'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
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
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
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
- Where did I go wrong?
- Who led you astray?
- It is just a phase
you're going through!
- Don't you love us
- How can you do this
- What will everybody
- 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
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.