I'm PRETTY sure I'm gay. Help me be okay with it.
June 26, 2014 1:10 PM   Subscribe

I've always known I was a little different. I have trouble remembering things from my relatively normal childhood, so it took until high school to connect the few dots I had, but after I did that, I relished in the attraction I felt for certain other men. It was exciting and made me feel as though I was part of a community with a common story. I grew up with conservative parents who I haven't been able to tell but who I suspect have an inkling, given the things they found left open on my teenage computer and my shy, sensitive nature. I was fine with not making it a part of my identity and limited its sphere of influence to my taste in porn and online friendships. I never felt the need for a relationship- with women or men- but I enjoyed the way validation from "manly" men made me feel both emotionally and physically.

I'm pretty sure this checks all the gay boxes. Problem is, I still can't shake the visceral reaction I have around other gays/ expression of gay love because of the dogma that's been ingrained in me by my parents and my Jewish background, despite being out to friends, being on Grindr and living in these more accepting times. This has kept me from forming meaningful platonic relationships with gay men and women ( using them for sexual release and then leaving them hanging), and I have trouble seeing myself in a long-term relationship with a man.
What can I do to start living a healthy gay life?

My questions then, are:
-Am I gay, bi, asexual or straight? Will I never have a black-and-white answer, and if so, how can I learn to be okay with that and what does it mean functionally?
- I'm afraid of intimacy and sex in general- some of that is a consequence of being in a wheelchair and being overweight ( though that's changing), but some of it is a fear of the finality, guilt and danger that would come with it.
-How do I stop needing to force myself to bury a latent disgust and be accepting and comfortable around gay people and cultural artifacts and cultivate genuine love for them and for myself?
What can I do to start living a healthy, full life that recognizes my sexuality?

I hate being this way. Intellectually, I know there's really only one right answer, but I can't get my emotions to meet me there. Any advice, hivemind?
posted by marsbar77 to Human Relations (29 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Just wanted to add that the visceral reaction, in terms of dating entails me closing myself off to someone the moment I find out they're gay, no matter how attracted I may have been to them before... So frustrating.
posted by marsbar77 at 1:16 PM on June 26, 2014

I know that this is a mefi fave response, but this is what therapy is for. You have a number of complex issues to untangle and a good therapist can help to guide you through the process.
posted by quince at 1:26 PM on June 26, 2014 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: I know, and I'm looking into that. I was really interested, though, in hearing anecdotal evidence for being able to change / suggestions of small concrete steps I can take.
posted by marsbar77 at 1:29 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Start hanging out with really neat people, and having a great time. When you hear that voice in the back of your head tell it, "That's not true, I'm a wonderful, unique person and nothing and no one that I love is ugly or wrong."

And therapy of course.

Check out LGBTQ groups and see if there are support groups, or socials or things that you might do with other folks who are struggling with their sexual identities.

Help kids who are having a hard time.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:34 PM on June 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Am I gay, bi, asexual or straight?

You don't have to be gay and live a gay life because you're having sex with men. You don't have to be any of those things if they don't fit. A lot of people I know identify as 'queer' instead of gay/bi/etc because they don't feel as though they fit into those boxes.
posted by Jairus at 1:50 PM on June 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I know there's really only one right answer

Says who? No one but you has a right to know what you like, sexually a/o romantically. There's a difference between being "in the closet", and simply choosing to not make aspects of your psyche public.

And give up on the black-and-white idea altogether. It isn't realistic for human beings animals. It isn't useful, for many people. 97% same-sex lovers and 3% opposite-sex lovers makes you... someone who has had lovers. And that's wonderful.

