Is my boyfriend gay?
August 13, 2013 8:29 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend was raped as a kid, and recently told me that he used to believe he was gay before he met me. I don't know how to handle this.

We have been together for one year, and our relationship is going great. A few days ago, he decided to tell me that his older cousin would rape him for a long period of time when he was a child. The thing is, he said, that after some time he started liking it and did it with his free will. This went on for a couple of months and then he moved to another city, where 10 years later he met me.
The thing I can't handle is that he said he didn't know if he was gay or straight after what had happened to him, and he only found out when he met me. I don't know what to say to that. Is there a possibility he still likes men? He always kept talking about famous men and how great they are and what a great body they have and how he'd like to know them... I didn't thing it was a big deal but now that I know more about him I don't know what to believe anymore.
Is there a chance that what happened to him made him to like other men? Or maybe it doesn't even have anything to do with that? Could it be that he has benn lying to me the entire time?
I don't know what to do anymore.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are you two happy together, and is the sex good? Does he give any reason for you to think that he's interested in seeing anyone other than you?

How he identifies his sexuality is his own business. Your business involves his relationship with you, your happiness with him as a partner, and your own comfort level with dating someone who may identify as straight, bisexual, gay, or any number of possibilities available to the human animal.

Your boyfriend was very brave in telling you his story of abuse and his thoughts on his sexual identity. Is he gay? Neither I nor anyone else on the internet can tell you. Nobody can tell you except him. The biggest question for you is if he loves you, if you love him, and if you work well together. Labels and past experiences are all a part of the baggage that comes with being with someone else of the human persuasion.
posted by xingcat at 8:33 AM on August 13, 2013 [44 favorites]

I understand that this is very upsetting and confusing for you. What I'd like to gently suggest is the same thing I would suggest to a man whose girlfriend has just told him that she'd been raped: please shift your focus right now to finding ways to be supportive of him. You may even need to ask him directly (not confrontationally, but in the spirit of sincere openness) what he needs from you right now. He has trusted you enough to share something very painful with you, which is a signal of real emotional intimacy.

The baggage men and boys carry from the trauma of rape is similar in some ways to the baggage women and girls carry, but is also different in other ways -- as you're seeing -- because of the way our culture imposes a question mark over the sexuality of male rape victims. This is part of where your confusion and anxiety is coming from. Please be gentle and supportive with him (and yourself). Whatever the state of his sexuality -- and, as xingcat, no one here will be able to give you a definitive answer on that score -- he's not a "liar"; he's a man who endured terrible trauma that has affected him for his entire life. As best as you can, let kindness be your guide.

I wish you both the best.
posted by scody at 8:43 AM on August 13, 2013 [62 favorites]

Is there a chance that what happened to him made him to like other men? Or maybe it doesn't even have anything to do with that?

Whether or not you like men or women has NOTHING AT ALL to do with whether you were abused as a child, or by whom you may have been abused. Absolutely nothing.

It can, however, make a child pretty confused about sex in general. I would guess that what he says about actually starting to "like" the abuse and go along with it is more about him being young, and wanting approval from a family member, and being very, very confused about sex - not "confused" like "he didn't know what sex is or how it works," but confused as in "he had some feelings triggered in him that he wasn't equipped to handle or sort out because he was only a child."

When you're a child, you really want to please people - and sexual abusers take advantage of that by manipulating a child into wanting to please them, and sometimes the child ends up wanting to do these things because they want the other person's approval. And, sex just physically feels good, so when you have a physically good-feeling sensation combined with a child wanting someone's approval, then that's a really confusing situation for a child to be in. I'm not a psychologist, but I would guess that THAT has way more to do with your boyfriend starting to go along with the abuse after a while, and that it's not that "his cousin raping him made him gay."

I would be very, very supportive of your boyfriend now. If he's not been to any kind of therapy for this, I would gently suggest it - but back off if he doesn't want to, because sometimes therapy is something that people have to be ready for, and he may not be yet.

But I promise you that his cousin raping him didn't turn him gay, because it doesn't work that way. It was a very sad part of his history, that he may still be trying to deal with, and he needs support and care - and you need to thank him for trusting you with that.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:44 AM on August 13, 2013 [28 favorites]

Rape does not make someone's sexuality change. It makes them a victim.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:48 AM on August 13, 2013 [26 favorites]

The above answers all have good advice on how you should go about dealing with this disturbing, upsetting revelation, and how you can best go about supporting your boyfriend.

