"Am I Gay?"
A Guide for People Who Question Their Sexual Orientation

Richard H. Reams, Ph.D.

Part 4: The Evidence --Your Thoughts, Emotions & Behaviors

We have arrived at the heart of this guide: gathering and examining the evidence that indicates your sexual orientation.  

The questions that follow presume that you experience yourself as being either a man or a woman (or a boy or a girl) and that the gender of potential sexual/romantic partners is relevant to you.  If one or both of those assumptions is not true for you, then it is probably accurate to say that you do not possess a sexual orientation in the traditional sense of that concept.  If you were asked, “What is your sexual orientation?”, your response might echo many of the interviewees in Dr. Diamond’s book, Sexual Fluidity: “I’m attracted to the person, not the gender.”  And that would be an honest answer.

In order to clarify your sexual orientation, you’ll identify and consider three types of evidence — your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors — based on your life experiences thus far.  Doing so may be anxiety-provoking, but it’s essential.  You may need to be courageous, which doesn't mean fearless.  Courage means taking action despite feeling fear.  You may benefit from having an LGB-affirming counselor to talk with as you gather and examine the evidence.  If so, you'll find advice for finding such a counselor in Part 7, "Resources."

I’m going to ask questions about the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that you have experienced with people of your sex and the other sex.  Don’t limit yourself to the questions I pose as you gather evidence from your life.  I could never imagine all of the possibilities of what you may have experienced. 

I encourage you to write down the evidence that you discover, especially if the evidence is complex.  At some point you may want to talk with a knowledgeable and trustworthy person about the evidence, such as an LGB-affirming counselor, especially if you struggle to interpret the evidence.

This process may proceed quickly or slowly.  Some people need more time than others.  As you gather and interpret the evidence from your life, I hope you will allow yourself as much time as you need to identity the evidence and reflect upon its meaning.

Gathering the Evidence

Thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are often intertwined.  The same experience — such as a crush on X — is likely to generate at least two types of evidence: thoughts (e.g., you may think about the person a great deal) and emotions (e.g., you may feel intense desire to be with the person).  You may even experience behaviors (e.g., you may masturbate while thinking about physical intimacy with the person).  For the sake of simplicity, however, I will invite you to identify evidence for each of these phenomena separately.

  • What thoughtsincluding fantasies, have you had about others of the same sex as you? Your thoughts might include, “Wow, s/he’s cute!” when you see someone of the same sex pass by.  Your fantasies might include imagining what it would be like to date or marry or hug or kiss or have sex with someone you know, or with a celebrity, who is the same sex as you.  Of course, you may have had such thoughts and fantasies about people of the other sex.  If so, include those thoughts and fantasies as well.  
  • What emotions especially emotional attractions — have you felt toward others of the same sex as you?  What about toward people of the other sex?  Who have you had a crush on?  Have you experienced weak or absent emotional connections to people of the other sex?  Toward people of the same sex?  
At this point I need to add a paragraph for male readers.  Experiencing or acknowledging one's emotions is challenging for some guys.  Male socialization during childhood teaches some boys that "real men" are unemotional.  And most boys receive clear messages that "a real man" is heterosexual.  If male socialization has impaired your emotional connections with others — men and/or women — working with a counselor could be an important part of your process of clarifying your sexual orientation.
  • What behaviors have you experienced involving people of the same sex as you? Perhaps you've masturbated to same-sex erotica or to your own fantasies that have involved someone of the same sex.  If you have had sexual experiences with people of the same sex, how satisfying were those encounters emotionally as well as sexually?  Also consider your heterosexual experiences.  If you have had sexual experiences with people of the other sex, how satisfying were those encounters emotionally as well as sexually? Behaviors also include various types of touching, including hugging and kissing.  What has been your response to experiences of touch with males and females?
 
Interpreting the Evidence

Once you have gathered the available evidence regarding your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors involving both males and females up to this point in your life, what is the weight of the evidence?  As you contemplate the meaning of the evidence, you may encounter one or more complicating factors.

One potential complicating factor is that the preponderance of the evidence can change over time.  For some people, the evidence becomes more consistent over time.  For others, the evidence becomes more varied over time.  (Recall the discussion of Myth #6 in Part 3.)  Do you give more weight to the evidence from the past year or two of your life, or do you weigh all evidence equally?  There is no correct answer to this question; use your judgment with the knowledge that you can revise your sexual orientation identity as additional evidence comes along.

A second potential complicating factor concerns the relative importance of the various evidences.  Is some evidence more important to you?  For example, do you consider your emotional attractions to be a more important indicator of your sexual orientation than your physical attractions?  Or vice versa?  Only you can determine whether certain types of evidence carry more weight for you.

A third potential complicating factor concerns how to interpret the meaning of emotional and physical attractions.  Many people, especially adolescents, experience an intense emotional attachment to a friend of the same sex.  This phenomenon has been variously called "passionate friendship," "girl crush," and "bromance."  Some people who experience a passionate friendship with a same-sex friend later develop an LGB identity, but many develop a heterosexual identity.  It may take time to clarify whether the experience of one or more passionate friendships is evidence of an LGB sexual orientation.  Conversely, it may take time to clarify whether the experience of one or more other-sex passionate friendships is evidence of a heterosexual or bisexual orientation. 

When you consider the evidence, weighted according to its importance to you, you may conclude that you are mostly straight rather than exclusively straight, or mostly gay rather than exclusively gay.  Or perhaps you conclude that you are bisexual because you consistently experience substantial (though not necessarily equal) emotional and/or physical attractions to both males and females.  Alternatively, perhaps you have come to realize “it’s the person, not the gender” that matters to you. 

Regardless of your understanding of your sexual orientation, you are free to describe your sexuality to yourself and to others in whatever way that makes sense to you.  There are many possibilities, including straight, mostly straight, bisexual, mostly gay, mostly lesbian, gay, lesbian, queer, pansexual, “it depends on the person,” etc.  And you are free to revise your description of your sexual orientation in the future.  Alternatively, you may decide to reject all sexual orientation identity labels.



If your examination of the evidence indicates that you are straight or mostly straight, your journey through this guide may end here.   

If you continue to be confused about your sexual orientation, there are several possible reasons.  One possibility is that you face one or more obstacles to the idea that you might be gay or bisexual.  In Part 5, "Four Obstacles to Sexual Orientation Identity Development," you can contemplate the potential contribution of these obstacles to your confusion.  There are additional potential reasons why you remain confused, and you'll consider them in Part 6, "Next Steps."

If you have reached clarity that you are not heterosexual (regardless of the words you choose to describe your sexual orientation identity), you may face some obstacles that will inhibit you from feeling positively about your sexuality
.  You too may benefit from contemplating the potential relevance of the "Four Obstacles to Sexual Orientation Identity Development" that we'll explore in Part 5, then continuing to Part 6 to consider your "Next Steps."




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