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Some basic gay-tiquette

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Capturetheworld asks:

My best friend just came out to me and I came out to him... now he wants to have sexual relations, what do I do?

It all happened a week ago. He told me he was bi, I told him that I am gay. After an awkward conversation he told me that he wanted to have sex with me minus an actual relationship and he told me that he prefers women but likes men as well. This is all troubling to me because I don't have any interest in him as a partner and telling me that he likes women is a big turn off. But the guy has never had a relationship with a man or woman. I kind of feel bad for him, he has had a lonely life. I have had several relationships both platonic and sexual. I would like to find a way to tell him that I am not his guy without hurting his feelings. We have been friends for 6 years now and the only reason why I haven't told him that I was gay before this point is because of his families very conservative views.

On a side note, What is the best way to tell girls who are infatuated with you that you are gay without offending them? For whatever reason, people have a hard time actually believing that I am gay. Thank you for your help!

Heather Corinna replies:

Good on you for aiming for social grace even when other people are being clumsy.

You probably already know this, but it's going to happen in your life that people are going to have feelings for you that you don't share; have interest in doing things with you that you don't have an interest in. Sometimes, those people will be people you don't like very much in general, or don't care much about, and when that's the case, taking a pass can be pretty easy. Other times, you will really like those people, or will feel for them, and may even wish you did have the feelings you don't have, either because you do really like them -- but chemistry is a wild card, and we can't make it happen when it isn't there -- or because you wish, for their sake, you did have those feelings because you'd really like for them to have what they want.

It can also happen that some people will assume that if you are someone who could potentially be attracted to them, simply by virtue of your sexual orientation, that you will be. In other words, you dig guys, they're a guy, so you'll automatically dig them. Would that it were so simple, right? But you know, I know, and in time, people who don't know now will know later, that it's not.

Sometimes people forget that just sharing the same orientation and liking each other isn't enough. Straight people seem to understand that a little better. However, straight people usually have way bigger dating pools and also see a lot more straight people in their world and the whole world, so it's no shocker they might get that more intuitively. It's also a helluva lot safer for people to voice sexual interest in someone of an opposite sex than they are than it is for any of us to voice that interest in someone of the same sex. Straight people mostly only have to worry about rejection: queer folks have to worry about that and also things like being harassed or even being physically attacked.

Your friend is your best friend. He obviously feels safe with you. So, there's that. He also probably feels very strongly about you: we tend to about our closest friends. He knows you're open to sex with men. And he may -- or may not -- also have strong sexual feelings for you, too.

Let's face it: just knowing someone else will accept us and won't hit us in the face for coming on to them can be a pretty powerful thing all by itself. And when we're just coming out, especially if we live in areas of communities where there seem to be few to no other queer people, it can also be easy to feel like this one gay or bisexual person you know is going to be your only change for sex or partnership ever, even though that is not at all likely to be the case. Queer dating pools tend to be tiny, even once we have some community, so that desperation can sometimes creep up on us, especially when it's all so new and all feels so big and unweildly. If he needs it, it might help to reassure him that you are nothing close to the only fish in the sea, but just may be the only fish he's met so far.

It also happens pretty frequently that when someone first starts coming out, they can seek out sex first and community second, when they probably really need the latter more than the former. Sometimes it can feel like sexual partners are the only way we can get community. You make clear he's very lonely and that he's in a family I presume would be strongly unaccepting of their son being anything but straight. So, one thing you can do for him is help him get connected with some other gay, lesbian or bisexual people you know so that you're not the only queer person that he knows and he can seek out and get support and companionship from more than just you.

What do you tell him? How about something like this:"Hey, name-of-my-friend. I'm flattered, but I'm going to pass. I don't want that kind of relationship with you, and just don't share the feelings you have, even though I really like being friends. It's okay for you to have put that out there, no worries, but I'm just not interested. You're my best friend, so I hope that it can be okay that every now and then, something awkward like this happens and we can still keep the friendship we value intact.

"I also am available to be part of your community and help connect you with more queer community if that's something you're looking for. We don't have to have sex to get connected with other people who are gay or bisexual. Would you like me to make some introductions for you? That way you could have more community than just me, and have not only find other gay or bisexual friends, but also maybe meet someone who is interested in a sexual relationship with you."

I asked my awesome friend Phillip Miner, who knows a thing or twenty-three about these situations, for some extra input. Here's what he had to add:

I know you're not considering it, but I want reiterate that I think you absolutely should not have sex with this particular friend. He says he wants to have a bit of good, ol' fashioned, no-strings-attached, I-like-women-but-think-I-like-men-too experimentation. If you're attracted to the guy and up for that, that can be fun sometimes. But, in this case, I'm not sure he means it. Your 6-year long friendship coupled with his loneliness makes me think it wouldn't be anything close to no-strings attached. I'm guessing romantic feelings for you would probably sink in, and sex with someone who has an unrequited crush tends to get real awkward, real quick.

Back to the actual point: you aren't interested. You honestly care about this guy and want to let him down gently. As someone who has been on both sides of this scenario, I can confidently say that feelings will probably get hurt, but if you both want to remain friends, you probably will remain friends.

There are definitely things you can do to minimize his hurt in this. Don't lead him on. Tell him how you feel as soon as possible. Don't let him believe your feelings might change: focus on the feelings you (don't) have right now. Saying things like, "I don't think that would be a good idea right now, but who knows, maybe it will some other time," gives him false hope that things might change in the future. Let him know that you're excited to have a queer/gay/bi/whatever you want to call it friend. This way you're not turning him down cold, you're letting him know where you want this relationship to go. If he needs it, give him a little time and space to digest and process what you have to say to him.

