Ask Professor Foxy: How Do I Come Out? Am I Gay?

This weekly Saturday column “Ask Professor Foxy” will regularly contain sexually explicit material. This material is likely not safe for work viewing. The title of the column will include the major topic of the post, so please read the topic when deciding whether or not to read the entire column.
Dear Professor Foxy,
Well, for about two years (I’m 21) I’ve been thinking that I’m gay. And, after a recent, and first, sexual encounter with a woman I decided that, yes, this lesbian thing is for me. Since then I’ve slowly been coming out of the closet: I’ve told a friend here, a cousin there but I still have yet to tell my parents. While they are very liberal and I’m sure they wouldn’t have a problem with it (I have a cousin who is gay), I’m sure you can understand that this is still a very hard thing to do.
So, after getting my courage up I asked my (straight) sister (who I had told previously that I had some queer inklings) that I’d like her help in telling our parents. Now, my sister, as far as I know, is quite liberal herself but is often annoyed by my “radical” feminism. I’m in Women’s Studies, she’s in Engineering – you get the picture. Anyway, I asked her to help me tell our parents that I’m gay. Her response? “OH MY GOD.” Followed by, “Are you sure it’s not just because of Susan (the cousin) and Women’s Studies and stuff.” I immediately dropped the subject. We continued on with our evening and it wasn’t until the next day that I realized the ignorance and cruelty of her response, especially since I had already told her that I might like girls.
I haven’t confronted her about her response and probably won’t be asking for her help with my task again. But, I still haven’t told my parents! So, Professor Foxy, this brings me to my first question: how on earth will I regain my confidence and say to my parents, the seemingly simple words, “I am gay”?
However, this question is only the first in my often drama-filled life. Shortly after the conversation with my sister, I visited a psychic. This was the first time I’d seen one and it’s not something I put much weight into. What she said, however, made me think. Halfway through the reading, while discussing the tall-dark-and-handsome man I was soon going to meet, she paused and asked, “Who do you like, him or her?” Maybe she was psychic or maybe she just saw the disinterest in my eyes while I was hearing about this man. Anyway, after I told her that I do, in fact, like “her,” she smiled and said, “Ah, and who have you told?” I told her that Susan (the same cousin) knew. “And she likes the girls?” the psychic asked. She, like my sister told me that it was my cousin’s influence that resulted in what I thought was a changing sexuality. “It won’t last” were her final words about my lesbianism.
The reason I am telling you all of this is that maybe my sister and the psychic are right. Of course my Women’s Studies education has something to do with my sexuality – it has completely reformed my thinking and helped me to see, I thought, that I prefer women over men. My second question, I suppose, is that do you think there is any truth in what my sister and the psychic are saying. Has my sexuality been influenced by my cousin’s, to the point that I’m convinced I’m gay when I’m not actually? What seems preposterous about this possibility is that it’s not a trend to be gay, nor is it seen, in general society, as the more positive sexuality. Don’t get me wrong, if I am gay I’ll be happy that way but of course if I had the CHOICE I would be straight, in terms of an easier lifestyle, socially, legally, etc.
I’m sorry to have dragged on like this, but I’d really like some guidance. Am I just following my cousin’s sexuality or being swayed into thinking I’m gay? If I am really gay, how do I go about telling my parents?
-Query from Canada

Hello Query –
I am sorry your sister had such a negative response to your coming out. But being gay or queer or lesbian is not like the swine flu – you cannot catch it. Your cousin being gay is wonderful, because it gives you someone in your family you can talk to and an example of someone you admire and love who is gay, but that will not turn you gay. I am sure there are many people who you love and admire who are straight, but that will not turn you straight. Women’s studies classes can open your mind and broaden your horizons, but they cannot turn you gay either.
The psychic is bunk. A random stranger, whatever her gifts, cannot know you better than you know yourself. In any case, you have no way of knowing how she feels about LGBT people in general. She could be a complete homophobe.
One of the hardest things about coming out is that it’s a process, not an immediate snap of the fingers. First, it takes time to understand and realize you are gay. Then, when you are finally ready to tell people, it also takes those people time to understand and accept that you are gay. Though being patient with them is frustrating and annoying, most people come around. Your sister’s response was ignorant and mean, but that does not mean that she will never be able to realize that you are still the same person you were before and that it is a sign of your love for her that you told her this incredibly important thing about yourself.
Your parents will likely have a good response, but you should have friends at the ready to talk to just in case. What about your cousin? Can she be there for you during it or after? Parents are often more ok with gayness in the abstract or in people other than their children. You need to make sure that you have someone or several people to help you.
Talk with these people to regain your confidence and move forward with telling your parents. If they have a good response, wonderful! You have another source of support. If they have a bad response, they will take time, but most parents come around. If yours do not, there are other ways of finding support. Many LGBT people have two kinds of family: family of origin (the one you are born into) and chosen family (the family that you grow as you age, the family that supports you no matter what). Your cousin, friends you have told: these people can all be your chosen family and your support system.
Take care of yourself during this time. Being a lesbian is a wonderful thing and there is a whole community of folks who can be there with you through this experience.
Professor Foxy
If you have a question for Professor Foxy, send it to ProfessorFoxyATfeministingDOTcom.

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