New York City, the Center houses over 400 groups which meet regularly, from gay Scrabble players to Non-smoking Lesbians from the Bronx. There's a group for gay firemen, gay lawyers, gay Italians, and gay Celts. You're bound to find other people who share your interests.

Since you have a computer, you can make friends on the Internet. There are lots of places for gay people from newsgroups, chat rooms, mailing lists, IRC or BBS's. There's even special lists for gay teens. Take a look at http://www.critpath.org/youth/ for more information.

It can be hard at first when you know there is a gay world out there but you don't know how to find it. Linnea Due, in her excellent book "Joining the Tribe: Growing Up Gay in the 90's" describes it as flying around in an airplane caught in the clouds and trying to land but not know where or how or even if there's really something under those clouds. Someday, though, you will safely land that plane and discover a world of friends, lovers, and new experiences which are just waiting for you!

Please note: I answer all my e-mail promptly and confidentially. Please feel free to write to me about coming out to parents or any other subject at rizzoe@fasecon.econ.nyu.edu.

Be sure to check out the unofficial PFLAG web page for a list of chapters, PFLAG pamphlets, and other resource material.


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