Is Being Gay a Choice?

It’s not easy being gay.  In a world where heterosexuality is the norm and homosexuality has often been seen as wrong or disgusting, the LGBT community has worked tirelessly to declare that sexual preference is not a “preference” at all.  There are several studies linking genetics as part of the biological reason some people are born gay.  Some people still want to argue nurture vs. nature, however most of those people are straight.

Lately there has been more debate about this in the public due to the actress Cynthia Nixon, who states there’s more than one way to be gay.   Actress Cynthia Nixon, whom we know as Miranda Hobbes on Sex and the City, has always been a peculiar case study for the LGBT community: she was happily in a relationship with a man for 15 years (they even had two kids together), but she’s been in a relationship with a woman since 2004.  Though her sexual orientation seemed to have made a switch, she has said in the past that she didn’t feel like she was necessarily lying to herself or hiding anything.  “I’d been with men all my life, and I’d never fallen in love with a woman,” she told The Daily Telegraph in 2007.  “But when I did, it didn’t seem so strange. I’m just a woman in love with another woman.”  

Many gay activists call her midlife switch in sexual orientation disingenuous, and Nixon chose to defend her relationship by controversially stating that for her, homosexuality is a choice. She explained to the New York Times Magazine:


“I gave a speech recently, an empowerment speech to a gay audience, and it included the line ‘I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.’ And they tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice. And for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me. A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not.”

Cynthia Nixon also refuses to call herself bisexual.  She genuinely states that she was straight before, but she’s gay now. Political blogger and gay activist John Aravosis called her out on the supposed misnomer of her sexual orientation: “It’s not a ‘choice,’ unless you consider my opting to date a guy with brown hair versus a guy with blonde hair a ‘choice.’ It’s only a choice among flavors I already like.  And if you like both flavors, men and women, you’re bisexual, you’re not gay, so please don’t tell people that you are gay, and that gay people can ‘choose’ their sexual orientation, i.e., will it out of nowhere.  Because they can’t.”

My opinion is that I can’t judge what Cynthia Nixon feels or believes.  All I know it isn’t how other people feel or believe.  Maybe some people are able to choose to be attracted to the same sex after many years of being attracted to the opposite sex.  I’m not sure, Cynthia Nixon is the only one I’ve read about or talked to that claims this.  So, I do think this is very rare.  I do know that until recently a lot of LGBT people felt they needed to hide their sexuality.  A lot of them worked hard to deny certain parts of themselves.  They fell in line with their family or cultural beliefs and got married and started a family.  However, inside they still knew they were living a lie.  Some of those people finally came out and are now in same sex relationships.  They would not define themselves as bisexual or say that they chose to become gay later in life due to stresses in their marriage. They’ve known for a very long time they were gay, and only chose to live their life out as a gay person publicly later in life.

It is true that some people in the LGBT community realized they were gay when they were very young.  Others were ignorant of the fact until they were in their teens or twenties.  This still doesn’t prove it is a choice.  All I know is what people tell me about their experiences.  I don’t know too many gay people who would willingly choose to upset their families, lose friends, give up certain hobbies or sports, be discriminated against, always feeling out new situations and jobs to see how receptive others are to them being gay before coming out publicly.  It isn’t easy.  If you talk to anyone who has been through it, you would know there are a lot of times they wish they could choose to be straight.  Just read Ty’s blog post, If I Had A Choice for confirmation.

If I’m going to believe anyone, I’m going to believe the people who are actually going through the experience of coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.  They are the ones who can tell me what they know and what they feel.  I can’t judge for them.  They all tell me they know they were born this way.  I know I didn’t choose to be straight.  I can remember crushes on boys in kindergarten.  I don’t think I really knew why, it just happened that way.  It was most likely stamped in my genetic code.  So why would I think someone who is gay would have a different experience?  They just like to rebel against society?  I don’t think so. 

I hope LGBT people continue to speak up and fight for their rights.  The more people see it and start to become aware and more educated, the less controversial this whole issue will be.  At least that is my hope.  I give them my support and hope I can encourage them in any way I can.  Live and let live.  Love people for who they are, not who they are attracted to sexually, because at the end of the day does that even really matter???

Emotionally Abusive Relationships

It may be hard to believe, but both men and women can be in emotionally abusive relationships.  Why is that people stay in a relationship with an abusive person?  It is more complicated than you think.

First, most people don’t start out being emotionally abusive in a relationship, and it is hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the relationship started to become unhealthy.  Unfortunately after awhile it all becomes a big blur of fighting, screaming, name calling, sometimes even suicidal threats that then lead to a pattern of apologies and make up sex.