If you want, and you two wind up having an extended conversation about this, you can fill him in on what you're looking for and what you're not. For instance, you could say that you're not comfortable seeing anyone whose family feels unsafe to you, or are only interested in dating other gay guys. I'd just make sure you're clear that those aren't your only reasons for nixing this, they're just part of the big picture. However, if you just don't feel a thing for this guy, those things may be pretty irrelevant. This stuff with his family or the fact that he's bisexual rather than gay would make sense to talk about if those things were why you were taking a pass, but it sounds pretty clearly like that's not what's up, you just plain aren't into him.

In terms of your second question, I'd say that someone else being offended is their issue, not yours.

No one is entitled to anyone else sexually or romantically: no one is entitled to someone else feeling the same way they feel about them. Heck, none of those girls are even entitled to your attention, save some really basic common courtesy. Anyone who thinks they are entitled in these ways really needs to get over that, because it's a deeply disrespectful and unhealthy way to view other people or relationships. Figure you just holding your own line and respecting your own identity not only is what you need to do for you, it might also help someone who feels a sense of entitlement around any of this get over themselves, which is good for everyone, including them.

I don't know why people get offended that someone isn't interested in them because their orientation, but it's likely not the same for everyone. Some people may feel that if they're interested in men, all men they're interested in are supposed to be interested in them back. Some straight women may see things in you they've not yet found in guys who want to date them, or may even feel like (I know, it's patronizing) you're safer, more benign or more like them than straight men are.

Some people have the convoluted idea, as you probably know, that you just haven't met "the right women," and that her own super-magic-love-or-boobies could change who you are. Some people have homophobia that makes them reactive with this, including attitudes that "it's not fair" some men are gay because they think men are supposed to be for women. Again, all very disrespectful, I know. And you know, I just often just don't get what some people are thinking or feeling around this or how they get their heads in some of those places without getting a headache, but neither you nor I really have to know the why.

All you've really got to know is what you are and are not interested in, and all you've got to do is not be mean about it, just like we'd expect of anyone else.

Just like we talked about with your friend, no matter what our orientation is, there are people to whom we are attracted and have interest in pursuing certain things with, and there are people we don't have that interest in, and while that's sometimes in part because of their sex or gender, those things are usually just one piece of the puzzle. And for those girls, there are going to be straight guys who aren't interested, either, just like there are going to be gay guys not interested in you or vice-versa, so your orientation, while totally relevant to you, really should only be so relevant to them. Your disinterest is what's relevant, and that alone should be enough for them to back off.

Again, you sound like a considerate guy, someone who most likely is really excellent to other people and who cares about them. I'm absolutely sure that when a woman is expressing interest in you, you probably handle it kindly and well. So, a simple, "Hey, I'm just not interested," is actually all you should need to say. But if you prefer, "I'm gay, so not interested," that's totally fine, too.

If any of them get really pushy or crummy with you, you could always consider something very direct like, "What if I refused to believe you liked guys? Or told you that you weren't really a girl? That'd be pretty disrespectful, which is what you're being to me right now. Please respect me for who I am, rather than only trying to see me as who you want me to be for yourself. Or, what if I was a straight guy refusing to accept your no like you're not accepting mine: how uncool would that be?"

In case you needed to hear it, all of this stands with friendships, too: you're not obligated to be any girl's gay BFF just because she wants one, or because she feels she's entitled to you taking up that role for her.

If they get offended, again, that's their own problem to sort out in their own hearts and heads. If they don't believe you're gay, that's crappy and disrespectful on their part (and a little narcissistic), and that certainly can hurt your feelings, but that's still their issue and their problem. They can not believe you all they want, and it still isn't going to turn you straight nor is it going to create interest in them you don't have. Their disbelief can't and doesn't change who you are.

Phil said all that even better than I did:

As to the women hitting on you, the only thing I've heard more than straight women say, "You're not gay!" is gay men saying, "That guy can't be straight!" Our libido has a funny way of trumping our rational brain. That said, telling a woman, "I'm gay" should end any confusion. If it doesn't, walk away. If she protests, it's clear she doesn't care about who you actually are: she only wants you to be the straight dude who finds her attractive. If she's angry about who you are, you don't owe her anymore of her time.

I do want to check in about your concern any of these girls will get offended and make sure that's not just about not wanting to hurt their feelings. After all, let's be real: sometimes when people get offended in that way, it can result in them making it physically or emotionally unsafe for us, and just because you're a guy and they're girls doesn't mean you have some kind of magical, automatic safety or upper hand. If someone is acting offensive and you don't feel safe, in any department? I think it's a lot more important to get yourself out of and away from that situation than to worry about someone else's feelings in that kind of space.

If you find that you're feeling guilty or uncomfortable about saying no to people around any of this, then you maybe want to do some of your own work with that, maybe unpacking any issues you might have around trying to always please others or feeling confident in your own limits and boundaries. Sometimes, when a lot of people seem to have sexual interest in us, it can feel overwhelming, especially if we need to amp up our own confidence when it comes to saying no. And in the case that you're "The Gay Guy" for a lot of people around you -- in other words, the first or only guy anyone has interacted with who is gay -- that can carry a lot of pressures with it, too. Feeling like you got assigned the role of Cultural Attaché of Gayville for everyone can really blow chunks. You might need to reach out a little more to the rest of your own queer community to get some extra support around these things.

But whether we're talking about your best friend or we're talking about women who react badly to your disinterest, you don't owe any of these folks anything -- not sex, not a date, not an educational seminar on the hanky code -- other than the same respect they should be affording you and being exactly who you are, even when who you are isn't who someone else wants you to be.

written 24 Mar 2011 . updated 24 Mar 2011

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