The Bees and...the Bees: A Homosexuality and Bisexuality Primer
For most of us, realizing that we're gay, lesbian or bisexual isn't something that happens overnight. We don't go to sleep straight one day and wake up gay the next (or the opposite). It's not like, "Oh crap, looks like I got a zit in my sleep last night and I got gay!"
Perhaps we have had crushes on people of the same or similar sex or gender, or perhaps we have felt very distinctly that heterocentric gender or sexual roles (roles still not always right, but still better suited to heterosexual people) just aren't comfortable for us. While things like that certainly don't mean we are queer for sure, they are some clues that we might be. As we get to know the whole of ourselves better and observe patterns in our attractions and relationships over the years, we also get a better understanding and fuller knowledge of our sexuality and orientation. Getting to understand who we are, in this respect like every other, isn't something we can usually do in a day: it's a lifelong process.
Many young people have a lot of questions when it comes to homosexuality and bisexuality. In a culture often so damning of orientation and sexual identity outside heterosexuality, many become nervous if and when they feel attracted to those of the same or a similar sex or gender, worried that they might be gay. Others suspect or are sure they are homosexual or bisexual, but are afraid to say so either because they aren't 100% certain and feel they will be branded in some way, or simply because they fear being rejected, outcast or scolded by their friends, family or community. While at least 8 million people in the United States are homosexual, a hard truth is that millions of people do still think it is an "illness" or "perversion." Being nervous or afraid to come out is -- unfortunately -- very valid and understandable.
No matter our orientation, the first step to making decisions about our sexual identity, and how we view that of others, is to know the answers to some basic questions. It's hard to make up our minds when we aren't all on the same page, or we aren't really sure what something means. Bear in mind that even people with adequate information sometimes don't agree with it, and define things differently because that information conflicts with their own beliefs, biases or fears or just with their own experiences or personal identity. All the same, there are some important facts that all of us -- gay, straight, and everything in between -- should know.
What does it mean to be homosexual or bisexual?
Typically, a homosexual is defined as someone who is exclusively or primarily attracted, physically and emotionally, to others of the same sex or the same/similar gender. A bisexual or pansexual is defined as someone who can be or is attracted to those of any sex or gender, though not necessarily at the same time. In other words, like heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals can be monogamous. A heterosexual is someone attracted exclusively or primarily to those of the opposite, or a different, sex or gender. Queer is a word many of us use to describe being something other than heterosexual, or when gay, lesbian or bisexual don't seem to really sum up our orientations well, particuarly if and when we or people we are attracted to may also be gender nonconforming.
Some people find the three general spheres or orientations -- heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual -- very limiting, because not everyone fits neatly into them, but instead, is attracted to different sexes and genders by varying degrees. For instance, a bisexual may be MOSTLY attracted to women, but sometimes attracted to men; a bisexual also may not even like the "bi" part of that term because gender isn't binary, and they are attracted to people of varied sexes and gender identities. A homosexual or heterosexual may occasionally be attracted to those of an opposite sphere, or someone's gender identity may be a bigger point of attraction than their biological sex. If that is the case for you, it does not mean you are not what you think you are. Homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality are terms to generalize sexual orientation in the widest sense. Ultimately, you should choose or create whatever term makes you most comfortable and feels most true to you, or create your own if none of them seem to feel right.
Keep in mind that sexual orientation and homosexuality, bisexuality (or heterosexuality) aren't just about sex, nor are the relationships for anyone of any of those orientations. A lot of the time, we'll see anything except heterosexuality slandered based on the idea that differing orientations are just about what someone wants sexually or just about sexual desires. While it it's still okay when they are, for most people, homosexual and bisexual relationships are about all of the same things heterosexual relationships are for most people: about love and companionship, about family and/or community, about friendship and bonding, about discovering ourselves and discovering those we get close to. And yes, about sex.
Do we choose our orientation?