Take your own damn time to get to know yourself. You have literally the rest of your life to do so. But for the same reason, don't put it off - ;)
posted by IAmBroom at 1:52 PM on June 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: When I was coming out to close friends, one piece of advice that I was given was that I am the only person who can define myself. Labels are everywhere in the LGBTQ community and the important thing to remember is that labels are not mandatory. You mention "checking all the gay boxes" and wanting a "black-and-white answer" and that would probably involve labels. If that's what makes you comfortable with yourself then you absolutely go for it. If fitting into boxes is the easiest way for you to figure things out then don't let anyone tell you otherwise. On the other hand, if you don't want to confine yourself to a certain label and just go with the flow then that's wonderful. If you wake up one morning and meet a beautiful girl you want to woo, that's cool. If you wake up the next day and see a handsome guy who takes your breath away, that's cool too. You don't even have to say bisexual if that's not your jam. Once I realised that I had this option of choice, I felt liberated.

As for the general acceptance part, time and patience will be your greatest resources. One thing I would recommend is going out and finding any local LGBTQ organisations in your area that might need volunteers or helpers. Spending time with members of the community on common ground in a safe environment might allow you to see new sides to other people you wouldn't get to see anywhere else. I'll also say that the first step to accepting the LGBTQ community is accepting yourself. You won't immediately fall in love with a community if you don't like yourself and your potential place in that community to begin with.

I would also second the therapy. The important part is that you learn to accept yourself, even if it involves taking tiny baby steps or huge plunges into the deep end. You'll probably find your place in this crazy world when you figure it out. Other people seem to gravitate towards the folks that look comfortable in their own skin.
posted by sapien at 1:55 PM on June 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

If you are open to therapy, there is a specific therapist I can recommend who specializes in working with people who are experiencing difficulty accepting or understanding their sexual orientation. MeMail me for the name.
posted by prefpara at 1:58 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

To answer your third question anecdotally, one thing that helped me was binge watching Queer As Folk (US version). It's not exactly how I want to live my life but it normalized gay for me. After all, immersion and exposure works for learning foreign languages and overcoming phobias...
posted by JackBurden at 1:59 PM on June 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

OK, so, right now, at age 24 (based on your previous question), you're "pretty sure [you're] gay," and you define your question as being about "living a healthy gay life."

I also notice you refer in passing to some sexual encounters with women, in a neutral or negative way ... meanwhile, all your references to more positive things — pleasure and love and finding yourself — all seem to be referring only to men.

In my opinion, if you're "pretty sure" you're a gay man ... you're a gay man. I can't tell you if you're 100% gay, or bisexual, or asexual, or whatever other term one might want to use. Of course the other commenters are right in all their points about how you don't need to fit in a box, only you can define yourself, etc. But as many straight men like me can attest, someone who's a straight male adult is not going to have failed to notice his heterosexuality. Attraction to women is more than a negligible part of the mental life of a straight man. This is not to deny that people can be genuinely questioning their sexual orientation. I'm just saying, if you were totally straight, you'd know about it, and the idea of opening up an internet discussion thread to inquire into the matter wouldn't even occur to you.

Of course, there's no need to take any random internet commenter's word for it. Everyone else is right that you might want to consider therapy.
posted by John Cohen at 2:00 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing I find with questions like these is that only you know the answer, but by the time you're ready to ask the question, that answer is nearing the surface. I hope you mentally write your own comment in response to this question.

But I'll throw out a few random ideas. What about spending some time in a "gay" neighborhood? (Ie, one of those places where a higher than average number of people are gay.) What about even living there for awhile? There's nothing like immersion over a period of time for getting past stereotypes, getting past an "us" vs. "them" thing, and getting comfortable. The cultural artifacts would fade into background stuff you see every day. You couldn't avoid gay people, but you wouldn't be "hanging out with gay people," you'd be buying groceries. You'd realize what a broad spectrum of men happen to like other men. You might well meet someone with a similar background to you. If living somewhere isn't possible, maybe you could volunteer with a group that includes and serves gay men. Working shoulder to shoulder and coming to really respect someone's skills are another way to get stereotypes to fade. Anyway, good luck!
posted by salvia at 2:25 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

(in addition to therapy)

Try some thought experiments:
If you could live the life you imagine without any negative consequences, what would that look like?

If you could see yourself at the end of your life and have no regrets, and have lived a happy, fulfilled life, what would that look like?

