Lingering Doubt that I am Homosexual

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Reader’s Question

I am 20 years old. I have this terrible doubt about whether I am gay. I grew up enjoying boys’ stuff, sports like soccer, running around, etc. I believe that I always thought that my friends are better at these things than I am, that I am a bit shy and more anxious than they are. I used to enjoy drawing.

Then came puberty, and around my 12th-13th year I discovered girls. I enjoyed porn a lot, I was obsessed with them, I dreamt and daydreamt about them. I couldn’t wait to get one of them in my bed. I mean, they were something else. When I went to high school I just wanted to find a girlfriend. After a while I was desperate because I thought that my acne and bad looks wouldn’t bring them to me. I was jealous of other guys and frightened of them because it seemed easy for them. Then I finally found one girl when I was 17. She left me after a month, and I was devastated.

I started smoking pot. One day I smoked with my friend. I was still missing this girl, and depressed. And after awhile I thought: I bet he gets a lot of girls because he is handsome. And I got paranoid that I might be gay, and I started questioning everything. I started to avoid other guys looking at me in the eyes, and I started to behave more and more introverted. I never thought of guys in that way, and the thought itself repulses me. But it wouldn’t get off my mind.

Finally I met this girl who I liked a lot, and I still do. The thought didn’t come again and we fell in love with each other. I felt more self confident, happier. At first I was drunk and anxious about performance and couldn’t have sex, but eventually we had months of wild sex, every chance we could get. I just loved it, and she would turn me on with just a kiss. Than I went on to college, and we were separated for two years. She left me after I started smoking pot a lot and became too lazy to call her. When she left me I was miserable for about a month.

Then I asked myself again whether I was attracted to guys, even though I know I am not. It’s like something saying yes you are. I get moments of clarity where I laugh at it all, but the thoughts come again. One day I said to myself in absolute madness: Okay I am gay, just stop now! And I felt relief. I tried to imagine some guy with me but it repulsed me again. And it all started again.

The thought is absolutely repulsive but it won’t go away. Help me, I don’t know what to do.

Psychologist’s Reply

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Understanding one’s own sexual preferences is made a lot more complicated by social pressure to be straight, including the fear of being gay that is taught to children from an early age. It does not help when all we know about homosexuality is the stereotypes.

One such stereotype is that heterosexual children only (or primarily) enjoy the activities assigned to their genders. Most children will play with gender-appropriate toys and act like the little girls or boys that they are for reasons that have little to do with sexual preference.

Another is that a person might not be attractive to members of the opposite gender: the stereotype suggests that such a person might be gay when there is actually no correlation. There are gays and lesbians who are very attractive to the opposite gender, and heterosexuals who are not. The same goes for being shy about dating or sex. The only time that shyness or difficulty having sex tell you anything is if they occur because you simply are not attracted to girls in the first place. Anxiety and alcohol probably combined to cause the difficulty that you describe in your first encounter with your previous girlfriend.

A third stereotype is that there are two separate classes of gender preference: gay or straight. Based on research, the truth appears to be that human sexuality exists on a spectrum, with a lot of us at the 100% straight end, fewer of us at the 100% gay end, and most of us spread along the spectrum from mostly straight to 50/50 true bisexual on to mostly gay at the other end. Some people report over the course of a lifetime moving back and forth across the spectrum from mostly gay to mostly straight and back again. So we can invest a lot of mental energy in trying to decide whether we are either straight or gay and never get anywhere with it.

Most gays and lesbians will tell you that they knew from a very early age. They fantasized and dreamed about same-sex encounters and were always drawn to romantic partners of the same gender. However, this, too, can be covered up and confused by societal and family pressures. A person can indeed be attracted to the same gender, but be repulsed by the thought, as it has been drummed into his head from childhood that gay sex is disgusting. Some homosexuals can suppress their true identities into adulthood, when their unhappiness (in marriages, for example) overwhelms their fear. This does not appear to be the case for you, however, as you describe intense fantasies about women in high school and an active and enthusiastic sexual relationship with the one girlfriend. It is easier to convince oneself that gay sex is repulsive than it is to convince oneself that straight sex is fantastic.

Which brings us to what is perhaps the greatest barrier to understanding our own sexuality: homophobia. As long as we dread being gay, we are motivated to have all the evidence come out to say that we are straight, and it clouds our vision. If you were gay, depending on the culture you belong to, then obviously you could encounter tremendous social and legal difficulties. But being gay is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. In fact, it is a neutral thing, rather like skin color. If you can come to grips with that, it will be a lot easier to be objective about yourself.

By this point it has become difficult to tease out how much of your current thinking is due to actually being bisexual or gay, how much is due to anxiety about your manliness, and how much is due to what appears to be excessive use of marijuana. It would probably help you to figure this out if you consulted with a lesbian/gay/bisexual/questioning-affirmative therapist, and if, while you were doing so, you quit drinking and smoking pot altogether. They can only cloud your thinking, and pot in particular can make people very anxious and paranoid.

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