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.
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."