Whatever that looked like, this is where you want to be heading. We humans all waste a shit ton of time on guilt and labels and worry about what our families and friends will think but ultimately, we have one go at this thing and kicking those obstacles out of the way as early as possible makes the rest of it so much more rewarding.
posted by Sophie1 at 2:28 PM on June 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Really wonderful advice so far. Just to clarify- I've not yet had a physical encounter with either sex. That's part of what's bothering me... not knowing which direction to go in. That, and wondering whether I identify as gay only for the attention/ exclusive inclusivity, if that makes sense, that the term provides. Oh, and when I say one right answer, I only mean to the question of whether being gay is an okay thing to be.
posted by marsbar77 at 2:35 PM on June 26, 2014

One clue that Dan Savage has brought up for others in your situation is to see who you imagine while masturbating. Not always an answer, but often a clue. Good for you for trying to figure this stuff out for yourself, so you can live a happier life. Therapy is the way most people I know have found their best answers to many of your questions.
posted by ldthomps at 3:11 PM on June 26, 2014

Best answer: Let me give you that answer right now: being gay (or bi, or straight, or asexual, or whatever) is a perfectly okay thing to be.

Let me also say that one dimension of the "spectrum" is that there are soooooo many ways to express that sexuality. Some stay rock solid, others change, and still others may not seem to have rhyme or reason but just ARE. And that's perfectly okay, too.

For example: my husband would describe his good friend A. as a gay guy because he has, at some points, enjoyed sex with other guys. But A. also enjoys sex with ladies -- so much so that he has two kids with the woman he married and two other kids with two other women. My husband still prefers to call him gay most of the time, rather than bi or straight. (Well, he calls him A., because that's just who he is, for both identification and specificity purposes.)

My husband is convinced that A. is sexually attracted to men, but emotionally attracted to women, as well as enjoying the other benefits of a male/female relationship and family. It's not a sacrifice or anything for him; he just does it. A. has never discussed this stuff when I'm around, but neither does he hide aspects of his personality.

To be honest, he's a rather insufferable and cerebral Euro-intellectual with a real self esteem issue who grew up on the wrong continent. And he loves to be contrary, so who knows -- maybe that plays a role, too! He's just A. That's it.

For you, perhaps, aspects of the way you live and have been treated will influence your sexuality, too; I firmly believe that being gay or whatever is wired into you at birth, but there's so VERY much that goes on after that that it would be foolish to discount our life experiences as influences on the way we love and are turned on by other people.

So think and explore and do whatever floats your boat, my good man, and know that we will cheer you every step/roll of the way :)
posted by Madamina at 3:20 PM on June 26, 2014

Best answer: It might be worthwhile to post your question over at the empty closets forums too. They're a supportive and incredibly diverse bunch.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:27 PM on June 26, 2014

Best answer: It sounds to me like you already know that you are turned on by men and that gay sex is a part of your sexual fantasy life. The problem seems to be the internalized homophobia (that disgust that you are talking about) that holds you back from wanting to be in a relationship with one of "them". I suspect the problem is that when you know someone is gay, all you can think about is their (dirty, titallating, erotic) sex life. The first step is to recognize the way all that past programming is getting in your way. Sounds like you have already started that process. You also need to give yourself the chance to get know some gays as well rounded people - not just sexual beings.I suggest starting with some tv/movies that will help you identify with the gay characters as full well-rounded people that you can care about. Then seek out opportunities to be around people that let you get to know them and maybe make some friends without trying to start a romantic or sexual relationship (like the suggestion for volunteer work above).

In the meanwhile, you might also want to think about opportunities to connect with your own body in a more positive way. Massages might be good. Exericse can also help you feel more toned and fit and generally just better about the body you live in.
posted by metahawk at 3:27 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Why thank you! :) Not to threadsit, but I guess a lot of where the questioning comes from is this discomfort with the post-modern notion of fifty genders and things like "the sociology of sex" being taught in college and I guess... the breakdown, even if it's beneficial in the long-term and chisels away toward the truth... of how things "used to be" in very strict, Judeo-Christian / Eastern European terms. It sucks, but I can't let it go.
posted by marsbar77 at 3:28 PM on June 26, 2014

Best answer: Just to clarify- I've not yet had a physical encounter with either sex. That's part of what's bothering me... not knowing which direction to go in.

