sexual-orientation

Some people know they are gay early on while others recognize a strong attraction to same sex partners in their teen years or even later. Sadly, our society is still filled with messages that tell us who we are supposed to be.

In the past, people had to go to extremes to hide their feelings and pretend to be straight but things are changing in Canada and in many other places. Marriage has been legal for same-sex couples in Canada since 2006.

Unfortunately there is still a lot of hatred, fear and misunderstanding of people who find themselves attracted to people of the same sex, and a lot of education still needs to be done to shift people’s attitudes. The ability to love is one thing all of humanity has in common.

Almost everyone has had a crush at one point in their young lives. Maybe you were as young as 6, 8 or 10 years old. That initial feeling of attraction to another person is a universal experience but there are differences in how people express that feeling.

Homosexuality has been legal in Canada since 1969, protected by the Constitution since 1996 and celebrated with marriage since 2005.

  • Being Gay is legal and OK
  • Explore your feelings
  • Acknowledge them
  • Accept and be honest with yourself
  • There are few things in life more satisfied than being true to you

Coming Out

Coming out is the process of acknowledging and accepting your own sexual orientation and expression, and then integrating this knowledge into your personal and social life, including telling other people you choose to. Coming out as LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) is a big deal for some people, especially if they are not sure how this news will be received. Other people are quite comfortable with their sexual identity and orientation and have no problem declaring this loudly and proudly. Coming out is a process of self-acceptance and affirmation, not because there is anything wrong with being LGBT but because we live in a homophobic world where it is assumed everyone is heterosexual or straight unless they come out. When people talk about living “in the closet” it means that they live as a LGBT person privately but publicly don’t admit it, permitting people to assume they are straight or even go out of their way to create the illusion that they are heterosexual. While this may be necessary in some instances, it is also incredibly stressful and energy-consuming to do on a regular basis. Let’s hope that one day sexual identity will cease to be an issue because a range of sexual expression is affirmed and normalized in our world, but for now, coming out is a life-long process of telling your story over and over.

Considerations

Your sexual identity is your own business and just because you are LGBT doesn’t mean you have to tell everyone. The decision of when to come out is one you get to make. It’s your life and you have the right to be in charge of this process. Put some thought into how you want to say it and to whom. Coming out can be really great or not so wonderful depending on the attitudes and reactions of the people you come out to and what other supports you have in your life.

If you are thinking of coming out, here are a few questions to consider:

  • What do I know about this person’s beliefs?
  • How do I think this person will react?
  • Do I need to share my personal information with this person? Does it matter to our relationship?
  • How will I feel about myself if I don’t tell?
  • How important is this person to me?
  • How do I think this will change our relationship?
  • Do I trust this person not to tell others?

There is no right way or wrong way to come out. If you are nervous about coming out (and most people initially are), try to imagine how the scene will unfold and even rehearse your lines beforehand. Of course, you can never be sure how some people will react but you are not responsible for their feelings, only yours. If someone you care about reacts negatively, it doesn’t mean that person will always feel that way. Some people are shocked by the news and need some time to grapple with the new reality. Other people will surprise you with their love and support. Coming out takes courage but it gets easier every time and the benefit is that you get to live authentically and proudly as yourself.

Supporting Someone Who Comes Out to You

What do I say?

When people disclose that they are LGBT, it means they care enough about you to be vulnerable and let you into their personal lives. Take a moment to imagine how it would feel if the situation was reversed and you were the one coming out. How would you feel? What kind of a reaction would you hope for? It takes courage to come out so honour the process and offer your support. Listen more than you talk and never disclose a person’s sexual orientation or gender identify to others. It’s not your story to tell.

How to respond

  • It’s okay with me – I like you just how you are.
  • I can appreciate how difficult it must have been for you to tell me this.
  • Thanks for telling me.
  • It takes courage to come out to another person and I appreciate that you trust me.
  • What kind of support do you need from me?

Sometimes people are caught off guard and react with shock and disbelief instead of acceptance and support. If this happens to you, apologize and take responsibility for your feelings and reactions. We live in a homophobic world and your reaction signals that you have some unlearning to do in order to become a LGBT ally.

Coming Out As a Parent of a LGBT Child

Just as coming out can be difficult for LGBT people, the coming out process also affects family members, especially parents who are struggling to accept their child’s sexual orientation and may worry about how other people will react. Parents are in a dual role – they need to support their children but may also be experiencing anxiety about coming out to people as a parent of a LGBT child. How will they field questions like “Does you son have a girlfriend yet” or “Is your daughter ever going to get married”? How will people react when their child brings a same-sex partner to the next family reunion? What will the neighbours say? Will my child be safe? What are the risks associated with being LGBT? As difficult as this new reality is for you, just imagine what it feels like for your child. If your child has recently come out, we suggest you educate yourself and seek support from other parents of LGBT children .

