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Chris Kryzan

June 1998

Dear Chris,

I just came out and my mother says it's "just a phase." It took me a couple of years to accept being gay (I'm 15 now), but I finally thought I was sure that I was gay. But is my mother right? Could it just be that I haven't had a girlfriend yet (that's what she says) and I'll become normal? What do you think?

Mark

Dear Mark,

Sexual orientation isn't something that changes when you want it to, or even when you don't want it to, for that matter. It's something you're born with and that stays with you for the rest of your life. Sure, you can decide to repress it, to deny it, or to hide it, but that doesn't change the God-given orientation your born with. Whether being queer is something that happens at conception (genetically) or that happens in the womb (biologically), most experts are pretty much agreed on one thing nowadays: it's not the result of your environment, your upbringing, or any conscious choice. It's just part of who you are, like whether you're right-handed or left-handed.

Being queer is also not something you slip in and out of. Your mother may think it's a "phase" because there have been a lot of myths that suggest that. For some parents, it may really seem like it could be a phase, because you may have had a boyfriend or girlfriend of the opposite gender, and so they thought you were heterosexual. That's something that's often called "presumed heterosexuality," because it's the social norm. When you violate that norm by announcing that you're queer, they see a change. And, unfortunately, most parents still hope that their kids will grow up to be straight, so they often find comfort in thinking that maybe this is just a phase, after all, and you'll slip back into being a heterosexual kid like they imagined they had.

Some guys and girls will have relationships with both guys and girls, and sex, too. These people are more likely "bisexual" and simply are attracted to (romantically and sexually) to people, regardless of their gender. For teen guys, however, claiming bisexuality is more often than not a road towards accepting being gay -- it's often seen as "not as bad" as being "completely gay." They may have relationships and sex with girls, only to finally come to realize that they are indeed gay. (This doesn't appear to be the case with girls, however -- when a girl claims a bisexual identity, most likely she really is).

It also doesn't matter one way or another whether or not you have had a girlfriend, or had sex with a girl, to determine whether or not you're gay. A common question is "Then how can you be sure?" Turn that question around to your straight parents or friends and ask them "Have you ever had sex with someone of the same gender? If not, then how can you be sure your not queer?" It's something you just know. The typical queer youth comes to realize that they are gay, lesbian or bisexual by the time they're twelve years old, according to the data in a recent study !OutProud! and Oasis conducted. But it can take another three years before they accept it. That's because of all of the societal pressures and images that try to convince us that being queer is bad -- it can take a while to get past all of that institutionalized shame.

And that leads me to make a comment on a statement you made. Being queer IS normal, Mark. People may try to convince you otherwise, out of misinformation, fear or their own insecurities. You may even try to convince yourself otherwise, because it can seem that life would be a lot simpler being straight. But you may not have accepted being gay as completely as you might have thought, Mark -- when you do, you're answer will be "Absolutely not!" to that ages-old hypothetical question "Would you take a pill that made you straight, if it existed?"

You might think about finding a queer youth group in your area, or a PFLAG chapter, to find additional support and answers for both you and your mother (check out QueerAmerica to find a group near you). Ultimately, spending some time educating your mother on the facts about being queer, and some more time learning for yourself that it is as "normal" as anything else in your life, will help you out. I think you'll find that being queer is a gift, after all, and you'll be blessed with a perspective on life that most people are denied. Here's to making it there soon.

Chris


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