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HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M GAY?
That question is frequently asked by people of all ages, but especially by teenagers and young adults. All too unfortunately, there is far too much misinformation spread by modern society, most of it intentional, about what being gay is and what it really means. In this essay, I will clarify the answers to those questions.
Stated far too simply, your sexual orientation is determined by which gender arouses you — male, female, or both. However, as I said, there is quite a bit more than that to consider; human sexuality is comprised of infinite, sometimes shifting shades of gray, and not merely black, neutral gray, and white as some people would have you believe.
The respected sex researcher Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956) developed a seven-point scale of sexual orientation that has since come to bear his name. The so-called Kinsey scale assigned an integer value between 0 and 6 to a person’s sexual orientation, with 0 being exclusively heterosexual (straight) and 6 being exclusively homosexual (gay). The problem that exists with this scale today is that most people seem to believe that 0, 3 (equally bisexual) and 6 are the only numerical values where it is possible to place a person. This is not the case; in fact, I believe that Kinsey even missed the mark by saying that only 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 were possibilities.
(Note: While much of Kinsey’s work remains controversial and contested to this day, an examination of his scientific methods and results is beyond the scope of this essay. I merely bring up the scale he created as a reference tool; one need not, for example, examine Richter’s scientific work to be able to describe an earthquake on the Richter scale. You will see that I disagree with Kinsey on many points, but the Kinsey scale is nothing more than a way to assign a numerical value to a person’s sexual orientation. Therefore, it is not subject to further scientific scrutiny.)
Almost nobody is exactly a 0, and almost nobody is exactly a 6. The vast majority of people who call themselves heterosexual would fall somewhere between 0.2 and 0.8 or so, and I think the vast majority of people who call themselves homosexual would fall between perhaps 5.3 and 5.9. Our modern concepts of heterosexuality and homosexuality, really, are nothing more than ranges close to opposite ends of an infinite spectrum of bisexuality.
Furthermore, I don’t believe that a person’s “score” on the Kinsey scale is necessarily fixed for life, at least not down to a three-decimal-places level. Some gay-haters would like you to believe that a four- or five-point movement on the scale is possible (i.e., that you can change from homosexual to heterosexual), but as I prove in another essay, that is not true. I won’t dispute, however, that one or multiple movement(s) of perhaps one-third to one-half of a point may occur during a person’s life, even without any force of will being applied.
It is perhaps most accurate to say that individuals will find that they fall somewhere within a certain ¾-point (or thereabouts) range over the course of their lives. As an example, I would place myself somewhere between 4.6 and 5.3 on the Kinsey scale; every now and then I find myself attracted to a particular woman (sometimes more often than others), but the majority of people to whom I am attracted are male. One young man I know who calls himself straight would probably fit somewhere between 0.6 and 1.4; he is mostly attracted to women, but also says he finds himself attracted to another one of his male friends.
Even the straightest, 0.05-Kinsey-score man may sometimes wonder how his “equipment” compares to that of other men (i.e., he has his 1.5-Kinsey-score moments now and then), and I think even the flamiest 5.95-score gay man may sometimes wonder what sex with a woman would be like (i.e., he has his 4 moments once in a while). As I said above, you can’t just place the arbitrary constraints of black, white, and one 50/50 shade of gray on human sexuality; there exists an infinite number of shades of gray, and those shades are likely to shift very slightly over time.
While quite long, that background on sexuality is necessary to understand what you’re going through as your own sexuality develops. The years of puberty and adolescence are frequently confusing on many different fronts: you must learn to deal with things you have never experienced before, including sexual feelings. One fantasy or experience that you have on one particular day may not necessarily mean anything in terms of your sexuality, but if you believe in the black-and-white-only model of sexual orientation, it could cause you undue and unwarranted worry.
By all means, avoid being in any kind of a rush to define yourself or your sexuality. Any “definition” you try to impose during early adolescence is really nothing more than a hope or a semi-educated guess; you just haven’t yet learned enough (or perhaps you have been intentionally misled) about sexuality and feelings. My critics would say that I’m only telling youth to be slow to define themselves as straight, but my advice is a double-edged sword: I don’t think youth should be in a huge rush to declare themselves gay either. Within reasonable limits, your teenage years are a time to experiment, to test things and see what works best for you.
Just because you feel a certain way on one day doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll feel the same way the next day, or possibly ever again. One day, you might think a same-gender classmate is attractive, but this doesn’t necessarily (in and of itself) mean that you are gay. There is no reason to either rush to judgment and say “Oy vey, I’m gay!”, or go into panicked denial about one feeling. You may even go as far as masturbating with a same-sex friend, or even further than that — again, it does not necessarily mean you are gay. By the same token, just because you have more notches in your belt with the opposite sex than anybody else in seventh grade, that is no guarantee that you are straight.
Your feelings toward either the same sex or the opposite sex will clarify and strengthen as your teenage years wear on. Some people may be comfortable enough to accurately define themselves as either straight or gay by age 15, but other people won’t be able to do likewise until their early 20s (or even later). There is an old saying about what young, hormonally-infused teenagers ought to do: “wait, date, and masturbate.”
That is to say, you ought to (a) not rush to prove either that you’re straight or that you’re gay, (b) cultivate, develop, and enjoy social (but non-sexual) friendships with peers of both genders, and (c) keep any sexual activity strictly between you and your hands or sex toys — interpersonal sexual activity at young ages is a potential minefield of emotional, disease-related, and even pregnancy-related disasters. Make one wrong step, even unknowingly, and the land mine will blow your leg to shreds; make one wrong sexual decision, even unknowingly, and you might never get rid of that burning pain or itch in your genitalia — or even worse yet, you might never finish middle school because you’ll have to support a son or daughter, or you might even condemn yourself to a slow, painful death before your 25th birthday.
