She said, he said (Advice)

By Jennilyn Merten and Jeff Chapman

Dear Jennilyn and Jeff,

I’m not quite sure about how to say this, so I’ll just come out and say it. I think I might be gay, or possibly just bi. This wouldn’t be so bad for me if my family weren’t moderately conservative, if I weren’t pursuing a career in politics and if I didn’t have a girlfriend who I’ve been seeing for three-and-a half years now and gave a promise ring to more than a year ago.

This would be fine if I didn’t really love her. But the problem is that I do love her, and I want to spend my life with her-I’m just feeling sexually attracted to guys. A lot. I’m a senior in college, and I’ve never felt like this before. If I were gay, wouldn’t this have started in high school? Why would it be happening now? And since it is happening now, what do I do about it?

Do I cheat on my girlfriend to find out if I really am gay or bi or whatever? Do I tell her and ask for her permission to explore? Do I break up with her and risk destroying all our families’ plans for nothing because I may very well end up learning that I really am straight and all I needed was a little exploration? This is so complicated, and I don’t want to hurt anyone. All I want to do is be true to myself and find out who I really am.

Jennilyn:

Most of us hope that performing the work necessary to “be true to ourselves” will entail something less painful than a total overhaul of our life. Sometimes the effort is negligible-say refusing to wear alligator or matching socks.

Pursuing personal truth, however, may require a minor exile, if only to find your reflection without the very people you love lingering in the glass. You need to find a clear picture of yourself-over and over again. Truth’s ephemeral aspects keep entire humanities departments in business. You will have to define truth’s properties for yourself, which is why the method you choose is critical.

Cheating on your girlfriend to determine the nature of your sexual desire creates an artificial and forced test. Anything you hope to learn will be filtered through guilt and a predetermined desire to be heterosexual. Searching for truth requires being willing to be lost, not stumbling onto answers we’ve laid like a trail back to where we began. Support of friends and family is important, but they are familiar signposts that may keep you on the road rather than in the necessary dark of the woods.

You obviously have courage and see the sacrifice “being true to yourself” demands. Many never calculate the cost of finding one’s self. Ignoring your feelings only begs the situation to resurface later and with greater consequences. And simply, it denies the satisfaction that comes from blunt self-honesty.

Denial is a bit like shouldering a crime-you may have escaped incarceration, but your mind is forever captured by the thought. You risk your relationship now and later, so why not speak to your girlfriend when honesty has a chance to mitigate the situation? Being true to yourself always extends into the space of others.

You may feel that this unexplored attraction is not worth the sacrifice, but sex is always about more than sex. Sometimes, sex is a name for needs we cannot speak. Our desire is not static; it flexes and shifts and requires the same dark passage and the same illumination we need to keep stumbling upon ourselves.

Jeff:

First off: What’s up with promise rings? Have they suddenly made a comeback, and I didn’t notice? Or did they never go away, and I was never clued in? Inquiring minds want to know.

Truth told, there’s no one point in time when people know that they’re gay. Some realize when they’re five, some when they’re 45. Sexuality is a much more fluid thing than we usually pretend it is, and it’s no surprise that you might find yourself reacting differently at 25 than you did at 15.

What do you do now? You should give yourself time and keep an open mind. Consider talking to someone you trust or going to the U’s Counseling Center; its staff is trained to help students puzzle through confusing issues in a nonjudgmental and compassionate manner. The Counseling Center’s Web site is www.sa.utah.edu/counsel and has useful links to other resources. And in time, if you are honest with yourself, you will know how much you dig the dudes and how much you dig the chicks.

The biggest mistake you can make is to allow your decision to be made by someone else: your girlfriend, your family or your community.

Is it possible to lose some of those things by admitting you’re gay? Unfortunately, yes. Our society sucks in that way. But it’s a bad, bad idea to be someone you’re not because you don’t want to ruin your families’ plans. That’s the kind of logic that makes you become a broker rather than a baker, like you’ve always wanted, or a chemist rather than a cellist. And that, my friend, equals a life of dissatisfaction.

It’ll be awkward talking to your girlfriend about maybe being gay. Nonetheless, if she’s a good friend, I think it’s a good idea.

She might freak. She might not. Either way, it’ll probably be for the best. We sometimes go to extraordinary lengths not to lose our first love because we think there won’t be another. But there will be other loves, perhaps greater, perhaps hairier.

I definitely wouldn’t cheat on your girlfriend in order to figure out your orientation. Not because cheating is bad, although it’s certainly not super-cool. The reason in this case is because you’d be setting a dangerous precedent where your attraction to males would be attached, in your mind, to secrecy and shame. It’s a bad way to start your foray into a brave new world.

Don’t let the status quo and the comfort of what you already have keep you from being honest with yourself. It’s too easy to end up married with children, unhappy and dishonest, trolling public parks for guys who will hook up with you in exchange for a promise ring, all the while vehemently insisting that you’re “straight.”

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