../9807/%5Boasis%5D
../9807/%5Bcolumns%5D


Chris Kryzan

August 1998

Hi Chris,

Okay, so I'm almost positive that I am gay but I have this problem. See I'm so afraid I fit all these stereotypes that I can't really be myself around anyone. I always feel like people are scrutinizing me, and that they're seeing the way I walk and talk and presuming I'm gay. This means that I can't get really close to anyone without thinking that that person is making fun of me behind my back. And the one guy I could trust died a few weeks ago. The only solace I seem to find now is in music.

Playing the guitar and singing about how I shouldn't let people's opinions rule my life are the only things that relax me. The rest of the time I spend worrying (over almost nothing). I mean I enjoy making music and spending time by myself that I'm becoming a recluse. And it's not helping me by just sitting around thinking about the stereotypes I do conform to (like, listening to Tori Amos and THINKING that maybe I talk and walk a little funny) Hope you can help.

Thank you,

Matt

Dear Matt,

It appears you're pretty close to getting past one of the first milestones on your journey of coming out, but have hit a snag that's a very common one -- being afraid of how others will think of you, or what they may presume. That can be especially hard for someone who is "evidently" gay, much to the surprise of many, who often think, they may have it easier.

We're born into cultures permeated with stereotypes, and one big one has to do with gender roles. There are defined ways of acting if you're a man, and if you're a woman. Ways to dress, ways to hold your books when you walk down the hall, ways you can show affection. Lots of these are culturally defined, by the way -- for example, I'm of Italian descent and it's standard that the men in our family kiss each other hello and goodbye. Go to Italy, and you'll see boys walking hand in hand down the street. Do that in the U.S., and you get labeled a fag.

One of the reasons, I believe, that many men have a problem with gay men is that they abdicate their "unearned privileges" -- those benefits you get by being white, male and presumed heterosexual. To "be like a woman" is, unfortunately, to be seen as "something less than a man" in our culture -- that's wrong, frankly, but all too often the case. Even within the queer community you can hear this every once in awhile, with guys indicating they want to go out only with "straight-acting" men, as if you could be on your knees giving oral sex and not be thought of as gay.

By being openly queer you're showing that these privileges aren't in fact all that unchangeable, and that makes some people insecure. So they talk behind your back and maybe make fun of you. The important thing, quite frankly, is to simply not give a damn. What they think is THEIR problem, not yours, unless they threaten or abuse you in any way. You're going to find, and probably have already, that you're never going to be happy living up to everyone else's expectations of who you should be. Ultimately, the only person you're guaranteed of waking up with every morning is yourself, and that's the person you need to make happy.

So what if you like Tori Amos (or Madonna, Backstreet Boys or any other gay divas)! So what if you walk or talk in some way that others label as effeminate. If that's who you are, so be it. In the long run, these things matter not at all, but rather, what does is what you do with your life, and do you use it to make the world a better place, and enjoy it along the way, I think.

In time, hopefully sooner, rather than later, you will make friends who are deserving of your friendship. People who look inside a person to judge who they are, not at some irrelevant exterior superficiality. They'll love you for your ability to love others, rather than disdain you because you love men. I know that this can sometimes be very hard to believe along the way, but believe it, there are indeed many, many good people out there, and they will find their way into your life. The important thing, for you, is to be ready when they do, and that begins with you being easier on yourself, finding acceptance for yourself within you, and learning to love all that makes you you. Sounds a little new-agey, I know, but I really think it's true.

Best wishes along the way,

Chris

Hi Chris,

My name is Tim. I am 14 and positive I'm gay. I really want to come out. So, I have a question about coming out. Do you think it is wise, knowing our society, that it is safe coming out when you're 14? I read a couple of stories where family thinks it's just a phase and he/she will grow out of it. I'm almost ready to tell my friends, but also that's hard because of all the fear of my safety. Of course, you don't know me, or my friends so to answer it will be hard, but I will value your opinion.

Tim

Dear Tim,

The decision about when to come out is a very personal one that only you can decide. But I'm sure you know that already, so let me talk a little about both sides of the question.

Rule 1: Only you can decide when to come out.

For some teens, coming out can be a very difficult experience. Some are "found out" by their parents, and for them, it is often the hardest. That's because these guys and girls often haven't gotten to a point where they feel good about themselves, and the coming out is one of confrontation, accusations and guilt, often with a lot of yelling, crying and ultimatums.