The bottom line is that you need to give yourself time to clearly think things through and understand yourself. If you are, say, 12 or 13 years old, the best answer to the question “How do I know if I’m gay?” is “Don’t worry about it for now.” I know that when you’re 12, it sure seems like it will be forever before you reach 18, but I can promise you it will come faster than you might think. Along the same line of thought, it may seem like it’s too hard to wait to define yourself and your sexuality, but the point at which your feelings get stronger and clearer is probably closer than you think.
If, as you get older, you start having more consistent fantasies or desires regarding your same-gender classmates, then yes, there is a very good chance that you are gay. If you fantasize almost exclusively about same-gender classmates when you masturbate, then yes, it’s likely that you are gay. If your father’s old Playboys and Hustlers aren’t nearly as, ahem, interesting to you as Freshmen or Latin Inches, then chances are excellent that you are gay (if you’re a boy, of course). Beyond that, your behavior doesn’t necessarily mean a thing: there are plenty of straight boys who enjoy theatre more than sports, many straight girls with short hair and boyish clothing, many gay boys who play football, and many lesbian girls who take hours to apply make-up and select just the right mini-skirt on the store rack. While stereotypes exist solely because they sometimes do tend to be true, it is silly and wrong to assume that they are always true.
The only person who will ever truly know your sexual orientation is you. Sexual orientation is an intrinsic quality of a person; that is to say, it comes from within and is felt within. Despite all the claims that it can be influenced or changed from the outside, or the angry “I understand you better than you understand yourself” retorts that usually come from parents of somebody who has just come out, the only person capable of reaching those inner depths of your being is you. Your teenage years are also a time for soul-searching, and your sexuality falls into the category of things you must carefully examine.
Modern society is fond of laying a trap for pre-teens and teenagers: that everybody is born straight, and that straight is the “right way to be” (i.e., that being gay is inherently “wrong”). It is critically important that while you are struggling with all of the changes of puberty and early adolescence, you do not fall into this trap. Being gay is neither more right nor more wrong than being straight. In and of itself, being gay (or being straight) is neither right nor wrong. There is no correct answer to the question of which sexual orientation is better. There are right and wrong ways to deal with and experience one’s sexuality (i.e., it is wrong to cause pain, suffering, or harm to another person), but sexual orientation itself cannot be assumed to be either right or wrong. It is what it is, and that’s that, plain and simple.
I must also say a few words about bisexuality. Often times, bisexual people feel as though they are socially not welcome anywhere; they may feel unwelcome among straight people who think they should “give up the gay part,” but at the same time, they feel shunned by the gay community that tells them they’re “not gay enough” or that “you need to drop the ‘bi’ charade and come out already.” As I pointed out above, in the description of the Kinsey scale, the spectrum of sexual orientation truly only contains infinite differing degrees of bisexuality. What we think of as “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” are merely narrow ranges near either end of that spectrum. (To make an analogy to physics, if we say the red/infrared boundary represents totally straight, and the purple/ultraviolet boundary represents totally gay, then you’ll find a lot of orangeish-red people, a smaller number of dark-bluish-purple people, and the rest almost evenly distributed between orange and indigo.)
Technically speaking, I, too, am bisexual — at least in theory. As I said above, once in a while I will see a woman I find attractive for some reason. However, most times, my reaction is more one of “she is so beautiful and smart, I could just fall totally in love with her” than the usual straight-man reaction of “she’s hot, I’m gonna try to get her into bed.” That is to say, I’m interested in her more as a friend (for her personality) than I am in a sexual way, though sex might well be a secondary thought. For me, however, it is just easier to say that I’m gay, because this attraction-to-a-woman thing happens quite rarely. If I had somewhat more equal attraction to women as to men, I would have no shame in describing myself as bisexual.
Bisexuality doesn’t mean that you have to carry on two relationships at once (one opposite-sex, one same-sex), nor does it disappear when you enter into one monogamous relationship (i.e., you don’t bounce around from bi to straight, then back to bi, then gay, etc. on the basis of your dating patterns). What being bisexual means is that you feel roughly equal attraction to both sexes; it need not be perfectly equal — some bisexual people will be slightly more attracted to the same gender than the opposite gender, and vice versa.
Some people who are in fact gay tend to misuse “bisexuality” as a “stepping-stone” on the “path to full homosexuality.” That is to say, they may well realize they have nearly zero attraction to the opposite sex, but the idea of admitting (even to themselves) that they are gay scares the crap out of them, so they get around that irrational fear by claiming that they are bisexual. Saying that allows them to still stake some claim to “straightness,” even if none of said “straightness” exists within them. Later on in life, as these people finally become comfortable with the fact that they are gay, they are usually among the first to deride truly bisexual people as “carrying on a lie, because they really need to just admit they’re gay.” While I must partially blame a society that pushes the lie that being gay is something to be ashamed of, gay people who do this cause nothing but more misunderstanding of, and prejudice against, bisexual people.
In conclusion, I think the best answer to my titular question “How do I know if I’m gay?” is this: Search your soul. Carefully consider your sexual fantasies and desires. You will eventually come to know. Much like the young Luke Skywalker had to question his beliefs in The Empire Strikes Back in order to defeat the Dark Side of the Force in Return of the Jedi, you must carefully examine your own life. On that note, I will close with the following great words from the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
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