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FAQ About Gay

FAQ about Gay: Straight Talk on Homosexuality

From the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) Resource and Information Guide 
Posted on this Website in March 2001 with Permission from Angela Barrett, Program Coordinator, LGBT Resource Office, UCSD 
rainbow@ucsd.edu

Why Should People Be Informed About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual And Transgender Issues?

Becoming informed about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues helps reduce heterosexism and homophobia. This makes it easier for everyone to live more open and productive lives in their work and home communities. The culture as a whole is therefore enriched. For gay youth, who are more likely to experience depression and rejection by friends and/or family, acceptance and understanding could be a matter of life or death. The risk of suicide in gay adolescents is two to three times greater than of their straight counterparts.

What Is Homosexuality/Bisexuality?

"Homosexuality" indicates affectional and/or sexual orientation to persons of the same sex. "Bisexuality" refers to people whose affectional and/or sexual orientation can be to either gender. The term homosexual has medical roots from the turn of the century and most people now prefer the terms gay man and lesbian. These expressions of sexuality are no longer considered to be forms of illness by the medical or psychological communities. Homosexuality and bisexuality are far more than sexual behaviors. They are the feelings and relationships that make up a natural and satisfying self-identity.

What Causes Homosexuality?

Perhaps a better question is "What determines sexual orientation?" (i.e., heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality). The factors that determine sexual orientation are complex. There is a growing understanding that human beings have a basic sexuality that is expressed in relationships that are homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual. The distinctions between these categories are fluid and may overlap. Although the causes are not known, some researchers believe that one's basic sexual orientation is predisposed at birth. While these affectional inclinations may not be recognized or acknowledged for many years, once established, they tend not to change.

What Is The Difference Between "Sexual Preference" And "Sexual Orientation"?

Preference implies choice, while orientation does not. Sexual orientation is a term used instead of sexual preference by most gay, lesbian, and bisexual people because it better represents their life experiences.

What Does It Mean To Be Gay?

Men who call themselves gay are sexually attracted to and fall in love with other men. Their sexual feelings toward men are normal and natural for them. These feelings usually emerge when they are boys and continue into adulthood.

It is said that one out of ten people is gay or lesbian. This means that in any large group of people, there are usually several gay people present. However, you cannot tell if someone is gay unless he or she wants you to know. Although gay, lesbian, and bisexual people blend in with the crowd, they often feel different from other people.

How Do I Know If I'm Gay?

You may not know what to call your sexual feelings. You don't have to decide how to label yourself right now. Our sexual identities develop over time. Most adolescent boys are intensely sexual during the years around puberty, usually between 11 and 15, when their bodies start changing and their hormones are flowing in new ways. Your sexual feelings may be so strong that they are not directed toward particular persons or situations, but seem to emerge without cause. As you get older you will figure out who you are and to whom you're attracted.

Boys and men who are gay find that over time their attraction to boys and men gets more clearly focused. You may find yourself falling in love with a classmate or developing a crush on a particular man. You may find these experiences pleasurable, troubling, or a mix of the two. By age 16 or 17, many gay, lesbian, and bi young people start thinking about what to call themselves, while others prefer to wait.

When Do Gay Men And Lesbians First Know?

There is no set age at which a person becomes aware that she or he is lesbian or gay. Some gay, lesbian, and bisexual people become aware of their orientation during adolescence or earlier. People can realize their sexual orientation at any point during their lives. Because of strong societal pressures to be heterosexual, some people don't identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual until later in life, perhaps after they have been heterosexually married for years.

How Many Gay Men And Lesbians Are There?

While this number is difficult to measure, the Kinsey Institute suggested that approximately 10% of the population is lesbian or gay. Gay men and lesbians are found in many walks of life, among all racial groups, and at all socioeconomic levels. The personalities and interests of gay men and lesbians vary as widely as do those of heterosexuals.

Can You Tell If People Are Lesbian Or Gay By Their Appearance?

No. Lesbians and gay men are as varied in their mannerisms, dress, and lifestyles as are heterosexuals. Despite this diversity, many stereotypes persist about the effeminate man or masculine woman. Although some gay people reflect these characteristics, the overwhelming majority of lesbians and gay men do not conform to these stereotypes, and their sexual orientation is invisible to the general public.

Do Lesbians Or Gay Men Hate The Opposite Sex?

