Emily Rizzo

December 1998

Q. I recently came out to my best friend from high school and I can see that she was upset although she told me it didn't matter. Our friendship has cooled down since but I'll be seeing her at Christmas time when we're both home from college since our families are friends. How should I act around her?

A. Well, you should act like yourself. After all, you are the same person you were when you knew her back in high school and she was a friend with you then. The only thing that has changed is that now she knows you better because you are no longer keeping your sexual orientation hidden from her.

Sometimes straight people are really shaken when a good friend comes out to them. They have to deal with their own prejudices about gay people as well as the shock of finding out that they didn't know as much about you as they thought they did. Also, your coming out may have raised some issues for your friend about her own sexuality. Perhaps she is wondering if she too is a lesbian and such thoughts may well be making her uncomfortable.

One problem with stereotypes is that when you identify yourself as gay people think they then know all about you. They also tend to see you as a purely sexual being and somehow whatever you do in bed becomes your defining characteristic rather than all the other qualities and talents you may have.

How to get around this? Well, be yourself. If you and your friend shared a common interest in music or sports then you've still got that bond. On the other hand, you don't have to degay yourself because it makes your friend uncomfortable. If you've joined a college gay group or perhaps a lesbian softball team then feel free to tell your friend about your life, your whole life including the gay part. Often just talking openly and honestly will help ease the tension and you might want to encourage her to ask questions.

Another way to help your friend get over her discomfort is to give her some reading material. My favorite is a small brochure from the American Psychological Association called "Answers to Your Questions About Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality " which can be found on the web at http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/orient.html

A good Christmas present might be Eric Marcus's book "Is It a Choice?" which is a sort of Gay 101 in Q & A format written for gay-friendly straights. It's available in paperback from St. Martin's Press.

Just remember: if your friend is uncomfortable because you are a lesbian that's her problem and she's got to deal with it. If she decides she can no longer be your friend, then she wasn't much of a friend in the first place.

All questions will be answered confidentially. Send e-mail to emily.rizzo@nyu.edu.

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