Usually when I hear about these type of relationships the abuse starts out very subtle.  Over the first few weeks your new boyfriend or girlfriend may appear charming, laid back and fun to be around.  You start to develop feelings for them.  Then one night they surprise you when they raise their voice over some small issue about not texting them back right away.  At this point you write it off as them having a bad day or being stressed over other things.  Soon you realize they are irritable more often than not.  They yell over little things and start to call you names in angry moments.  A warning bell goes off in your head, but they always seem so apologetic afterwards.  Plus, you realize you’ve already developed feelings so it seems easier to forgive and forget in those first few months.  Another excuse I hear a lot in the beginning of a relationship is that it only happens when they are drinking.  You tend to let it go because the next morning they are back to their normal self and don’t even remember they said something rude.

However, in time each fight makes the emotional abuse become worse and worse.  With each honeymoon period that follows, they tell you things will be different this time around.  You believe them because you think your love can conquer anything.  What is hard for people from the outside to understand is after being told you are stupid, ugly, and any other disrespectful word you can think of, instead of sticking up for yourself you start to doubt your own judgment.  The abuser has started to convince you that no one else would ever want to be with you.  They  can even convince you that you’re lucky to just be in their presence.  Many people who have been emotionally beaten down will do anything they possibly can to prove to their partner they are worthy of their love.   I know this sounds crazy, but emotional abuse does a number on a person’s self-esteem.  This is why some people use it because then it is easier to control the other person.

Some people have given their last dime to their abusive partner to make them happy.  They stop talking to people because their partner tells them to.  They will skip class to run an errand for them.  However, no matter what they do, it never seems to be enough.  They usually still make you feel like you are always too fat, too stupid, too needy, too slutty, too something.

Friends and family who are legitimately concerned about the person being emotionally abused may start to apply pressure to break up with the abuser.  This may sound logical and smart to someone who hasn’t been in an abusive relationship, but to those who are in it, the abuser still seems 50 feet tall and they still feel like they’re 6 inches.  They may logically agree with their friends and family, however they have become used to this dynamic and again don’t trust their own judgment.  The thought of breaking up can seem overwhelming like they are trying to conquer a giant.  They may not be ready to leave even though that solution seems obvious to others.

Being ready to leave is different than knowing you need to leave.  Leaving a relationship is a process.  If you’ve been controlled by someone for a long time it can seem impossible to actually think for yourself and even believe in yourself.  You may consider leaving for a long time before actually being able to go through with it.  Eventually, the relationship becomes so painful that you may finally have the guts to let go.  Most people have to leave a relationship on their own terms and in their own time.  It can be hard for friends and family to realize this.  I also want people to realize this type of abuse has long term affects.  Even after this person leaves the relationship, they still have a long way to go to recover their self-confidence.

After finally leaving an emotionally abusive relationship it can take months, sometimes years to feel yourself again.  An abusive person will strip away a lot of your strength and confidence.  Because you loved the person so much you do start to believe the way they do.  If you have actually adopted the belief that you are worthless piece of crap, realize that belief won’t change overnight.  Your relationship lasted months or years.  That is about how long you’ve been hearing these horrible things about yourself.  To turn that around is going to take about the same amount of time.  You may feel better sooner than later, but to fully recover your self-esteem will take some time.

I encourage students not to give up.  If you’ve been through this type of situation hopefully it has made you smarter and stronger.  You aren’t doomed to repeat the pattern.  Learn from the mistakes and next time you will recognize the red flags.  Talk about it with others.  The quickest way to reduce shame is to accept what happened and use it to help others.  It will help you to heal which keeps your abuser from stealing happiness from your future.  They took enough from your past, don’t let them take any more from you now.  So many people have been where you’ve been and are in healthy relationships today.  You’ll get there too, just give yourself some time.

Fear of…Abandonment

I know you’re thinking, “Abandonment issues?  I don’t have abandonment issues”.  Some people may not even realize some of their decisions while in a relationship are influenced by a fear of abandonment.  Sometimes it’s very obvious.  Some people have been left by their mom, dad, or previous significant other.  They may still be dealing with that loss and be afraid of another in the future.  Other people may have an underlying fear of loss, but have no obvious reason for it.

You  may not realize how powerful fear can be in your life.  Many people will make huge adjustments in their every day life just avoid certain fears.  Fear of fat?  Will try to avoid eating and may exercise a lot.  Fear of heights?  Live in Illinois and will drive many miles to avoid flying.  Fear of getting older?  Pay lots of money for anti-aging creams and laser surgery.  We all have fears and some people choose to face them while others maneuver their lives around them.

