In simple terms, being gay means that you are sexually attracted to
members of your own sex and that you identify with other gay people or
the larger gay community. Sexuality is a term used to describe a whole
range of feelings, desires and actions relating to sex.
Nobody knows for sure why some of us are gay and some of us are not.
Lots of theories have been put forward ranging from genetic differences
to overbearing parents. The evidence so far suggests that random genetic
factors play a part in determining our sexuality in the same way they
play a part in determining, for example, lefthandedness.
One thing we do know is that no-one chooses their sexuality. Some gay
people knew they were different, if not gay, from as young as five or
six. It is said that, for most of us, our sexuality is determined by the
age of 12 or 13 and probably 16 at the latest. By and large, society
tends to assume that everyone is, or wants to be, heterosexual. This is
known as heterosexism. Some people continue to believe that it is a
choice and that we can be persuaded into heterosexuality. By assuming
heterosexuality, society gives rise to the dilemma, for those of us who
know we are gay, of whether to hide our sexuality or to come out - with
all that this entails.
There have been small but perceptible changes in the way British
society views homosexuality, but there is a long way to go before it
will accept us in the same way as it does people who are, say,
lefthanded. This has more to do with society's hang-ups around sex and
sexuality than individual gay people. Often, once people know someone
who is gay, their prejudices and fears about homosexuality disappear all
For many young gay or bisexual people, adolescence can be a time of
particular anxiety and fear. Many lesbians and gay men look back on this
part of their lives with sadness and regret. There are very few positive
gay role models and a lot of hostility towards openly gay people. Gay
teenagers often become painfully aware that they are not like other
people and many become withdrawn and lonely, convinced that only they
are feeling this way. They learn to hide their true feelings or act as
others want them to, for fear of being ostracised, ridiculed or rejected
by loved ones and friends.
Above all, there can be a sense that we are somehow different, that
we are abnormal and that we are going to disappoint people.
Some people believe that if they get married their gay feelings will
disappear. It is unusual for this to happen. Most store up a great deal
of stress and anxiety for their later years. Coming out as a gay parent
has particular challenges. Breaking out of a clearly defined role, or
even attempting to shift the definition of it, involves tremendous
courage and strength. The conflict between their relationship with their
spouse and family and their need to be themselves can be enormous.
There are several stages in the process of coming out. It's your life
so take your time - do things for you and only when you are
that you are gay can take many years. Some of us probably hoped these
feelings were "just a phase". In time, we realise that these feelings
are not just a phase and we have to find a way of accepting them and
dealing with the fact that we are sexually attracted to members of our
This realisation is the first stage of coming out. There is no hard
and fast rule when this point is reached. For some it happens in their
teens, for others it may happen much later in life.
Some people describe this time of accepting their sexuality as though
they were riding an emotional rollercoaster. One day they felt happy and
confident and ready to tell everyone; the next they felt confused,
scared and relieved that they hadn't. You may want to talk to someone
who understands what this is like. We have included details of a number
of organisations in the United Kingdom that can help on the
This is a nerve racking time - the fear of rejection is likely to be
immense. Bear in mind that there are many ways to tell someone that you
It may be helpful to ask yourself some of the questions that
come up later in this guide, as it is more than likely that others will
ask you them at some point. Don't rehearse your answers but think of
your reasons - it will make you and your discussions stronger and more
We would like to thank
Gay Men's Health
Wiltshire and Swindon &
North and Mid
Hampshire Gay Men's Health Project.
For the coming out pages.
Illustrations by Robin Bastian © 1994. | Design by LCDweb