Tips for Becoming an Ally

  • Listen
  • Be open-minded
  • Be willing to talk
  • Be inclusive and invite your LGBTQ friends to hang out with you and your friends
  • Don’t assume that everyone you know is straight
  • Challenge people who make homophobic jokes because words DO hurt
  • Confront your own prejudices and homophobia
  • Defend your LGBTQ friends against discrimination
  • Know that when a friend comes out to you, it means TRUST not attraction
  • Believe that all people, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, should be treated with respect and dignity

Understanding Homophobia and Heterosexism

When was the last time you heard a gay joke? Last week. How often do you hear people use the words “fag” or “dyke” as a compliment? Never. When someone says something is “totally gay” what are the chances they mean something positive? None. Derogatory jokes and comments about sexual orientation are so common that they have become accepted as part of our everyday language. So what’s the big deal? Well, these seemingly harmless jokes and remarks are hurtful and send a strong message that being LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) is unacceptable. They are part of the reason that many LGBT teens don’t dare come out and suffer in silence instead of risk alienation from their peers. It’s called homophobia.

What is Homophobia?

Homophobia is an irrational fear and/or hatred of same-sex attractions that can be expressed through prejudice, discrimination, harassment or acts of violence (known as “bashing”). When this prejudice and discrimination is directed at transsexual and transgendered people it is known as Transphobia. Homophobia and transphobia are not just experienced by people who are gay or lesbian, but by people who are thought to be gay or lesbian because they do not necessarily fit in with assigned gender roles.

What is Heterosexism?

Heterosexism is the flipside of the homophobia and transphobia coin. It is the assumption that everyone is, or should be, heterosexual and that heterosexuality is the only normal, natural or good expression of sexuality. This implies that heterosexuality is superior and therefore preferable to being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender .

Homophobia and transphobia are easier to spot because they involve behaviour that actively puts LGBT people down. Heterosexism is less likely to be noticed because it doesn’t mean that you LGBT people are being negatively targeted but that they are excluded treated as “special” or invisible.

People who identify as heterosexual have certain privileges that LGBT people don’t.

For example, as a heterosexual:

  • I can hold my lover’s hand or kiss in public without fear.
  • I am not asked to speak for all heterosexual people.
  • I can talk about my family and our status will not be questioned.
  • I will likely be able to adopt children.
  • I can freely talk about my personal life with others.
  • I can be sure that books my children read will reflect families like ours.
  • I will not be refused employment based on my sexual orientation.
  • I will not be refused accommodations or other services because of my sexual orientation.
  • I can display a photograph of my partner at work without worry.
  • I can assume my partner is welcome to attend social functions.
  • I can be sure that I won’t be denied the right to marry.
  • I am surrounded by role models.
  • I can easily find romance novels that reflect my orientation.
  • I can turn on the television and see my sexual orientation widely represented.
  • I am not identified by my sexual orientation, i.e. I am a volleyball player not the heterosexual volleyball player.
  • I did not grow up wondering if I am normal.

Shouldn’t everyone enjoy these same rights?

What makes people gay?

Their attraction to people of the same sex. Gay is an umbrella term for men who love men and women who love women and it can also mean the gay community. Attraction is as simple as who makes your heart flutter and is not something you can choose. People do not choose who they are attracted to and it is perfectly healthy and normal to have feelings for members of the same sex, the opposite sex, as well as both! At the Calgary Sexual Health Centre we believe that everyone is a sexual being with a sexual orientation from when they are born to when they die. Nobody knows what determines sexual orientation, and many argue it is offensive to search for a “cause” because that implies it is something to be fixed.






Is homosexuality genetic?

Many studies have been done and no conclusive evidence has been reported. Some people believe it is a mixture of environmental and biological factors. Others disagree. One thing we try to stay away from is this particular question; although it is very interesting it implies that there is something to find out so it can be ‘fixed’. One thing we do know is that the same percentage of people all throughout the world and time and history has had same sex attraction and that it is not a choice.






Are people gay because they have had bad experiences with the opposite gender?

There are many people who identify as GLBTQ who have never experienced sexual assault, just like there are some that have – just like everyone else, regardless of orientation. Sexual orientation is not caused by any sort of emotional trauma or sexual abuse. If every person who was a victim of emotional trauma or sexual assault was GLBT the statistics would be much higher.






What if you are undecided about your preferences? Is it okay?

It is definitely normal for a person to be questioning their orientation to be undecided. Sometimes figuring out a person’s orientation can be a long and confusing process for many reasons but there are many resources that can help. A person can check out their local GLBTQ resources, or call a help line. They can also talk to people they trust who they think will understand or give us a call! Also the word preference assumes that orientation is a choice, so we usually try to use the word orientation.






How do gay men or lesbians have sex?

Sexual activity or “sex” is a very broad word. Everyone has different activities they prefer to engage in and enjoy with themselves or a partner. Many gay men and lesbians enjoy kissing, touching, oral sex and other forms of foreplay. One misconception about gay men is that they all have anal sex. Many gay men do have anal sex, however some do not. It is important to think about all of the messages we get from the media about everything in our lives, from how we are supposed to look to how people have sex. Usually that message is a very heterosexist one, meaning that we look at sex as something that happens between a man and a woman as the “norm”. To challenge that belief means validating the fact that sex can happen between any consenting individuals regardless of gender.