I realize that you're worried he is lying to you about his sexuality. That's not impossible, and I understand your impulse to focus on it, but shifting sexualities in an individual and bisexuality and other weird and wonderful sorts of human sexuality all actually exist and are not that uncommon (hard and fast numbers are hard to come by here, however).

The idea that bisexuals must be homosexuals who are fooling themselves (or others) is an unfortunate side effect of our very binary way of looking at sex and gender: that someone must be man or woman, straight or gay, fixed that way forever from birth. History, anthropology, psychology, and biology all suggest that things really are more complicated than that.
posted by col_pogo at 8:51 AM on August 13, 2013 [9 favorites]

(All those academic subjects--plus the lived experience of millions and millions of human beings and other animals...)
posted by col_pogo at 8:51 AM on August 13, 2013

Is there a chance that what happened to him made him to like other men?


Have you asked him directly about his sexuality yet? It's possible he's bisexual. Maybe he's as confused about his identity as you are. We can't tell you if he's "still" gay. Sexuality is pretty fluid and you need to ask him for yourself.
posted by sunshinesky at 8:55 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

First of all, sexuality is not solely determined by our sexual experiences. Check this article out about the Kinsey Scale. Your boyfriend can be anywhere on the scale, and it probably has nothing to do with being raped. Your boyfriend was abused and he processed that experience in a bunch of different ways. Be supportive, don't make this about you.

That said, he's probably really confused and if he's not in therapy, it might be a good idea to get in therapy so that he can work through any issues that arise from his experiences.

It's hard to say what's going on with your boyfriend. But his sexual orientation is not really a matter for debate on the internet.

Listen to what he tells you, don't judge him. Your relationship may endure, it may not. Your boyfriend may be straight, gay, bi or questioning.

Take each day one day at a time. Eventually, your boyfriend will sort his feelings out. You may decide to end the relationship.

For now, keep calm and carry on.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:03 AM on August 13, 2013

Do an Internet search for child abuse and homosexuality -- you will find that there is no correlative link. On the flip side, there is no correlative link between homosexuality and the child abuser. So, put the question out of your mind for the time being and focus on the fact that be was abused, that he was raped, and that he probably needs help processing it and being accepted and loved. Take it easy and one day at a time.
posted by amanda at 9:06 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

The thing is, he said, that after some time he started liking it and did it with his free will.

This is very much a feature of repeated sexual abuse. It's one of the things that makes it so destructive. It can certainly affect relationships later in life, in a much broader sense than just questioning if you are gay or bi or straight. But one of the hardest things is to trust people, and he has trusted you by telling you this. This is a really good sign. Don't worry about what he is by some definition; focus on what is happening in your relationship.

If you are terribly bothered by the idea that your boyfriend might be gay to some extent, well that is something to deal with and unpack. But more for yourself I think; why is this such a problem for you? You shouldn't repay your boyfriend's trust by putting him under a microscope in this sense.
posted by BibiRose at 9:14 AM on August 13, 2013 [15 favorites]

Is there a chance that what happened to him made him to like other men?

Yes, there's a chance. It's not typical, and experiences like that are certainly not lurking as reasons behind every person's sexuality. But rape is a particular kind of trauma, and people react in different ways. It's not really possible to tell you, "He definitely did not react to this trauma in this way."

More importantly, if he did—and we have zero way of knowing, so I'm most certainly not suggesting he did—then he shouldn't be made to feel sick, abnormal, or broken for reacting in that way because a few strangers said it cannot happen. I understand their impulse: on a societal level, it's important to dispel myths that have been used to harm and oppress people. That is a myth that has been used to harm and oppress people. But on an individual level, a rape victim should know that we react to trauma in myriad and unpredictable ways, and that's okay. If you are the person this mythologized thing really did happen to, that doesn't mean there's something wrong with you.