There are only two rules for who you should have your first physical encounter with:

1) They should be a decent human being.
2) They should be someone who turns you on.

They need to be a decent human being because you shouldn't have your first sexual encounter with someone who might take advantage of you or be a jerk in any other way. They should be someone who gets you hot because it is no fun to have sex with someone you're not into. Other than that, it doesn't really matter, and it doesn't necessarily need to have all that much to do with how you end up identifying. It sounds like you're going to be wrestling with that question for a long time, and one way to make it less scary and abstract will be to get out in the world and do some experimenting and see what you like and who you like (both as lovers and as friends).
posted by dizziest at 3:29 PM on June 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Mod note: Hey marsbar77, AskMe isn't really a space for the asker to process things in the thread - at this point, maybe just read the answers and think them over for yourself, and limit your comments to factual info people request to help them answer your original question. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:34 PM on June 26, 2014

Best answer: I'm gay and to be honest with you, even though I've known to some extent or other since I was 13 years old, am out comfortably to my whole family (who are liberal and accepting) and most everyone I know, and am in a happy long term relationship in which we have great sex... Shame is a part of how I experience being gay. Especially around physical intimacy. It's not a large amount of shame and it doesn't affect me much at all, but it's there. The disconnect between social norms and who you are can be very difficult to handle (especially as a woman, but that's a bit off your topic).

We live in a patriarchal and profoundly heterosexual society. Yes, public perceptions are changing, but straightness is still the norm and straightness is the default. Gay relationships are undervalued, trivialised, stereotyped. We don't see that many positive images of ourselves, or if we do it's sugar-coated GSA-style. We aren't as socially "real" in terms of pop culture and general society as straight people. It makes it hard to know what we're feeling, how to fit ourselves into narratives. When homophobia is part of our daily lives, it makes sense that we internalise it. Don't blame yourself for that.

So to counterbalance all the well-meaning people saying "It's Ok to be Gay", as correct as they are, I will say: it's ok to feel weird. It's ok to mourn the loss of what culture tells us is the right thing, that will make us happy. It's ok to look at other gay people and not be able to imagine identifying with them, or being with them. You have been bought up to see them as Other. It's going to take some time to break down that boundary. It's going to be hard to accept that that Other is now YOU.

Some advice: try and find some LGBTQ community. I loathe most mainstream gay culture, but I volunteered at Pride one time and that was fun, and I enjoy looking at pictures of old lesbians getting married, and seeing gay couples holding hands on the street. There's one particular youtube series I watched about elder LGBTQ long-term couples in very long term relationships that is very moving. I like learning about LGBTQ history and educating myself on issues that make me rage and get angry at our continuing heteropatriarchal culture, and make me love and value my strong, loving people. Seeing the real experiences, struggles, love and happiness of LGBTQ people is a wonderful way to break down those internal barriers and instincts of disgust.

But the best thing of all is experiencing love with another person in a hella gay way. It's scary and sex can be weird, but it's worth any of that. I hope you can sort things out with yourself and you find someone who you can experience that kind of love with. You may never fully identify as gay, and that's ok. But you have this side of yourself, and it's good to honour it, and be confused by it, even if you can never exactly name it.
posted by mymbleth at 3:54 PM on June 26, 2014 [21 favorites]

The youtube videos I mentioned are called "The Devotion Project", if you're interested.
posted by mymbleth at 4:50 PM on June 26, 2014

Best answer: Responding to a minor point : I would tend to think Grindr and similar are counterproductive to what you say you want.

I say this less because of the inevitability of comparing oneself to the headless torsos (tho there is that) but more because I think it can become a way to fake intimacy without actually taking on the risk that actual intimacy entails: you can always just block the guy and close the app.