Most sexuality researchers and scholars agree that orientation is fixed and unchangeable to some degree, though how we enact it, how we identify, and what it means for us as individuals is more mutable or flexible. We also don't tend to know, right away, what our orientation is: again, that's often a process of gradual discovery over time. While we choose what to call ourselves, and perhaps go through many different stages in our lives to really feel out who and what we are on many different levels, for the most part, our orientation is believed to be at least partially hard-coded into us from a very early age.
The American Psychological Association states that, "sexual orientation emerges for most people in early adolescence without any prior sexual experience. And some people report trying very hard over many years to change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual with no success. For these reasons, psychologists do not consider sexual orientation for most people to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed."
If you're heterosexual, ask yourself if you can choose who, of a different gender than you, you're attracted to? Can you really choose, or does it often seem pretty random and out of your control, perhaps even surprising? Can you choose who you love? Remember: sexual orientation isn't just about sex or having sex: it's also about who we love.
Is it unnatural?
It most certainly is not. Not only is it natural in people, it occurs in other mammals and animals as well, such as chimpanzees, cows, ducks and other birds, cats, dogs, insects, gorillas, horses, sheep, monkeys, and a plethora of other critters. It also is nothing new. Though through much of history many homosexuals and bisexuals have not been "out," -- due not to their orientation, but to the cultural and interpersonal condemnation of anything that isn't heterosexuality -- most anthropologists and biologists agree that it has occurred in humans for just as long as heterosexuality.
Is it an illness or mental illness? Are homosexuals or bisexuals sick?
Absolutely not. Psychological and sexual research has shown clearly that orientation in and of itself is not a cause for emotional or social problems. More often, when such problems are associated with homosexuality or bisexuality they are rooted in the nonacceptance of those orientations, and taunting, scolding or punishment because of the perceptions of them. The APA adds that, "Homosexuality was thought to be a mental illness in the past because mental health professionals and society had biased information about homosexuality since most studies only involved lesbians and gay men in therapy. When researchers examined data about gay people who were not in therapy, the idea that homosexuality was a mental illness was found to be untrue."
Is it a sin?
This is a secular website, so we're not the best folks to ask about a specific set of religious beliefs or opinions. Bear in mind that the concept of sin does not run through all religious traditions. There are many, many other traditions outside Christianity and Catholicism. In fact, other traditions combined make up the majority of the world's religious and spiritual traditions: Catholicism and Christianity are not by any means the overriding traditions around the world, even though they are very popular.
So, IS it a sin? If you are basing the concept of what is right and what is wrong on the Bible alone, you need to bear in mind that it is a very old series of texts, in which some things that could be considered RIGHT and acceptable(and sanctioned by the old testament) then, such as:
- a child being killed if they cursed their parent
- a woman being stoned for not being a virgin on her wedding night
- the domination, rape or abuse of women
- a person guilty of adultery (cheating) being killed
- and child abuse
...are things we consider very wrong now.
Some things considered wrong then, such as:
- charging interest on a loan
- shaving or getting a hair cut
- sex during menstruation
- the cross-breeding of animals
- sex outside of marriage
- eating certain animals
- and women wearing pants
...by general opinion most of us think are okay now.
The things listed above are all addressed in the Bible, just as premarital sex and homosexuality are, and are parts of biblical rules and laws, but are often overlooked or ignored by those insisting homosexuality or premarital sex is wrong, though they are all considered just as important Biblically. And overall, there's very little address of sexuality in the Bible, period.
According to religioustolerance.org, "In order to comprehend what the Bible says about gay and lesbian relationships, we must pass over the references to homosexual rape, male sexual abuse of boys, and homosexual prostitution, orgies, Pagan sexual rituals in temples, etc. We would be left with only those references relating to consensual sexual activities within homosexual partnerships. There may not be any of these.