In relationships, fear of abandonment has a strong pull.  Some people have an overt fear.  This means they do acknowledge they don’t like to be left and for good reason.  Their fear is real.  Someone they loved left them.  If that person was a parent or someone they depended on it can be very traumatic.  The brain will try to avoid repeating that experience at all costs.   Other people have a covert fear.  This means they make decisions based on their fears, but it isn’t always conscious or deliberate.  They haven’t thought it through far enough to acknowledge their decision is based on a fear.  They never have been left by someone they depended on, but their brain can imagine it happening in the future.  This causes them to do things in relationships whether they are aware of it or not.

So, how does this fear play out in a relationship?  It can look differently depending on the person.  If a person is a people pleaser, they usually will bend over backwards to make the other person happy.  They may take all the responsibility if things go wrong and do their best to make the relationship goes as smoothly as possible.  They will also be the first one to apologize so the fight will end.  If you try to leave they will chase you and beg you to stay.  They can appear very clingy and needy.  They may or may not be aware of their fear of abandonment that drives them to act this way.

If a person is more controlling type, they may try to coerce the person to do what they want.  This means telling the person what they want to hear to get their way.  They may also resort to threats to get a person to stay with them.  They trade a fear for a fear.  They will try to make you afraid to leave them so they don’t have to face their fear.  Usually this type of person can come across as very jealous and insecure.  You may not have given them a reason to be jealous, but their fear influences their thinking.  They may have an irrational fear of you leaving which pushes them to believe you could be cheating or wanting to date someone else.   If you do get tired of being accused of something you aren’t doing, you may actually try to leave.  At this point, they will turn on the charm and beg you to come back.

Of course, life isn’t this black and white and not every situation can be explained so easily.  Usually, people are motivated by several feelings, not just one.  The fear of abandonment is usually just one feeling that is influencing different decisions within the relationship.  It is hard to simplify all the dynamics that go into a relationship.  However, the fear of abandonment can do a lot of damage unless it is addressed.  Like I pointed out earlier, some people will be open about this fear and freely admit they are too clingy or too controlling depending on their personality.  Other people have no insight into why they are acting the way they are.  All they know is that they get pulled into this cycle.  Logically they know they should leave the relationship or let the other person go when they try to leave, but a force inside of them pushes them to do things to try to stay in the relationship.

This is another reason break ups can be so messy and sometimes drag out for a long time.  When those fears kick in, they are very powerful.  They have a huge influence on your decisions.  No one likes to feel anxiety.  If you can find a way to reduce that anxiety, you’ll use it.  Facing the fear actually increases the anxiety at first, which is why it takes so much effort to fight it.

Facing the fear is the only way to conquer it.  It is the only way you can achieve a healthy relationship.   Leaving an unhealthy relationship usually requires an extreme amount of emotional effort, but in the end it is worth it.  Don’t give up.  Your fears are strong, but I also know you are stronger if you only believe in yourself.  Don’t let what happened in your past take away from the happiness in your future.  You can make a positive change.  You can’t control other people and what they are going to do, but you can control your fears and how they influence your life.   Good luck!!

Is it Possible to Really Trust Someone?

Trust…what does this word even mean?  According to dictionary.com, the word trust means the following:

1.  reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
2.  confident expectation of something; hope.
3.  confidence in the certainty of future payment for property or goods received; credit: to sell merchandise on trust.
4.  a person on whom or thing on which one relies: God is my trust.
5.  the condition of one to whom something has been entrusted.
 

Of these definitions, I like the second one the most.  Confident expectation of something; hope.  If you trust someone, you are hoping they won’t let you down.  You expect them to be there for you.  You rely on them.

It seems totally stupid to give someone the benefit of the doubt.  It’s sad to me that in order to protect yourself, you have to make others work to earn your trust.  You can’t just blindly give someone the benefit of the doubt, or you may live to really regret it.  I’m a person who used to trust people pretty easily.  I’d been hurt by friends growing up, but never seriously betrayed.  However, I eventually came across a couple of people who really did a number on me emotionally because of all their lies.  I started to believe there was something wrong with me that I got so taken advantage of.  Now, after working with so many people the last decade, I can see it happens to many of us at some point.

So what do you do after you’ve been hurt so bad?  Let’s say you’ve just been cheated on.  The person you loved and trusted has betrayed you in one of the worst ways.  How do you get past that?  How do you trust again?  These are difficult questions to answer even though I get asked these questions often.  I would say you can look at it two different ways.

