Challenging Stereotypes

Hi Dr. Sterling, 

I am gay and I come from a very traditional/conservative family. Despite of the acceptance of gay marriage in the country, legally speaking, the world still holds a heavy prejudice against gays. So we know it's a delicate subject, because people are still reluctant to accept changes. I was always very private. I'm 33 years old, single, and feel like being gay has held me back. I feel I could not prosper neither professionally nor emotionally for that matter. I can't relate to the image that is constructed of gay women (stereotype). I can't relate to anything, because I feel I live in 'both worlds' (gay and straight). How to deal with that?

ANSWER

I have a question for you: Do I resemble the stereotype of a gay woman?

What would it be like to break a stereotype? To define for yourself how large a component your sexual orientation will take up in your self-image? What if being gay was just a small component of your life, or perhaps an equal percentage to your professional identification?

You have internalized a fair amount of homophobia from that conservative family of yours, and because of that, you hunt for societal evidence that our country still holds prejudicial views against gays. Being gay has not held you back. The meaning you’ve attached to being gay is what’s held you back.

Don’t confuse being ‘private’ for having internalized homophobia. You don’t have to wave a rainbow flag on a float in the Pride Parade to be gay. But you do need to address your issues around being gay, because as long as you believe that being a lesbian will hold you back, it most certainly will.

Tips For A Teen Who Just Came Out

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 12.29.05 PM

Hi Dr.Darcy. I am a teen who recently came out and I am having a hard time making sure it doesn't make people think differently of me or interfere with family life. I don't want to be asked a million questions by my parents about my sexual orientation because frankly I'm still not so comfortable about talking about it. Do you have any tips? Thank you so much! 

ANSWER

Congratulations on coming out! Now that you’ve made the declaration, you’re learning that coming out involves more than one conversation. It’s often a period of adjustment for both you and those in your life, and having questions fired at rapid speed often comes with the territory.

Generally speaking, parents suck at this part (even the amazing ones). There’s no manual for parents to follow, and often what works for one parent won’t work for another. If they didn’t ask questions or make reference to your sexual orientation, you (or a different teen) might feel invalidated or like they hadn’t heard (or believed) you when you came out. They’re sort of in a lose-lose situation. I’m telling you this because I want you to tap into some compassion for them. They’re simply clueless – which puts the burden on you to guide them.

You have to tell them what you want and don’t want. You might consider sending them this post for starters. The bottom line is that they’re not mind readers and you’re going to have to give them feedback (and set some boundaries) around what you are and aren’t comfortable discussing. Send them to PFLAG (linked to here) for some support and education. And let them know that you’ll initiate conversations when you’re ready.

As far as making sure that people don’t think of you differently, that’s a tough one – made tougher because we have no control over how people think. People will form whatever opinions they’re going to form – with or without your approval. And since you have no control over this, I suggest you focus on yourself. Connect with other LGBT youths. Make sure you’re getting the support that you need to adjust to being gay. And again, congratulations on taking this huge step. It’s an amazing time in history to be gay.

Writer’s Stats: Male, Gay.

'Why'd You Come Out So late?' This, and other dumb questions LGBT’s are asked.

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 9.38.19 AM

Dear Dr. Darcy:

My nephew is a freshman in college and just came out over the holidays. Our family was and is beyond supportive. We love him, and we will love whomever he loves. My question is this: He seemed to react badly to me asking him why it took so long to come out. Why wait until college? It seems to me he could have come out 3-4 years ago and had a better-fulfilled high school experience. Did I say something wrong?

ANSWER

You did, however well intended it may have been.

His failure to come out before going to college may have had nothing to do with your family. American society, by and large, is only now turning a corner on gay rights. We are in the very beginning stage of equality, and we have an unquantifiable number of years of homophobia to undo before the majority of our youth will feel safe declaring themselves a member of the LGBT community. Look at what every teen just witnessed at the Sochi Olympics.

That’s the top layer answer. The next layer is actually more important, but it’s related to the top layer, which is why I’m explaining it in this order: The psychological developmental task of a teen is to assimilate into and gain acceptance by the peer group. Given where we are in the history of gay rights, it will be eons before declaring oneself gay won’t risk rejection (or worse) by the peer group of a teenager. And so expecting a teen to take this enormous risk is akin to asking an elderly person why they don’t want to jump out of a plane: The elderly person is looking to minimize physical risks. The adolescent is looking to minimize social risks.

I’m sure you want to be an amazing uncle in your nephew’s life. It will be easier to show him the support he needs if you educate yourself about LGBT issues. You can't imagine all of the opportunities you'll have to ask silly questions that will unintentionally hurt him, i.e., "Congratulation on your engagement!  So...who will be the husband?" or "I don't understand why you won't visit me. What does my state's stance on gay rights have to do with you?" or "Why is it offensive to you that I support [insert conservative politician]? It's an economic choice."

I suggest going to some PFLAG meetings.

Writer’s stats: Male, Straight (and incredibly supportive of equality).