Why would a same sex couple use birth control?

Everyone is able to make their own choices about if they use birth control or not and what kind they use. A same sex couple does not need to use birth control to prevent pregnancy in their relationship but they do need to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections. There are many other reasons why someone could choose to use hormonal birth control other than for birth control. For example, some women take hormonal birth control to regulate their menstruation, to control their skin, because they want to or because they have other sexual partners.






As our understanding of sexuality expands, people are challenging the idea that there are only two distinct genders and a few ways to express their sexuality and feelings for another person. When people redefine sexuality, they also introduce new language and terms to communicate their thoughts, feelings and beliefs about sexuality with others.

There are many words used to describe a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity and the way certain terms are used changes depending on the context. For example, sometimes people who are gay, bisexual or lesbian might use terms like fag, dyke or queer in a light-hearted context or to identify themselves in an effort to reclaim language that has been used to put them down. But people still use these words in a mean and hurtful way as well.

It can be hard to keep up with the ever-changing vocabulary. The definitions listed here are generally respectful and acceptable for everyone to use with good intentions.

Sexual Orientation

The physical and emotional attraction people have for someone of the same gender or another gender than themselves. Not everyone acts on their attractions and you can know your sexual orientation without ever having sex.

Heterosexual ‘Straight’

Someone who is physically and emotionally attracted to people of the opposite gender – in other words, women who like men and men who like women.

Homosexual

Someone who is physically and emotionally attracted to people of the same gender. The term “homosexual” has historically been used in hurtful ways, which is why many people now use other terms like lesbian, gay and bisexual.

Lesbian

A woman who is physically and emotionally attracted to other women. This word is derived from “Lesbos”, a Greek island home to Sappho, a poet and teacher who loved other women.

Gay

Another term for someone with physical and emotional attraction to someone of the same gender. The term was used in the mid 1800s to mid 1900s to describe anyone engaging in any “unconventional” sexual behaviour for the time (such as oral sex). ‘Gay’ can be used to talk about both men and women or more generally, the “gay community”, but it commonly refers to men.

Bisexual

Someone who is attracted physically and emotionally to people of the same or different genders. Bisexual people are not necessarily attracted equally to men and women and not always attracted to both men and women at the same time. Bisexuality is often thought of as a “phase” on the way to coming out as gay or lesbian, but for many people, being bisexual is a life-long sexual identity.

Pansexual or Omnisexual

A newer term for someone who is attracted physically and emotionally to another person regardless of gender or sex. This term is often used by those who wish to express their understanding and acceptance of trans and intersexed people. Also sometimes used by people wishing to express their openness to a broad range of sexual activities such as BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Domination, Submission, Sadism, Masochism).

Polysexual

Someone who is attracted physically and emotionally to more than one gender or sex but does not want to identify as bisexual because it is rooted in the idea of two genders (“bi”- sexuality meaning “two”).

Queer

An umbrella term for a social/intellectual/political movement that seeks to encompass a broad range of sexual identities, behaviours and expressions. It is also a personal identity that has been “re-claimed” because queer has been historically used as a vicious insult. Sometimes it is used as a short form that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgendered people.

LGBT

A shortened acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered”. Sometimes you will see this as LGBTT2Q to include “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgendered, 2-spirited, queer”. This may appear in various combinations. You will see LGBT used throughout this website.

Drag Queen/Drag King

A cross-dresser from man-to-woman (queen) or woman-to-man (king) who dresses up and performs for shows and entertainment. Drag is often associated with LGBTQ communities.

Depending on your circumstances, you may have lots of support or feel very isolated and alone. We live in a world where it is not always safe to come out and it is helpful to build a strong network of support. There are an increasing number of friendly and supportive associations, support groups, businesses and services. There are gay-positive stores, travel destinations, accommodations, restaurants, nightclubs, swim clubs, and the list goes on. Take a look at the resources we have listed. Most of them are centred in Calgary, though some are national organizations. Resources are available in most major cities and towns so if you aren’t in Calgary you might want do your own search for LGBT-friendly groups in your area.

 

Safer Sex and Health Information:

LGBTQ Parenting Connection: http://lgbtqparentingconnection.ca/home.cfm

CATIE HIV and Hep C Prevention Resources for Men who have sex with men: http://www.catie.ca/en/search/apachesolr_search?filters=tid%3A3024

Young.Proud.Safe. A Safer Sex Guide for Young Gay and Bisexual Men: http://www.actoronto.org/website/home.nsf/pages/young+proud

 

Social Support

PFLAG Canada: http://www.pflagcanada.ca/en/index.html

Misc. Youth Network  http://www.miscyouth.ca/

Gay Calgary Magazine: http://www.gaycalgary.com/

No Homophobes: www.nohomophobes.com