Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight.
- Harvey Milk
“I’m not sure…am I gay?”
Young men and boys commonly ask this question during the coming out process. They might say it differently, and they may not have begun the process yet. If the question “Am I gay?” is pressing on someone’s heart, he’s probably going through the process.
Shorthand for “coming out of the closet,” coming out could mean, more accurately, coming out of confusion.” This connotation removes possible stigma or blame.
“Be fearless / be honest / be generous / be brave /
be poetic / be open / be free / be yourself / be in love /
be happy / be inspiration.” -
- Beyonce, writing words for Frank Ocean
“So am I gay, or what?” If this question remains or someone asks you to “evaluate them” with this question, there’s no definitive, easy answer. Just breathe, take a step back, and think about—or pass along—some of these ideas:
1) Empower Him to Find His Own Answers. – Possible feedback: “I can’t answer that for you. This is a question only you can answer. I can support you in your stages of learning, discovery, research, and even play (try to refrain from saying things like ‘experimentation.’ He is not a science project.). But this is your hero’s journey.”
2) You Don’t Have to Lose your Religion. You aren’t coming out to God or your Higher Power. Spirit already knows you. There are several gay-inclusive churches and organizations happy to support and encourage you.
3) Discourage Binary Thinking. Free him up from binary thought. Kids grow up in an overpoweringly heterosexual-defined world, yet heterosexuality is as much of a social construct as the next idea. The best kept open secret in the world is that heterosexual-identified people are also fluid, as sexuality Is fluid (see: Kinsey Reports). Make sure he knows that.
4) Respect Boundaries. Keep it real: if you find yourself attracted to someone who’s newly queer or questioning, first consider his age. If there’s a huge imbalance and/or he’s a minor, please do both of yourselves a favor: don’t take advantage of his twice-vulnerable state (one due to age/inexperience, two due to his sexual uncertainty). The mentor / mentee sex narrative is a common coming of age story—that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate. He needs friends and support, not just sex. If you find you have conflicted interests and he’s not of age, telling him you’re into him also further confuses matters. Even if the attraction is mutual, be smart and be fair.
5) “I’m A Trans Guy Who Likes Girls, Period.” Of especial note, questioning sexuality is often a second or third lap around questions that come up for transgender guys who may become fascinated by images of men as they’re creating the life they want to lead. They’re looking for affirming images, like-minded peers, role models and allies, and checking out pictures of men for medical [surgery, anatomy], social [presenting as “male”], empowering and of course arousal reasons [how to please self and others, for pleasure's sake, curiosity]).
If he says he’s attracted to women, he thinks he is, or he flip-flop, that’s his prerogative and right. Keep snarky “Yeah right whatever, you’re gay” comments and feelings to yourself. You might encourage him to talk to or discover more about other trans guys (depending, some guys might fixate on cis-gender guys only during this time). If you’re really a true friend or ally, don’t get into the eye-rolling. That helps no one.
6) He May Realize He’s Straight. You may crack jokes about straight folks. Try to tone those down around him, especially if he’s just a kid. What if it turns out he’s “coming out straight,” or he’s just not ready? There are many people who’ve never been in doubt about their sexuality, or heterosexuality. If he’s not in that “majority,” or he’s a bit more passive with girls or women, that doesn’t make him automatically gay. This could take him a while to realize.
7) “Have You Ever Thought About Getting Help?” Even if you’re helping him, guys can be notorious for refusing help, asking for it in a roundabout ways, or not seeking out support or counseling. Share resources and if necessary, walk with him as he researches, explores, visits LGBT centers, picks up “coming out newbie” brochures, etc.
8) For Teenagers, For Young Boys Puberty can really suck. Boys are still figuring out how hormones make them feel, bodies change, crushes unfold. Peer “pressure” and bullying is a minefield that’s so difficult to get through. His anti-gay friends, family or elders might see you as trying to “recruit or convert him” rather than as a sounding board. This makes finding professional allies, especially if he’s underage, extra important. You might need some backup.
9) Keeping Secrets You can keep his journey between the two of you without making him think coming out is a dirty little secret. Help him understand the difference between confidentiality or privacy and shame-filled secrecy.
10) “Are You Using?” He might feel insulted: however, if in the context of “because I really care,” check in to see if he’s using/abusing drugs, if he’s having risky or unsafe sex (with men and/or women), or if he’s acting out in other erratic ways. Help him find support around balancing out all aspects of his life, including but not limited to sexual and other gratification.
11) Gender Expression: “Is There Something Wrong With Me?” He doesn’t have to present as butch, or he might feel so in his heart. He doesn’t have to present as fem, he might be genderqueer, and so on. If he’s trans, there’s nothing wrong with the desire to be stealth (presenting in a certain gender-centric way without immediately telling people he’s trans). Remind him he’s free to explore these ideas. Ask him about preferred terms (he may prefer to call himself “same gender loving” rather than “queer or gay,” etc.).
“Is There Something Wrong With Me?”