Rule 2: It's best to come out on your own terms, when you set the agenda, and you set the stage.

The most important thing, I believe, is that you are ready to come out. That means that you should feel good about who you are, that being queer is a natural thing, a good thing, and not something you should be ashamed of. This is very important, because it will help shape how others' react to your coming out. If it's something you are sharing with them about yourself, it will help them to react much more positively than if it's something you're confessing about yourself.

Rule 3: Be ready. Come out when you feel good about yourself, and good about being queer.

If you are coming out on your own terms, on your own timetable, that means you have an opportunity to set the stage. You should do it in an environment that is predisposed to success. Come out in a location where your parents (or friends) feel comfortable, where they have the privacy and time to ask you questions without interruption, to feel that they have a personal conversation with just you. Not in a restaurant (no matter what Ellen may have done). Not in a mall. Not in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner. But ideally, at home, where you can both talk. Allow a couple of hours to get through it.

Answer any questions your parents or friends may have as honestly and in as much detail as you feel comfortable -- remember, it took you some time to deal with this, give them the same courtesy (as much as that may seem, and be, unfair). Use the opportunity to educate them, because that's really what they need. Then provide them with alternative sources of information that you decide (and not their friends, their church, or other people who's messages may be contrary to what they need to hear). I suggest the book "Now That You Know" as an especially good place to start, and then "The Family Heart." Have the number of the local PFLAG chapter ready for them, and maybe even a PFLAG brochure (you can find these at www.queeramerica.com and www.outproud.org). They will need personal support from others that have gone through the same thing, and who can help them find a way to reconcile any issues between you're being queer and what they may have been raised to know -- truth, myth or otherwise.

Rule 4: Be prepared. Set the stage and have backup information and resources ready for your family and friends for when you tell them.

I kind of made these rules up as I went along, but think they make sense. I'll add to them in the future as I think this through in more detail. But let's get back to your primary question: Is it a safe thing to do?

The answers are diverse. Some kids have a very hard time, some even wind up getting kicked out of the house and on the street. Some get committed to reparative therapy camps that are the devil's own work -- particularly evil places where they think that girls can be made straight by putting on makeup and going to dances, and where boys will stop getting hard-ons over other guys if they are electro-shocked when watching male-male porn. This is the ultimately scary, very bad side. And I'm thankful to say that very few teens wind up in this situation. But I believe you need to make an informed choice, and know the bad along with the good.

Would your parents do this? Only you can judge. If you're raised in a fundamentalist, Southern Baptist family who supports the Traditional Values Coalition, then proceed with caution. But I have personally known guys and girls in such situations who were met with love and compassion, so know that can also be the case.

If your parents have queer friends, or if you are a Unitarian Universalist, if they're highly educated, if you're in a large urban area, then chances are they will feel more positively towards gay men and lesbians. That means your coming out is likely to be all right, if not even good. In a situation like this, they are more likely to respond out of dashed expectations -- they presumed you were heterosexual, that they were going to see you get married and have children, and they believe all of these hopes for your future are gone (but you can have a spouse and, soon, we hope, get married; and you can have children of your own, through a variety of means.

In most cases, as we have found in the Internet Survey of Queer and Questioning Youth, coming out is a good experience and parents, and especially friends, react good to very good. That's not to say there won't be the standard crying, the "Why have you done this to me?" and all that. Expect a day or two of teeth gnashing, a month or two of spontaneous outbursts of crying, and six months of "Are you sure?" and "Maybe it's a phase," but they'll get over it. More quickly, too, if they're in PFLAG.

This leads us to the next question, when is right for you?

As I said, you need to make this decision. But let me share my personal opinion with you. This is based primarily on my observations of queer teens, what they go through, and how they feel about themselves.

I have yet to meet a single queer youth who wishes they had remained in the closet. Most had good results. A couple, frankly, had quite awful experiences, and even wound up on the street.

But without exception, they all felt better about themselves for coming out.

I think that's because, as long as you remain in the closet, you are implicitly telling yourself that being queer is something bad. Face it, if you do, or are, something that you are proud of, you share it with the whole world. But do something bad, or embarrassing, or something that makes you feel guilty, and you keep it to yourself. By staying in the closet, you have acted on the conclusion that being queer is bad, something which you should feel guilty about, and you don't share it with anyone.