No. Lesbians are lesbians because they desire loving relationships with women, and gay men are gay because they desire loving relationships with men. Neither form relationships because they hate the opposite sex.

Do Lesbians And Gay Men Want To Be The Opposite Sex?

No. Within the gay community, there are many people who have challenged and discarded stereotypical gender roles but this does not mean they are trying to be the other sex. Being gay, lesbian or bisexual involves celebration and affirmation of one's sex, not a rejection of it.

What Is Transgender/Transsexual?

These terms are not mutually exclusive. To understand them, we must distinguish the difference between biological sex, which is a physical condition at birth, and social gender, which is the body of social expectations about how people ought to dress and behave. Transgendered people are people whose psychological self ("gender identity") differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with.

Transsexual refers to a person who experiences a mismatch of the body and the brain and sometimes undergoes medical treatment to change his/her physical sex to match his/her gender identity.

Transvestites are people who dress in clothing of the gender role opposite social expectations for their physical sex.

Transgenders, transsexuals and transvestites may have any sexual orientation.

Is Homosexuality Healthy?

Studies have shown that people's sexual orientation has no bearing on their mental health and emotional stability. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the official listing of psychiatric disorders. In 1975, the American Psychological Association adopted a similar resolution.

Is Homosexuality Immoral?

In recent years many theologians and clergy have begun to look at sexual relationships in terms of the love, mutual support, commitment, and the responsibility of the partners, rather than focusing on the gender of the individuals involved. Studies suggest traditions of same-sex unions within the church are centuries old. While some religious traditions continue to teach that homosexuality is immoral, there are also many congregations that are open, accepting, and supportive of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community. Spiritual leaders in these congregations encourage all their members to deepen and express their faith by adhering to core beliefs rather than ancient laws and customs.

Is Being Gay Or Lesbian Normal?

Yes. It's perfectly natural for people to be attracted to members of their own sex. But it's not something that's encouraged in our society. Many people push away these feelings because of prejudice against gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

Each culture defines what is "natural" or "normal" to fit its own context. Definitions differ. Historians have determined that homosexuality has existed since the beginning of humanity. Anthropologists report that lesbians and gay men have been part of every culture. Lesbians and gay men are represented in every socioeconomic class, educational level, and race. People of any sexual orientation can participate in family life and may have children.

Most scientific experts agree that a person's sexual orientation is determined at a very young age, maybe even at birth. It's normal and healthy to be yourself, whether you're gay or straight. What's really important is that we learn to like ourselves.

A gay or lesbian identity involves both an emotional commitment to people of the same gender and membership in a community.

Do Gay Men And Lesbians Have Long-Lasting Relationships?

Longstanding relationships are common. However, because of the social stigma expressed against lesbians and gay men, these partnerships are frequently invisible. Same sex marriages are currently not recognized and many benefits for legal spouses are denied to domestic partners. An increasing number of employers, including the University of California, now provide some benefits for domestic partners, but such benefits are not guaranteed by law. In addition, recognition of partnerships often goes unrecognized in the media (e.g., marriage and obituary announcements) and in the workplace (e.g., lack of desktop photos and social invitations).

Should Gay Men And Lesbians Be Banned From Certain Jobs?

Sexual orientation does not affect one's job qualifications or performance. Unfortunately, some people believe that gay men and lesbians should not be allowed to hold certain positions such as teacher or health care provider. They feel that gay men and lesbians are sexually irresponsible and less trustworthy than heterosexuals, particularly with children. In fact, it is well documented that the overwhelming majority of those who molest children are heterosexual men.

Won't Gay Parents Make Their Children Gay?

Research has shown that children of lesbian or gay parents are no more likely to become gay or lesbian than children of heterosexual parents. Most lesbian, gay and bisexual people have heterosexual parents. Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are just as likely to be good parents as heterosexuals. Of course, children growing up in non-traditional families may face a certain amount of societal prejudice. Fewer and fewer children are growing up in two parent, heterosexual, and nuclear families. Lesbian and gay families are one of the many diverse families that exist.

Why Are Lesbians And Gay Men So Blatant?

Gay men and lesbians are often accused of being blatant (wearing buttons, marching in gay rights parades, talking and writing about homosexuality, holding hands in public, etc.). Our culture teaches that it is more acceptable to be silent or invisible ("in the closet"). Any openness about lesbian or gay identity is labeled "blatant"or as "flaunting it". However, "blatant" heterosexuality is rarely questioned. In society, the assumption of heterosexuality is so strong that unless one proclaims lesbianism, gayness, or bisexuality, then heterosexuality is assumed. As a result, few positive role models exist in mainstream media. To avoid being perceived as heterosexual, "coming out of the closet" is often a necessity.

