I'm a girl, he's a guy, and we're dating...but I think he's gay.

I am dating this guy and I think he is gay. He had dated many girls recently but he has a 'gay' personality. He is very friendly, uses make-up and when I and my friends are around him we feel like he is a sister. My friends thinks I could do better but I am not sure if I should break up with him or not and he is emotional so I don't know how to tell him if I am going to break up with him. Is he gay? Should I break up with him?
Heather Corinna replies:

This month, as part of Scarleteen's fundraising efforts, we have the pleasure of having some folks we love guest-writing for our advice section.

For your question, I was delighted to be able to ask Hanne Blank to answer it for you. Hanne is one of the smartest people when it comes to sexuality issues that I know, she's a a writer and historian, the author of books like Virgin: The Untouched History and Big Big Love: A Sourcebook on Sex for People of Size and Those Who Love Them. She's currently at work on a new book, Straight, which is a critical look at how an aspect of sex (heterosexuality) that often appears eternal and monolithic is actually anything but. Hanne also was one of the people who helped get Scarleteen going over ten years ago. It's awesome to have her visiting here, and I think she's got some answers to your questions that are just right.

Hanne says... It seems to me there are more questions here than just the two you ask. Here are the ones I am seeing:

  • You want to know whether the guy you’ve been dating is gay.
  • You want to know whether a "gay personality" means someone is gay.
  • You aren’t sure whether friendliness, appearance, and emotional intimacy mean someone is gay.
  • You aren’t sure how much stock to put in your friends’ opinions of the person you’re dating.
  • You are worried about the kind of emotional response you might get if you decide to break up with the person you’re dating.
  • You want to know whether or not you should date someone who identifies as a different sexual orientation than you.

So. Let’s start at the end and work our way back to the beginning.

Should you date someone who identifies as a different sexual orientation than you? It really depends on what you want out of your dating relationship. If what you want is a fun and emotionally intimate friendship where you can have a lot of enjoyable time doing stuff together, and you’re cool with it not having a romantic or sexual component, dating between two people of different sexual orientations can be great for everyone.

On the other hand, if what you want is a romantic and/or sexual relationship where there are likely to be sparks on both sides, maybe dating a someone of a different sexual orientation isn’t what you want since you’re unlikely to get that romantic/sexy thing going on.

Note that I don’t say that you NEVER will get a romantic/sexy thing going on with a partner who identifies as a different orientation to yours. Human beings are complicated and sexual orientation is nowhere near cut and dried. Not only are some people genuinely bisexual in their orientation, but people also sometimes just fall for who they fall for, regardless of how they identify. Also, sometimes people want to experiment with something outside of their usual preferences.

As someone who studies the history of sexual orientation, I tell people to think of sexual orientation as a sort of probability – a way to tell what the odds are that someone will be attracted in one direction or another. Don’t assume that you’re necessarily going to be the exception to a person’s general tendencies, or that there will necessarily be any exception at all. But also know that those exceptions sometimes happen.

You are worried about the kind of emotional response you might get if you decide to break up with the person you’re dating. When you get into a relationship with someone, you do not stop having responsibility for your actions. You ADD the responsibility of knowing that your reactions will also affect your partner.

This doesn’t mean you are responsible FOR the other person’s reactions: it is not your job to only do things they will like, or to never say anything that will make them angry or upset. What it means is that when you do or say things, and your partner reacts to them, you have to take that reaction on the chin like a big girl. It’s called taking responsibility for the consequences of your actions and it’s a crucial skill not just for relationships but for your entire life.

Do people get hurt when relationships end? You bet. Is this something you can avoid? Not really. You can be kind and
compassionate when you end a relationship. You can be up-front about your reasons and understanding about the other person’s reactions. But there is no get-out-of-jail-free card where you get to dump someone else and they don’t get to have an emotional reaction to that.

If you’re really afraid of having someone be upset with you or mad at you if you dump them, maybe you need to think seriously about whether or not you’re ready to be in a relationship at all. Because most relationships, especially among younger people, do end at some point, or shift into different kinds of relationships than they started as, a change everyone or anyone in a relationship might not like or be happy about.

