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coming out

The expression 'coming out' has been given to the process of gays telling family and friends, work-mates, etc. that they are homosexual and that they wish to embrace their sexual identity fully.  Older gays often come out partially, that is, tell family and close friends but still maintain a heterosexual profile for the rest of the world.  This may be necessary in particular jobs or professions where homosexuality is not tolerated and could result in sacking.  Discrimination is rife and gays have been known to be turned down for rental accommodation, jobs, loans, etc., never on the basis of their homosexuality, of course, but some other excuse is always found.  So, for practical reasons, many gay individuals and couples keep a low profile about their private lives, and get on quietly with their public and work lives.

Coming out, whether fully or partially, is a very difficult and painful process for most gays, in particular, the teenagers.  Counselling advice is available through gay organisations in each state to help young people who are facing this decision.  In many cases, 14 and 15 year olds are really dealing with a crisis of sexual identity — it's one of the most frequent problems raised on my show.  Boys and girls experience a whole range of conflicting emotions at this time of life anyway, and they're often confused in particular about their sexual feelings.

Teenage girls might develop crushes on each other, or a female teacher, but this does not mean that they are gay as such.  Boys urinate, shower and masturbate together but it can just be part of growing up, especially in sporting groups or all-boys schools.  I remember I was horrified when two of my students at a girls' boarding school came to me crying after one of the housemothers had told them they were 'filthy lesbians' because they had dived into a shower together to avoid being late for class.

If a boy or girl has some serious doubts about his or her sexuality, sensitive adult guidance is needed, not judgement and censure.  One of the main messages in my book Teenage Stress is that young people should be helped to arrive at their own decisions.  Unconditional love is the greatest gift any of us can give another and a gay child desperately wants to be loved despite having what society sees as a flaw.

Unfortunately, the reverse is usually the case.  If a gay teenager finds the courage to come out, the response is almost invariably shock, horror, disgust, disbelief and, at times, violence — even banishment from the family.  The most common reactions that are hurled at the child are:

  • Where did I go wrong?
  • Who led you astray?
  • It is just a phase you're going through!
  • Don't you love us anymore?
  • How can you do this to us?
  • What will everybody say?
  • Can't you just stop?

Many gays tell me that they are 'outed' by chance or mistake.  There's a certain amount of relief in not having to hide anymore, but then they have to deal with the emotional trauma of being abused and rejected by those closest to them.

There is no easy solution to this dilemma.  At the risk of repeating myself, education is the key.  If we as a society can learn to be more tolerant and accepting instead of insisting that only one way is right, love will be the ruler of our lives, as it should be, not hatred, smallmindedness and fear.

Coming out later in life is perhaps a little less difficult because adults have better resources for dealing with rejection and prejudice.  Some gays don't choose to come out as teenagers, or even acknowledge their feelings.  Gay men can marry and have children but then, later in life, find themselves attracted to males again.  If they choose to act on their desires, they have to betray their marriages, live with guilt and secrecy, run the risk of contracting disease and put their families under threat as well.  Statistics show that AIDS was spread in the initial stages by just as many of these so-called bisexual men as by gays living the complete homosexual lifestyle.  Some of these men choose to continue living as married men while frequenting gay pubs and other meeting places, indulging in casual sex and virtually leading two lives.  Not only is it stressful for them but it's not the most honest way to live, a bit like 'having your cake and eating it too'.

Other gay men who don't choose to acknowledge their preference lead lives of 'quiet desperation', never fulfilling their sexual potential, and either marry for convenience or stay lonely and celibate.  What I'm saying is that denying one's sexuality is not the answer.  It's not self-discipline or sacrifice or courage; it's waste and hopelessness.  Also, when we are sexually blocked, everything else in our lives is blocked — our creativity, our joy, our feelings.

For women, the pattern of later recognition of gay tendencies seems to work differently.  Even females who know at a young age that they like other females sexually will usually have their first sexual encounter with a guy, at puberty or later.  Gay women who have never dated or experimented with men at all are in the minority.  However, once a woman decides she's gay, she generally will not return to having sex with men unless she's genuinely bisexual.

Born lesbians will usually be with other women all their lives, possibly after some early encounters with men.  Those who are not genetically programmed to be gay are women who marry and have long-term relationships with guys till they're in their thirties or forties and then decide, for one reason or another, to turn to other women sexually.

The reasons could be disenchantment with men, inability to enjoy sex with male partners, physical abuse from husband(s), need for more emotional support, fear of further pregnancy, or a female friend becomes a lover.  They either leave their husbands for a particular woman or launch themselves upon the gay scene and 'sleep around' for a while in a spirit of rebellion and liberation.  I don't know of many cases where they stay in marriages and have a female lover on the side. Maybe it's not in the nature of a woman to love one person and stay in a dead marriage with another; however, there can be a time of transition and conflict before a woman fully decides what she wants to do — stay or leave.



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