"However, there are descriptions of close and intimate relationships between members of the same gender. But there are no unambiguous passages that show that they were sexually active. One is forced to conclude that the Bible often condemns heterosexual and homosexual exploitive, manipulative sex, and prostitution, but may be totally silent on consensual homosexual relationships."
In other words, homosexuality when addressed at all in the Bible, is mainly discussed in the context of sexual situations where both parties were not consenting or willing to participate: in the context of the rape of men and boys (even though the rape of women and girls, mind, is often given the thumbs-up in the Bible).
"One is left with many Biblical passages which condemn fornication -- sex outside of marriage. If one were to accept these passages as inspired by God, then one can conclude that the Bible considers homosexual sex within a committed relationship equivalent to premarital sex between a man and a woman. That is, homosexual activity within a committed relationship is morally equivalent to a man and woman living together common-law without being married."
They also add that, "The Bible says nothing about sexual orientation for the same reason why it does not mention television sets and airplanes. The concept of orientation dates only from the late 19th century and only began to be seriously investigated in the middle of the 20th century."
Too? Both the old and new testament contain many messages directing people to love others generously, not to limit who they give love to and feel it for.
So, how do I know if I'm not heterosexual?
As touched on at the beginning, there are certain clues that you may be queer, gay, lesbian or bisexual.
- Are you attracted, physically and emotionally, to members of the same or a similar sex or gender? In other words, have you felt attracted to - you strongly want to be with someone, emotionally and sexually -- members of the same sex in regards to a few different people? Are you, or have you been, in love with or crushing hard on someone who is of the same sex?
- Do members of the same sex or those of a similar gender to you enter into your sexual fantasy life on a regular basis?
- Do you feel that on a few levels, you just don't fit in with others your age, outside of things like your clothes, economic class or nationality? Does queer culture and community feel like a more comfortable and authentic fit for you than heterosexual culture or community?
- Do you feel that typical gender or relationship roles (such as girls wearing skirts or being softspoken, or men being macho or gruff, just to name a couple) don't fit you well, or seem really incongruous? (It should be mentioned that discomfort with gender roles can also be about gender dysphoria, about sexual inequality, or simply about discomfort with the limited and binary way our world so often views gender.) Sometimes, gay, lesbian and bisexual people have a hard time feeling like traditional gender roles fit them, especially because so many of those roles can be heterosexist.
- Do you often feel bored, or just not excited by going out with members of the opposite sex? Does dating, or dating only, members of the opposite-sex feel forced, boring or like something big is missing?
- Have you ever suspected or feared that you might be homosexual or bisexual?
Any one of these things is something that may happen to all of us, even to those who are heterosexual, at least a few times. But if a few of them sound familiar, you feel that way often, and you're at the stage of your life where you are able to have a decent perspective on your sexuality and relationships from past experience, you may be gay or bisexual, which is no more or less normal or okay than being heterosexual. It's all good.
No one but you can assign an orientation or an identity to you. What you call yourself, how you identify, and when you identify (and this may not be solid -- for some of us, in our lives, identity shifts and is fluid to some degree) is all your choice. The important thing is that you do what you can to make your self comfortable and at peace with yourself, that you are honest with yourself and your friends, family and/or partners, and that you realize you have as much time as you want or need to find out who you are.
Your sexuality and the opportunity for partnership is with you through your whole lifetime: it isn't going to run away from you if you don't catch it. Check through sites like this one and other GBLT information. Go to a youth group for gay, lesbian or bisexual teens, or see if your school has a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). Talk to another trusted adult or peer who is homosexual or bisexual. Explore the possibilities, and go with what is comfortable for you. Ultimately, you're the person you have to live with and own up to every day: trying to make yourself into something you aren't, or fight who you feel you really are may seem like the easier thing to do in the short run, but in the long run it not only damages you, it damages everyone around you.
No matter who you are, or what stage of understanding who you are, you're at, be proud of yourself. If you're sincere, open, honest and loving, and act with integrity, no matter what your orientation is, you're someone to be proud of.