When you feel really, really good about being queer, staying in the closet will be the hardest thing to do. In fact, it appears like you're just about at that point. You'll tell a couple of people, then explode and tell everyone. Because it's something about you you held in all your life, and now want to be open, and proud, about. That's good, that's great.

If you have reason to believe that your safety will be compromised; if you have reason to believe that you will be thrown out of the house; then unfortunately, you're best holding it in for awhile longer, until your survival no longer depends on your parents. But in most cases, sharing your sexual orientation with them will turn out to be a growing, indeed, a life-enriching, experience, for all of you, that it is a good thing to do.

Teens are coming out earlier and earlier nowadays. I think that's partly due to the fact that there is more information on what it means to be queer, so you can more quickly come to understand what those feelings are. I also like to think it's because there are more sources of support, that make the world a little more welcoming place.

Here are two books to get before you do: "Outing Yourself" by Michelangelo Signorile; and "Free Your Mind" by Ellen Bass and Kate Kaufmann. They'll help you think this through from a few more perspectives, which is always a good thing.

Write back and let me know what you decide and, if you do come out, how it goes.

Best wishes,

Chris

Hi Chris,

My parents recently found a letter to a guy I like and then asked if I "thought I was gay". That conversation lasted a while. But we talked about it as the days went on, and my dad told our priest who said it's OK to have these feelings, but it's not OK to act on them in any way -- dating, sex or conversing in a gay manner I guess.

My dad is very stuck on the opinion that it is a choice (yeah, it's my choice to make my mom cry -- I don't think so).

I know that I can't hold the feelings in that I have for another guy forever, so that "not acting on being gay thing" isn't gonna work and I don't know how to get around my parents, or make them change their minds. What should I do?

Thanks,

Roland

Hi Roland,

Like most parents, yours are going through the "denial" stage of their journey to acceptance. This can be a very frustrating time -- sometimes even more so than if they're outright mean, because there can be a veneer of acceptance, but underneath it's clear that they still don't approve of who you are.

Unfortunately, again, like many parents, they have received bad advice from some well-meaning person. In this case, they're hearing the newfound mantra of religious fundamentalists and even some more mainstream churches: "Forgive the sinner, but not the sin." This is perhaps one of the most arrogant things I hear, and it immediately classes you as "sinning" for doing something that comes natural, that is a part of who you are.

First, it's important that you let this go in one ear and out the other. It's just bullshit.

You know that you were born this way, regardless of what others might say. And acting on your sexuality, and sexual orientation, is absolutely the natural thing to do. The human species is simply not made for a life of celibacy, which is what they are suggesting. We are sexual beings with sexual needs -- that's the way we are born and grow up. Denying those feelings, repressing those natural urges, does some very unnatural damage to your psyche and emotional well-being.

I believe that it is possible to change your parents' minds, however. But this will take time, and more importantly, education. What you need to do is counter all of the bad information they are receiving from other sources with some good, accurate information of your own. I suggest the book "Now That You Know", which has recently been revised, as a good place to start. Even better, convince them to attend at least three PFLAG meetings. You can find a local chapter at www.queeramerica.com (there are more than 400 chapters in the U.S. alone). If they make it through three meetings, it's almost certain that they are on the road to acceptance, and eventually celebration, of you being queer.

I have seen it happen over and over again: At the first meeting, they show up somewhat angry for having come to a meeting, and maybe break down crying. At the second meeting, they're still crying, but more feeling sorry for themselves. By the third meeting they have heard some things that resonate with them, and usually they're honestly trying to find a way to understand what being queer means. Give them six more months and they'll be marching in the next Pride March.

Another book that can be helpful is "What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality." It sheds a lot of light on how the Bible is often misinterpreted to serve political ends, rather than to convey its spiritual message.

In the meantime, expect that life may be somewhat of a bitch for you. Frankly, it's not fair to you at all, but working to educate your parents is usually worth it, and often results in a lot of growth for the whole family. If you come from a close family, and your relationship with them is important to you, then it's worth it to work at this, hard as it may be.

Along the way it's also important to remember that there is nothing wrong with you. The only thing wrong is that society has a screwed-up sense of what's right and wrong sometimes, and that the problem is with other people's attitudes about what it means to be queer.

Best wishes, and my hope for a successful resolution. Let me know how things go for you.

Chris

Chris can be reached at chris@kryzan.com


../9807/%5BAbout%20the%20Author%5D
©1998 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.