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SEXUAL ORIENTATION: Questions and Answers

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What is sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation is determined by the sex or sexes you are romantically, physically, emotionally, and sexually attracted to. Heterosexuals are individuals attracted to the opposite sex, homosexuals are individuals who are attracted to the same sex, while bisexuals are people who are attracted to both sexes. Homosexual men are usually referred to as gay while homosexual women are referred to as lesbians.

What if I'm not sure what my sexual orientation is?

Discovering your sexual orientation can sometimes be confusing. Most people don’t just wake up one day and decide their sexual orientation. It takes time and it’s normal not to be sure. Experimentation is natural - as long as you look out for the safety of yourself and others. You may want to date the individuals of the opposite sex or you may decide to date those of the same sex. Exploration doesn't determine your sexual orientation, it just helps to discover your feelings.

Do I have to have sex to know?

No. You don't have to have sex to know if you're heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. Some people never have sex in their entire life, but they know their sexual orientation. It's better to wait until you're emotionally ready and you find someone you care about. Sex can create more confusion then it can resolve. There are many ways to share intimacy with someone you care about, such as talking, spending time together, hugging, kissing, massaging, and holding hands. If you decide to have sex, it is important to remember to protect yourself and your partner and practice safer sex.

Recognizing and accepting that you are gay or lesbian.

Some people recognize that they are homosexual early in their lives while others do not become aware of their own gayness until much later in life due to the many pressures society puts on us to follow a heterosexual lifestyle. Unfortunately, our society still teaches us that same sex attractions are negative and makes it difficult for one to explore his or her own sexuality. One of the first steps after you recognize that you may be gay or lesbian is self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is about feeling good about yourself and comfortable with your own sexuality. This process is sometimes very difficult due to societal pressure. As a result self-acceptance may become a lifelong process as homosexuals try to integrate their life style into an often hostile heterosexual world.

Why me?

You may ask yourself "why am I gay", but no one really knows the answer to this question. There are many theories as to why some individuals are orientated towards homosexuality rather than heterosexuality but they are only speculations at this point in time. Most of these theories follow three approaches: 1) nature 2) nurture and 3) a combination of both nature and nurture. The basis behind the nature theory for homosexuality is that individuals are born with a certain genetic makeup which predetermines their homosexual orientation. The nurture theory believes that one's environment and experiences can predetermine one's sexual orientation. Other scientists believe that homosexuality is a result of both nature and nurture. The question you must ask yourself is why is it important to determine why you are homosexual? No one asks why heterosexuals are "straight".

Inner conflict...

In the process of discovering your sexual orientation, there are many feelings you may experience as you develop self- acceptance. Because the world is still relatively hostile and prejudice towards gays and lesbians, it is not uncommon to feel confused, isolated, lonely, guilty or depressed. Unfortunately, many societies make people hide their homosexuality and as a result they end up living double lives and denying who they really are. Experiencing these feelings is normal. However, some feelings like depression, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts indicate you need some professional help learning to accept your homosexuality.

Coming out of the closet

Coming out of the closet is the term we apply to one's acceptance that he or she is gay or lesbian. Self-acceptance is the first step in coming out. After you feel comfortable with your own sexuality it may become important to you to tell other people that are either gay or not gay such as your parents. This decision is a process which only you can decide and judge. You may want and decide to come out to others when you feel you are emotionally ready and believe that it is a safe time. The time to come out to others depends on how strongly you feel about yourself and how much support you need from those who care about you. The best person to come out to is someone you trust the most; someone you know will not tell others and someone who will not hurt you. Coming out does provide you with a healthier self-esteem as you allow yourself to share your "secret" about your sexual orientation with the people you care about. Just remember that coming out doesn't solve all of your problems and is a lifelong process.

One thing to keep in mind is that while we would like everyone in the world to be open and accepting, the truth is that there will always be some people who don't understand. However, there are also people you can count on - these are the ones to whom you should talk. Here is a suggestion... If you are feeling guilt, fear, or worried about your personal safety, then it may not be the right time to come out.

If you think that you are ready, then there may be some other things you should consider. If you are thinking of telling your family, you may want to think about the following questions (suggested by Pollack and Schwartz in their book, The Journey Out - A Guide For and About Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Teens):

 How well do you know your parents?
 How close are you to your parents?
 How comfortable are you with your sexual orientation?
 How has your family dealt with political, religious, and social issues in the past?
 Is the timing right to come out?
 Are you economically and emotionally dependent on your parents?
 How safe are you in your home?
 Do you have a support system for yourself?
 How much information do you have, and are you able to share it with your parents?

Everyone's parents are different. Some parents are accepting and open minded. You have spent your life learning about them -- about their values and how they respond to different issues. In the past you may have shared your feelings with them. You may love your parents but you may have learned not to trust them with personal matters. You may want to consider when it would be the best to come out to your family. Holidays are usually a stressful and emotional time, so this may not be the best time. If you are hoping to receive financial help for education past high school, then it may be best to wait. (No don't lie, don't tell... college is important!) You may decide not to tell them at all -- this is okay too.

How do I meet other lesbians and gays?

You will find gay and lesbians everywhere - in your math class, on the basketball team, at the mall, etc. Some homosexuals have found that once they come out to one member of the homosexual community, they are quickly able to meet others. Gay and lesbian youth groups and support groups may be available in your area. Check out your community to see if there is a youth group in your area.

BTW, This article was sent to us by a reader, it is NOT entirely our text. We have tried to find out where it is from, but to no avail. If you know where it is from please let us know, so we can ask permission to use it. We think it is very good information, so we decided to use it. Thanks!

FACT : One in 10 people are said to be gay, so that probably means someone you know.

FACT: Some gay people find it hard to like themselves in a world which can be so hostile toward them. Meeting other gay people can help you to feel better about yourself and realize that you are not alone. See the resources on the web for a good place to start.

Worth Reading:
I have read both and liked them about the same. They are about 6 dollars each and worth it. Click on the book for more information or do order.

Revolutionary Voices A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology

An anthology of stories by gay youth reveal their fears and joyous moments as they attempt to survive and thrive in a homophobic society.

The Shared Heart: Portraits and Stories Celebrating Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young People

Writings of gay teens which reflect on the soul searching, suffering, and discrimination they have undergone with great photos.

Web Resources:

OutProud -- The National Coalition for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Youth. We invite you to take advantage of the wide range of resources available for youth and educators.

Youth Resource - Support and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Youth

“Being Gay is Okay” -- Gay Youth Support -- from the UK.

Gender Issues - Great links and info... for gender issues and more.

Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation - Stresses media issues; includes a thorough directory of media addresses and numbers.

Queer Bodies. Org - An intersex youth initiative of Bodies Like Ours

Bodies Like Ours - An Intersex Community. Info and support for intersexed people.

International Foundation for Gender Education

Transfamily - Support for family, friends, and partners of TG people.

“Our goal is to educate and replace hate with understanding, acceptance and compassion.”

Gay & Lesbian National Hotline
1-888-THE-GLNH (1-888-843-4564)

The Trevor HelpLine
1-800-850-8078 - Specializing in gay and lesbian youth suicide prevention

Gay & Transgender Hate Crime Hotline
1-800-616-HATE - Do Not Tolerate Hate

National LGBTQ
Talkline/Support line
Trained peer supporters that are also youth.

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