For your own state of mind, I agree with the very first comment in this thread. You should try to separate the two issues of his traumatic experience and his current sexuality. They may be linked in the way you're afraid of, they may be linked in a very different way, or they may not be linked at all. The point is, that's an issue for him to figure out. Your issue is to decide for your own reasons whether you want to be in a relationship with this person.

That decision may have to do with his sexuality or not. You may decide your own doubts about his sexuality are just too much to deal with. And although this is distasteful to say aloud, the truth is, it's also okay if you decide the rape is too much to deal with. That's not a perspective I'd encourage anybody toward, but it's common and it doesn't make someone an evil person. If you're gonna be in a relationship, you've gotta be up for it. Being honest about that is necessary.

I wish both you and your boyfriend luck. There are many resources for trauma survivors, as well as for friends and family. It's okay to seek advice on how to help him, and it's also okay to seek help for yourself.
posted by cribcage at 9:32 AM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think the thing here for you (and your boyfriend) is to realize that there are two, maybe three separate things going one here. 1) Your boyfriend was repeatedly abused 2) He is struggling with his sexual identity 3) If he loves you and you have a good relationship it doesn't matter if he "identifies" as gay/straight/bi/whatever
posted by radioamy at 9:36 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I see that you tagged your question "lying" "liar" and you think maybe he's been "lying to you."

I can not stress how important it is for your boyfriend's mental health that you get over that particular set of ideas right now. He was repeatedly raped as a child. Since you "don't know what to do anymore", here: treat him with kindness. Don't accuse him of lying to you. He didn't get repeatedly raped a decade ago so that he could hurt you now.

You could both definitely use a professional therapist's advice on how to help with this.
posted by kavasa at 9:39 AM on August 13, 2013 [48 favorites]

I have no experience or knowledge of this at all, but I think rape and trauma can just make sexuality hard for people and make it confusing and weird at times. We all have sexual imprints from our experiences -- experts thinks that's how people develop fetishes -- and his imprint is obviously going to be painful and confusing for him to deal with. I agree with other posters that sexual trauma doesn't change someone's true sexual orientation, but it can make it hard for someone to understand their own sexuality.

It sounds like otherwise, you care from this man, your relationship with him is good and you trust that he is being honest/opening up about something painful in his past. Given all this, I'd just be supportive. He may not wish to talk about it any further, but just wanted you to know. Either way, I don't know how much this should change anything for you. He's the same guy, but now you know he was the victim of something horrible that is hard for him.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:41 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

It is not possible that the assault on your boyfriend "made" him be attracted to men. People are born gay or bi.

But I have heard that LGBTQ/questioning youth are more likely to be targeted for abuse, because they are or perceived to be more vulnerable. This obviously leads to a lot of confusion for the child in question.

You should support him, help him, and maybe learn a bit more about LGBTQ issues, whether he is gay, bi or straight. Wikipedia is a good place to start.
posted by jb at 9:55 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

This seems like it is way beyond your and my pay grade. Is your boyfriend seeing a therapist? Are you? I think that is the only way to get your questions answered, to be honest.
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:00 AM on August 13, 2013

It is very common among male rape survivors to believe that it happened because they were gay, or that the rape made them gay. It is also common for rape survivors to be particularly traumatized by experiencing orgasm during rape -- it is a rather horrid separation of the body and the mind's reaction. Self blame, for your information, is in general the way many survivors feel about their rape. It is a way to try to take control of the event -- by convincing the survivor that if s/he had done something different, the rape wouldn't have occurred.

Also, sexuality tends to run on a continuum. Some people are strongly oriented toward their own or the opposite sex, some not so much.
posted by bearwife at 10:04 AM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

Good heavens, your boyfriend is not a liar! If anything he is the opposite of a liar--he told you the truth about a painful event about which he potentially feels some shame! I think you are taking the hurt and confusion you feel and looking for somewhere to place the blame, and you are placing it on your boyfriend instead of where it belongs: on his abuser. The abuser is the bad guy here FULL STOP.

While you are naturally upset and confused by what you've recently learned, this is not about you. If you want to be supportive and stay with your boyfriend, you are going to HAVE TO deal with your confusion and hurt on your own or (preferably) with a competent therapist.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:15 AM on August 13, 2013 [12 favorites]

Is there a chance that what happened to him made him to like other men?
-Yes, there is a chance.