You have to risk awkwardness to get what you're talking about wanting.
posted by PMdixon at 7:55 PM on June 26, 2014

You're gay. It's not a big deal, or will cease to be when you grow up, which is all you or any other kid needs to do.

I've known and fucked more gay Jews than I can even recall- what does being Jewish have to do with anything?
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:48 PM on June 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This page may be relevant to your interests.
posted by Shmuel510 at 10:09 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some people consider sexual attraction independent from romantic attraction, so for some people, it's possible to be asexual and homoromantic (or any of a large number of combinations). There are a lot more boxes and labels than just gay, straight, bi, and asexual, especially given that Western gender expression isn't as binary as it used to be. I think you need to give yourself some time and freedom to date around and figure out how you feel before you identify yourself. Some people know their sexual orientation from the get-go, but others need some experience to sort it out.
posted by gingerest at 10:44 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: That's part of what's bothering me... not knowing which direction to go in.

Why choose one? One of the glories of the post-modern sexual era is that you and only you get to define who you are. Labels are for envelopes, not people, so worrying about making a choice is something you can actually throw right out of your head.

Meet people. If you feel an attraction to them, and it seems like you're somewhere on the spectrum of gender(s) they find attractive, ask them out.

That being said, and without getting into all of the power dynamics behind such relationships, it sounds to me like you're looking for a Daddy who'll look after you and tell you it's all okay. There's tons of those relationships in the gay world (my most recent relationship was very much like that; large age difference), and they tend to be mutually rewarding. There's also a million other relationship models you can follow, and they don't necessarily have to have sex and romance line up with each other. I describe myself as gay for simplicity, because it's a lot easier than saying "Well I prefer sex and relationships with men, but sex with women can be fun once in a while, and once in a blue moon I'll get a quickly-passing crush on a girl; I'm bisexual(ish) but homoromantic."

So don't rush to label yourself. Those labels will evolve and change over time anyway. As mentioned above, after you've masturbated think back on what actually got you off. Not a definitive answer, but definitely a clue there.

Either way, it all seems like you're probably somewhere on the queer spectrum, which (in basic terms) embraces all sexual orientations that aren't strictly heterosexual. Those rainbow flags flying everywhere this month represent you, no matter what you call yourself or anyone else calls you. And those flags represent pride in who we are as people; not shame. So please, don't be ashamed. You're you, and you're obviously an intelligent and introspective person; sleep/date/make out with whoever seems to push your buttons at that moment, whether they be male, female, or any of the other variety of gender expressions that are out there.

Welcome to being (partly) out of the closet. It's so much sunnier out here.

Best of luck :)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:29 PM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

"I guess a lot of where the questioning comes from is this discomfort with the post-modern notion of fifty genders and things like "the sociology of sex" being taught in college and I guess... the breakdown, even if it's beneficial in the long-term and chisels away toward the truth... of how things "used to be" in very strict, Judeo-Christian / Eastern European terms. It sucks, but I can't let it go."

It might help to rephrase this as "I have not yet been able to let it go," with regard to any ingrained preconception which is making you unhappy, or is at odds with what you would like your life to be.
posted by jessicapierce at 2:05 PM on June 27, 2014

I hear you, so much. I was in a very similar place. I wasn't raised with any particularly anti-gay sentiment, but I still just sort of "knew" it was weird and difficult, if not actually bad per se, to be gay.

And everyone says, "I just KNEW I was gay/bi," which is great and all but winds up inadvertently confusing people who just DON'T know for sure.

What I "knew" was that I (a woman) liked men, which meant I wasn't gay. And somehow, despite a litany of evidence including a full-blown crush on a female classmate in high school, it took me until age 24 to even vaguely begin considering the possibility that I just maybe might like women too.

Now I'm 26 and mostly fine with it, and have casually dated women (nothing serious has worked out yet). And it continues to blow my mind and slightly disturb me that I was able to go so long without knowing this really fundamental thing about myself... but the only reason it's strange to me is because I was told I would "just know," and for whatever reason, I didn't.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:06 AM on June 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

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