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Dr. Kate Fordham

February 1998

Well, it's February already; I cannot believe how quickly time seems to move when you're busy! And busy I have been this past month. Among other projects vying for space on my desk and hard-drive is the data from the First Internet Survey of Queer and Questioning Youth, the on-line survey that Oasis co-sponsored last Fall (1997). To all everyone who took the time to answer our survey, I say "thank you". The survey was indeed a rather long process and you should see the enormous size of my Microsoft Word files containing the resulting data! However, such a lengthy and comprehensive survey was needed because anything less could not have provided the diverse and comprehensive sort of information that this one did. I am pleased with the number of people who responded to the survey and am very excited about analyzing the data and interpreting what this information may tell us about gay youth. My goal will be to first analyze this data and then write up the results of the analysis for a medical journal, thereby sharing what we have found with the entire medical and scientific community.

They say "when it rains, it pours" and this old maxim appears to be true in regard to my column: during the whole month of November and most of December I didn't receive a single question, not a nary one. Now, in late December, I've found them just flying into my e-mail box! The only logical way I can explain this situation is that people were too busy to write before the holidays but were bored during vacation (and many were probably sitting around their parents' homes, with nothing to do) and started to e-mail me. Not that this is a bad thing at all, I welcome the questions, and who knows? Maybe this month I will receive even more than I did in December of 1997. That would be excellent!

Dear Dr. Fordham:

Thanks for the article on dieting and eating disorders, I think I might be anorexic. I am a 16 year old gay boy and since I was around 14 I have been afraid to eat too much because some of my family's pretty big. I know that getting fat can be genetic so I want to not eat so much and avoid getting fat but after reading your article I wonder if I am anorexic instead. I am 6 feet tall and weigh like 150 pounds or so. Some of my friends who are as tall as me weigh more but they're not really too fat, I run track and I asked my coach and he said "no problem, you're not fat, you're doing fine". But still, I don't know. What should I do next?

Matt, 16
Kansas City, Kansas

Dear Matt,

I honestly cannot tell from your e-mail information whether you may be suffering from an eating disorder or not; behavior is the key factor in determining if someone is affected by an eating disorder, and you did not mention any tell-tale behavior in your letter. However, several things are obviously going on here: first, you are an athlete, so your body is going to be rather trim from all the aerobic exercise that you get from track.

It sounds as if a congenital predisposition towards being over-weight may be common in your family --from what you said-- but on the other hand, at six feet if you have what is commonly known as a "runner's build" (slim frame, fairly tall and lanky) your weight would be about right for your physique. This seems to be the assumption of your track coach, although remember that while he is (or should be) concerned with your health above all else, he is also concerned with having a winning team, so he will favor you as slim and trim. It's rare for high school coaches to push their students to do unhealthy things -- such as partaking in dangerous diets or using steroids -- to make them more competitive athletes, but it has been known to happen in the past.

The second factor I see here is that you are aware that there may be a problem with your eating habits, and this in itself is a step clearly in the right direction. I would encourage you to see your physician because if you are concerned about your diet, he or she would be the best person to take all the pertinent factors -- your physical condition, the fact that you run track, your family's genetic background -- and recommend a good diet that will keep you in optimum shape for an active teenager.

Remember, with all that exercise comes the need for plenty of nourishment, so this is just as important as anything else in your case. See your doctor, Matt, or at least a nurse or other qualified health professional. And thanks for writing, thanks for suspecting a possible problem and having the fortitude to confront it head-on.

Dear Kate and Mike:

I want to date someone I met at school but we live in a kinda backwards part of Georgia (near Macon) and no one -- even me -- is out at school; I can't even believe I met someone! People would kick our ass if they knew so it's not like we can really date and my parents I think are suspicious of something wrong already, and we haven't done anything! I know I can't tell anyone in my family or at school about this or they would kill me! Anyway, what should we do? Should we sneak around and go over at night and stuff? What if we get caught? And is it true that being gay is against the law in Georgia?

Jim, 15
Macon, Georgia

Dear Jim:

I truly feel for you and your situation, it is something that no young person should ever have to face; the fear of being attacked, harassed, or ridiculed simply for being who you are. But sadly, it is still the state of things in many parts of this nation, never mind the rest of the world. I lived in a semi-rural, very conservative part of America for a number of years and can attest to the staunch repression present in such locales. All is not lost, however, you have found someone interesting who you apparently desire to have a relationship with and that person apparently feels the same way. Many people go through much of their lives -- as adults -- without what you have now. Be thankful for that, at least, in light of the rest of the situation.

"Being gay" is not -- and cannot be -- illegal in any state, including Georgia. A state or a national government cannot determine what a person naturally is or isn't. However, I do believe that Georgia still has some pretty archaic laws regarding sodomy, or anal sex, between men. If we have any budding law students reading this who know a bit more on the status of things in Georgia, please feel free to e-mail me and fill me in on the exact laws in effect. As far as "what you should do", I would ask "what do you -- and your new-found boyfriend -- WANT to DO?

I will readily admit that there are some serious risks to carrying out a relationship under any circumstances in your situation. It sounds as if your parents -- and presumably your boyfriend's parents -- would not respond well to this if they knew about it, so as much as I would like to encourage any young gay person to be open in his/her sexuality, I cannot honestly advise that route of action for you. For one thing, I would suggest that you two do not pursue a sexual relationship right away; it sounds like you have just met and there will be plenty of time for a more intense, physical, relationship as things progress.

For now, I would caution you to carry out the relationship with a slow and steady advancement, doing things you enjoy together (movies, sports, whatever the common interests may be) and see how things go. If you are not -- and I hate to say this, to suggest this but I see it as the least of the possible evils -- overtly obvious as a couple, people may well assume that you are only close friends. I think you can circumvent the taunting and even the overbearing suspicion that might come otherwise if you are very careful and selective in who among your friends you tell about your relationship and how much information you share. This may not mean "sneaking around at night" but will mean keeping your guard up a lot of the time.

I wish there was an easier, more honest way that I could suggest, but I am concerned with you having a happy and fulfilling relationship and also not placing undue stress your interpersonal relationships with your family, friends, and peers beyond a point that feels comfortable and realistic. And remember that you are only fifteen; when you graduate high school, I would consider, as they say, "getting the hell out of Dodge", that is, leaving this repressive environment for somewhere more accepting of you as the person you are.

Dear Oasis:

I'm not joking about this: I get hard all the time and always have. At school, at band practice, at home, where-ever! If start thinking about a cute guy or see someone fine or anything, there it goes! What can I do so this doesn't happen so much? I'm worried someone might notice or something.

(name withheld by request)

It is not uncommon for teenage boys like yourself to have multiple erections per day, and some young men find that the slightest stimuli will produce an erection for them. Therefore, thinking about things that are sexually (or otherwise) exciting or seeing someone who is physically attractive to you may cause you to become aroused. I realize that this could truly become a problem as it may make you overly self-conscious and afraid of others noticing an embarrassing incident. So I'm not joking or laughing about it either; erections at inopportune times are something that most young men face, so realize that you are not alone.

Since the Federal government doesn't pay my salary, I believe that I can give you some very honest advice here: masturbation or other forms of sexual intercourse will provide the healthy release of the sexual energy and stimulation you are feeling. Wearing clothing that is not especially revealing would be a wise idea, as well.

I am looking forward to an exciting year in 1998, so send my all of your questions and comments on matters of health, sexuality, love, and AIDS-related topics. My e-mail is: KFordham@hotmail.com

Until next time, I wish all of you all of the best,

Kate


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