Or maybe it doesn't even have anything to do with that?
-Entirely possible. He may not yet know himself. But that's what he told you, and you don't seem to have much of a reason to not trust him at this point.

Could it be that he has been* lying to me the entire time?
-Sure, but not as likely as you seem to think.

There's a lot of sexual identity ideology flying around in here; unfortunately this is a terrible environment to have that conversation.

Yes, any early experience, sexual or not, can affect how your sexuality develops later in life. Anyone who says different is selling you something, full stop. This is especially true of things that happen in pre- and early adolescence. That someone can make distinctions about which responses are legitimate or not, based upon the experience which provoked it, is judgemental, inappropriate, and unhelpful.

It sounds like you are concerned that he has been "lying" to you about being straight since you got together. Is that right? If you're worried that your boyfriend is "secretly gay", and trying to find a convoluted way to come out to you, well, that probably involves a conversation.

But keep in mind that you are having a conversation about a very serious and delicate time in your boyfriend's life, and what it means to him now. Your curiousity and concerns should not trump the respect owed to the safe space he's allowed you access to.

More practical concerns would seem to be:
- does he seem into you sexually?
- are you enjoying the sexual component of your relationship?

Either way the labels you use are irrelevant, and it seems unwise to default to suspicion over your boyfriend's admission. Please be respectful and kind in your conversations going forward.
posted by Poppa Bear at 10:40 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are you the first person your boyfriend has disclosed this truth to? If yes, then keep in mind that unlike numerous female sexual abuse survivors, it sounds like your boyfriend may have never had any sympathetic support in helping him understand that his experiences were abuse --and especially to understand that there was nothing he could have done to prevent it. Deciding he must be gay is truly a child's way of rationalizing and taking control back over the situation (it's much less scary to believe "well I must be gay and that's what must have made him come on to me" than to believe this person you trusted and admired raped you for no reason other than you were simply there --the former belief gives an isolated child a much more useful illusion of control).

Is there a chance that what happened to him made him to like other men?

I think there's a good chance what happened to him has made him hyperaware of everything and anything he feels around men. It'll be up to him whether he decides to like those feelings as more, or put a limit on those feelings.

IANAT, so definitely do some of your own research if your intention is to continue dating your boyfriend and support him through this revelation. There are materials out there for male survivors of sexual abuse. I suspect it might reassure you and your boyfriend both to find that male abuse victims often figure they must have invited the abuse, therefore, they must be gay. Really, how boys rationalize abuse isn't that much different from how girls rationalize it --without the intervention of therapy, both tend to believe they were responsible for it and carry that belief forward far into adulthood.

The thing is, he said, that after some time he started liking it and did it with his free will.

Agreeing that "starting to like it" is indeed a feature of prolonged, repeated sexual abuse. My heart goes out to your boyfriend for how his child self struggled to make sense of an overwhelming situation to the best of his child's ability. Again, this is not terribly different from how some female sexual abuse survivors cope with a situation of ongoing abuse in which it's clear there is no adult available to protect them. If you can, try to frame this experience with the same compassion you would if it were an adult woman confiding she had been repeatedly abused and eventually started to willingly submit for her own peace of mind (the experience can be much less distressing when you can see it coming, right?). Keep in mind too that his abuser would not have been there to take any responsibility for his actions, and likely would have pawned as much responsibility off onto the child as possible. He would have been the only "expert" your boyfriend's child self would have had to make sense of what was going on.

Agreeing with others that your boyfriend has shared this with you because he trusts you. Surround yourself with the support you both need, whether it be with books, therapists, or good friends. This is not easy for anyone to learn about their partner, and kudos to you for reaching out with questions rather than trying to sweep it under the rug. Good luck anon!
posted by human ecologist at 11:18 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

While there are certainly many people who find the thought of sex that runs contrary to their orientation disgusting, there are also many, many people (who identify as "gay," "straight," and, of course, "bisexual") who are able to have sex and find it physically tolerable-to-pleasurable against their innate orientation. For me, my orientation is directed very strongly toward women, but friction is friction, and I'm sure that if I were to have sex with men again, if memory serves, I would be able to get off from it. But that doesn't make me heterosexual. Although I could go through the motions physically, I suspect I wouldn't find it to be erotic.