You aren’t sure how much stock to put in your friends’ opinions of the person you’re dating. Who’s dating who here? Are you dating another individual human being? Or are your friends actually the ones who are going on the dates with this guy? Because if it’s you dating him, then I have to say that your opinion is the only one that matters.

Your friends sound to me like they are treating dating as a competitive sport, where someone who is dating the “best” guy or girl is at the top of the heap. Using other people as status symbols is really pretty awful, when you think about it. Would you rather someone date you because they actually liked you or thought you were interesting and exciting, or because they wanted the approval they got from other people for dating you?

There are no “better” people to date. There are only people who are better for YOU to date. Tell your friends to stick a sock in it, and let you make up your own mind about what's right for you. It’s your date, not theirs.

You aren’t sure whether friendliness, appearance, and emotional intimacy mean someone is gay. You want to know whether a "gay personality" means someone is gay. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: there is no such thing as a "gay personality." There are only personality traits that we or others may tend to associate – mostly because of stereotypes and clichés – with particular sexual orientations. For real.

I can guarandamntee you that there are people in your life who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans gender that you don’t know about, and furthermore that you would never guess about. The reason you don’t know and wouldn’t guess? They’re just like anyone else. Mostly, people act like people.

I can also guarandamntee you that there are or at some point will be people in your life who you think might be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans gender because of something about the way they look, the way they act, the way they cut their hair, the kind of clothes they wear, the way they talk, or what have you… and you will be wrong, as wrong
as it is possible to be.

When you make assumptions about someone’s sexuality based on personality, or based on cultural factors like how they look, how they dress, how they act in social situations, how they talk, and so on, the thing you have to remember is that you are making an assumption. Let me say that again because it’s important: you are making an assumption. It is not fact, it is not truth. It is what you are assuming based on information that may or may not be the right kind of information to tell you what you think it does. The fact that Adam Lambert is gay and wears makeup does not mean that all men who wear makeup are gay any more than it means that all men who wear makeup are Adam Lambert. It does not work that way.

Here’s a safe assumption: if someone thinks their sexual orientation is any of your business, they will probably tell you. Otherwise, it’s safe to assume that unless they tell you, it’s none of your business and you don’t know. And that’s perfectly OK. In most of life, and most of the interactions we have with people, there is absolutely no reason it matters.

You want to know whether the guy you’ve been dating is gay. Now we get down to brass tacks. Is the guy you’re dating gay? I don’t know and neither do you. The only person who can tell you is him.

If he hasn’t brought the issue up, there are a few possibilities. One is that he isn’t, so he didn’t feel like he needed to mention it. Another is that he doesn’t know whether he’s gay or not. Many people go through periods where they’re not entirely sure about their sexuality (and just FYI, this can happen at any point in a person’s life, it’s not just a teenage thing). A third is that he knows he’s gay, and he thought you already knew so he hadn’t mentioned it. A fourth is that he knows he’s gay and he’s afraid of having other people know because he doesn’t want to be beaten up, bullied, or worse.

If you genuinely want to know how this friend identifies his own sexual orientation, you will just have to ask him. I would recommend doing it in private. I would also recommend telling him, before you ask, that you consider it completely confidential and won’t talk to other people about what he says.

Regardless of what he says, I recommend two other things. First, that you accept whatever he says as true. He is the only person who knows what’s going on inside his own head. So you need to accept that he’s the authority on what’s true for him. And second, you honor your promise to keep your mouth shut. Like I said before, people’s sexual orientations are simply not necessarily anyone else’s business. For GLBT people -- for people who are not heterosexual and/or who are trans gender or otherwise gendernonconforming -- being outed (having someone else spread the word that you are GLBT) can literally be deadly. Your friend is the authority about what is true for him. He is also the authority for when it is and isn’t okay for other people to know, no matter what the answer is.

I hope this helps you answer your own questions. I don’t think anyone else can look at your situation and tell you what you should do. You are the person who has to live with your decisions, and you are the person who knows what you want and don’t want in relationships. Straight or gay matters a whole lot less than whether you are thinking clearly and being honest and making the right decisions for the right reasons.

Here are a few extra links that might give you some more help in thinking all of this through:

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