What Is Heterosexism?

Heterosexism is the assumption that everyone is heterosexual. It is a form of oppression (like racism, sexism, classism, etc.) that targets gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Heterosexism infers rights and privileges to heterosexuals that are denied to gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, such as spousal benefits and hospital visiting rights.

What Is Homophobia?

Homophobia is the irrational fear, disgust, or hatred of gays, lesbians or bisexuals, or of homosexual feelings in oneself. Homophobia refers to the discomfort one feels with any behavior, belief, or attitude that does not conform to traditional sex role stereotypes. This is revealed through personal behaviors (telling "faggot" jokes, graffiti, verbal and physical harassment), and discriminatory policies such as denial of health, retirement and housing benefits. Homophobia results in fear of knowing, befriending, or associating with gays, lesbians, or bisexuals; fear of being perceived as gay or lesbian; or fear of stepping out of accepted gender role behavior.

What Does The Term "Queer" Mean?

The word "queer" is not embraced by all gay people. Some have chosen to reclaim this once derogatory label for all lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgenders. Others use the word to designate only those in the community who are political activists. However, there are other gay people who dislike the label "queer" and resent its use. Additionally, terms such as "dyke" and "fag" can be used in derogatory ways, but have been reclaimed by many as terms of pride. This is just one more example of the diversity of opinions within the community.

Why Do Gay People Need "Gay Rights" Laws: Isn't That Asking For Special Privileges?

Currently there are no federal protections for lesbians or gay men who are subject to discrimination. The intent of "gay rights" legislation is not to grant lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, or transgender people special privileges. They are civil rights laws consistent with the beliefs that all people are entitled to such necessities as employment, housing and business services without fear or discrimination. Unfortunately, in many states, lesbians, gay men and bisexual people can be (and are) fired from their jobs, denied housing, credit, or insurance solely because of their sexual orientation. These beliefs, like those used to discriminate against people on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, age, physical ability, or gender, are based on prejudice and ignorance rather than accurate information.

What Is It Like To Be Gay?

There's no right way or wrong way to be gay. Because of society's stereotypes about gay and bisexual men, you might think you have to be a certain way if you're gay. But gay and bi men come in all shapes and sizes, from all occupations, and with all levels of education.

Because of homophobia and prejudice, some people don't accept lesbian, gay and bisexual people. We sometimes suffer from discrimination and violence. That's why there are many gay, lesbian, and bisexual organizations that work for our civil rights.

Who Should I Tell?

Coming out is the process of accepting yourself as a gay or bi man and figuring out how open you want to be about your sexual orientation. Unfortunately not everyone you know will think that being gay is so terrific. It's hard to know who can handle the information and give you support. Some friends may accept you. Some may turn away from you or tell other people without your permission. Telling family can be very difficult. Some families are very supportive. But some lesbian and gay youth have been kicked out of their homes when their parents found out.

It's important to have someone to talk to because it's not normal or healthy for young people to have to keep secret such an important part of their lives.

What About Sex?

People aren't encouraged in our society to talk openly about sex, but it's important that we communicate about whether we feel ready to have sex or not, about what we like and don't like to do sexually, and different expectations we may have about relationships. It's very important to talk about whether we're at risk for HIV, the virus that is thought to cause AIDS, or other sexually transmitted diseases, like herpes.

How Do I Learn To Like Myself?

All people have a right to feel good about themselves. We're all valuable human beings. Developing self-esteem is very important. It's hard for gay and lesbian young people to feel good about ourselves because all around us are people who believe that we're sick or perverted or destined to live unhappy lives. When we think we have to hide who we really are, we may feel isolated, fearful, and depressed, especially if we've had no one to talk to about our sexual orientation.

More and more, we as young gay and bi men are learning to like who we are. It helps to read good books about gay people - books that have accurate information and are written about gay and bi men who are leading fulfilling lives. It also helps to meet other men like us because then we find out that gay and bisexual men are as diverse as any other group of people.

It can help to say to yourself, "I'm gay and I'm okay." Remember: it's normal and natural to be gay, just like it's normal and natural for some people to be heterosexual.