And so, your boyfriend may be completely gay (although it's unlikely, given that he wants to have sex with you and can function sexually with you), or he may be, like the vast majority of men (since gay men are estimated to be something like 2-4% of the male population) somewhere on the Kinsey scale between bi and straight.

Of course the abuse confused things for him, but right now, as others have noted, you need to reframe the issue from one of his lying to one of him working through a years-long series of traumatic, confusing experiences. Focus on supporting him. It's admirable that he opened up to you, and based on what you've said here, I would call him unusually honest, not dishonest.
posted by ravioli at 11:30 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's an article that discusses some of these issues by Dr. Richard Gartner. He also wrote the book Beyond Betrayal: Taking Charge of Your Life After Boyhood Sexual Abuse, which might be a good book for both you and your boyfriend to read to understand what is going on a bit better.

Basically most male victims of male perpetrators do question their sexuality. There may be questions of why did the male perpetrator chose me? "Did he see that I was gay?" It can be really confusing if pleasure/orgasm was experienced during the abuse, which often happens. "Did I really want it to happen?" Often times perpetrators can act friendly and take an interest in a child that they may not be getting elsewhere, taking them on special trip or give gifts and use that to leverage abuse and silence. So sometimes there are mixed feelings, "I do like spending time with this person." Often times children go along with abuse because they are afraid, feel it is their fault, or just want to get the experience over with. Sometimes abuse victims do later initiate contact to feel more mastery over the abuse, "It wasn't abuse, I wasn't a victim, I did want it." Other times children are actually seduced and may feel positive about the abuse and the abuser for a time, even though when they are older they usually understand themselves as having been taken advantage of.

But as far as the research can tell, sexual abuse does not change your sexual orientation -- you remain heterosexual/gay/bi -- however it can lead to a lot of confusion. A heterosexual person may wonder am I really gay? A gay/bi person may wonder am I only gay/bi because of the abuse. Having flashbacks and body sensations from the abuse while aroused/having sex is extremely common. If a man is having intrusive sensations in anus from past rape while masturbating/having sex, a heterosexual man may wonder "Am I gay?" a gay/bi person may wonder "Am I just reenacting the abuse and really heterosexual?" All in all it is all extremely confusing, and I would recommend patience on your part and probably some therapy for your boyfriend to sort it all out. It is a testament to how much that he trusts you that he has opened up about these experiences, so honor that trust and try to support him in any way that you can.
posted by amileighs at 1:19 PM on August 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

Bisexuals exist. Your boyfriend has been through something extraordinarily significant and shared it with you because he feels he can trust you. Don't let him down now. Therapy for you all.
posted by heyjude at 2:51 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wonder, OP, if your reaction to this is less about your boyfriend's abuse and subsequent comments with you, and more about your own attitudes to homosexuality. How comfortable with gays/homosexuals are you, OP? Are you close to any? How do you feel about them and homosexuality as a lifestyle? How much do you know about it?

I ask because, frankly, if someone told me something like what your boyfriend has told you, and had in the past expressed admiration for male movie stars, my first reaction would not to start thinking they were gay. None of the things you mentioned are really a reliable cosign of homosexuality when weighed up against the fact that he's been in a relationship with you for a year and you didn't really have any doubts before.

I mean, goodness, I am very straight, but I love musicals and other stereotypically gay things, and frequently express admiration at male celebrities, their styles, and their ripped bodies that I wish I had. I'm still straight.

Whatever you decide to go, please go gently. Your boyfriend has shared something incredibly sensitive with you, and he probably feels very vulnerable as a result.
posted by smoke at 4:49 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

As others have discussed or intimated, he may be interpreting the pleasurable sensations he experienced during these assaults as an indicator of his sexuality. He's a victim of abuse and understandably confused. Whilst he's absolutely deserving of sympathy and empathy, your confusion and resentment too must be acknowledged. I imagine you commenced the relationship with a man you believed securely heterosexual and without an inkling of the long and tumultuous path you may have to navigate together in order to resolve or manage the ongoing repercussions and consequences of his childhood abuse. Are you comfortable with and ready for that?
posted by Nibiru at 5:00 PM on August 13, 2013

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