“We have to show ‘em there’s nothing to be afraid of. If we don’t get over our fears, they never will.”
- Lisi Harrison, from Monster High
12) Undeclared. This life can be like having an undeclared major in school: he never has to come to any conclusions about himself. Remove all expectations: love and accept him for the person he is. It will make such a positive difference in his life and in yours.
13) Re-frame “Normal.” Nature has always made room for gay and lesbian or variant gender expression in all species, of which we are but one. We may not all understand why this way of being exists, but according to “Gaia,” nature considers a multiplicity of sexual and gender expressions to be normal.
To that end, watch out for so-called “normal” language like “That’s so gay, gaylord, butt-hurt, calling lesbians Klondikes, saying tranny or freak,” etc. Whatever side you’re on surrounding such humor, things are different when you’re learning how to walk before you run. This kind of language is common, but isn’t necessarily normal. He might not see reclaiming the word “fag” as empowering.
14) “How do I know for sure?” The answer “You just know” isn’t entirely correct. It would be more accurate to answer, “Whatever way of sexual expression and identity gives you the most pleasure (sexually and otherwise), whatever predominates,” these are good indicators. If comfortable enough, you can use your own experience as an example.
15) Pride In the Name of Love Share with him what “pride” means to you. Parades aren’t required for all gays to attend, or he may not be able to attend one for logistics reasons, but explain to him why we celebrate Pride, and how activism has influenced and affected gay culture over time.
16) Gay Role Models Help him learn about LGBTQIA role models—and gay role models in particular. If he’s also a person of color, help him to discover role models that mirror his nationality, ethnicity, background, etc. Share with him stories of people who’ve come out later in life (different age, same process!). Sexual orientation and gender haven’t stood in the way of well-known kings and queens, artists, designers, athletes, philosophers, scientists, writers entertainers and others throughout history. It shouldn’t stand in the way of his progress either. Coming out and thriving-as-out stories are important—and these shouldn’t all be rich and famous people’s narratives. That adds the extra pressure of having to be famous or wealthy in order to get “special treatment,” which is a myth.
“‘Faggot, faggot…’ Do you hate him ’cause he’s pieces of you?”
17) Outing, Safety Issues Outing is not the same as coming out. Being outed in inopportune ways can cause safety, social or financial challenges. Best and worst case scenarios are important to discuss. Don’t push him out, as the most important person he needs to come out to is himself. Depending on where he lives and his age, coming out might be physically unsafe for him at present, but you can help him to prepare. Unfortunately, there is also the possibility of someone outing him without permission, or falsely accusing him of something he hasn’t even stated or realized yet. Help him to have plans and solutions prepared as much as you can, realistically.
18) “I’m Not the Right Person to Ask.” Sharing these words honestly is also helpful. You can still direct him to many other people or resources who can support him with his questions and concerns. Let him know you respect him and it’s got nothing to do with him (sharing helpful resources reinforces this truth for you.)
19) “How Long Have You Been Gay?” And Other Leading Questions. In short, don’t ask things like that. Don’t try not to lead the conversation. This is his deal, not yours.
“Being gay is not living any type of lifestyle (at least not for me).
It simply pertains to my sexual orientation.
I am sexually attracted to guys. That’s it. It’s life, not a lifestyle!”
- Scott Penziner
20) “Things Are So Much Easier These Days.” No, they’re not. Don’t belittle his experience by equating your pain with his. Everyone needs a support net, almost everyone has a rejection and/or bullying story, and this life is his to live. Be present with him rather than disowning him or silencing his voice.
21) Celebrate! Debutantes have coming out parties, why can’t we? Remember to praise him for his courage and self-love. He’s brave enough to ask these questions and cares enough to make this his quest. You don’t have to whip out the glow sticks or anything (unless you want to?), but remember, this is all about finding joy and holding onto it.
You can find some starter resources below.
Now That You Know by Betty Fairchild & Robert Leighton
Beyond Acceptance by Carolyn Welch Griffin, Marina J. Wirth & Arthur G. Wirth
LGBTQ Inclusive Religions http://gaylife.about.com/od/religion/a/gaychurch.htm
Coming Out As Intersex http://www.advocate.com/commentary/2013/06/12/op-ed-intersex-final-coming-out-frontier
Family of Choice Holiday Support http://www.yourholidaymom.com
Coming Out Bi http://www.biresource.net/comingoutasbi.shtml
Coming Out As A Straight Supporter http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/straight-guide-to-lgbt-americans
National Coming Out Day http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/national-coming-out-day
Safe Space Network List http://safespacenetwork.tumblr.com/post/23388828318/the-safe-space-network-tumblr-list
PFLAG Coming Out Help http://community.pflag.org/page.aspx?pid=539
Resources for LGBT People of Color http://guides.ucsf.edu/content.php?pid=211162&sid=2009927
HRC / Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Coming Out Resources – http://www.hrc.org/resources/category/coming-out
E. Lynn Harris wrote, “My heart knows who I am and who I’ll turn out to be!” Isn’t following your heart rule number one in everything?