In one way you realize you have no control.  There are people out there who will lie just to get what they want.  This isn’t your fault and doesn’t make you a stupid person.  Some people are so patient about it.  They do take the time to win your trust, and then they flip on you.  There is no way to guarantee that someone you start to trust won’t betray you.  We all have to take this risk when we let people into our lives.  When it happens it will be devastating and you will feel very hurt.  You will have to grieve the loss of the person you thought you loved and come to terms with the fact that you may never know what was true and what wasn’t in the relationship.

In another way you do have control.  After you’ve grieved the loss it’s time to take charge and figure out what you could have done differently.  You can’t change the past, but you can use it to be smarter in the future.  Take this time to look back with your 20/20 vision and analyze what happened.   Don’t blame yourself or put yourself down.  Be practical about it, and look for the little signs you missed.  Note those things that you had an instinct about, but ignored at the time.  These are what I call red flags.  If you choose to be honest with yourself about things you missed, you will be more likely to dodge that bullet in the future.  I no longer wish that I hadn’t met those few people who really lied me.  I’m now thankful for all that they taught me.  They kept me from making bigger mistakes in the future, and I learned to trust my judgment again.

I hate cliches’, but I do believe that “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”.  Also, smarter, if you are willing to deal with the issues.  Some people I see tell me they keep meeting the same kind of people and get hurt over and over again.  I believe this usually happens because they didn’t take the time to really grieve the loss or look at what happened in the relationship in-depth.  Instead they chose to circumvent the grief by jumping into a new relationship right away and pushed away thoughts from the past instead of analyzing what happened.

I know it sucks to cry over someone who really hurt you.  You feel they don’t deserve your tears.  However, you do deserve to let yourself feel hurt no matter what the circumstances.  You gave them your heart when you trusted them and now it’s going to hurt that they are gone.  It’s okay to be sad and angry.  Deal with those feelings instead of trying to ignore them.  I also know it doesn’t do any good to dwell in the past, but figuring out what happened isn’t dwelling.  It is using the information from the past in order to prevent it from repeating itself.  Instead of trying to forget about it, try to force yourself to look at what happened so you can learn from it.  It won’t be easy, but it may save you from a lot of pain in the future.

If you are going to be in relationships with others, you are going to have to learn to trust.  You have to learn to trust your own judgment and trust that not everyone is out to get you.  You can’t be in a great relationship if you don’t have trust.  Trust is about confidence.  Confidence in yourself as well as others.  It doesn’t do you or your partner any good if you always have to check up on them or fear that they are always going to leave you .  The more confident you are and the more trust you have in your partner, the less control you have to have in the relationship.  Relationships require you to  give up some control.  If you need 100% control over your life, then stay single!  Letting others in is a risk.  Usually it is well worth it.  Just be smart about who you let in.  Again, try to learn from the past if you do get burned, and don’t give your heart too easily just to avoid loneliness.  If you take your time, you will find there still are a few trustworthy souls out there.

Should Sexual Fantasies Become Reality?

I guess that would depend on the fantasy.  What I’ve seen is that the combination of casual sex and internet pornography has made more people believe that their sexual fantasies should become reality.  I guess if you are single and find others to help you live out your fantasy, it probably doesn’t cause too much harm.  However, relationships still do exist.  I believe sexual fantasies can cause problems in relationships when it comes time to actually try to live them out.  I’ve had many people tell me that they felt pressured to live out their partner’s sexual fantasy or fear losing them to someone else.

This seems to cause a lot of stress and anxiety for some people.  What if you don’t share the same sexual fantasy as your partner?  Should you do it anyway to please them?  What if they promise they only want to try it once, but then afterwards they beg you to do it again?  What if their sexual fantasy involves another partner or multiple partners?

It is a hard call.  If you love someone and they are asking something of you that makes you feel really uncomfortable, it becomes hard to decide what to do.  Should you be selfless even though you don’t feel you can handle what they are asking of you?  Should you stand up for yourself even if that means they may eventually cheat on you or leave you for someone else altogether?  Compromise in these kind of situations can be really difficult.  Someone is going to have to give something up.

My first instinct is to tell someone not to compromise on their values or morals.  If something goes against what you believe, it will cause you mental and emotional stress if you follow through with it.  In this case I would encourage you to talk to your partner and let them know why you object.  If you have strong beliefs, then you will be able to handle it if this person leaves you to pursue their fantasy.  If you compromise your beliefs, resentment will build and cause your relationship to endure a lot of stress.  Either way, your relationship is going to suffer if you have very different beliefs about sex, and one person isn’t willing to give in.

If your partner is asking you to do something you fear or feel uncomfortable with, then I would ask you to explore the reasons for why you feel this way.  Sometimes it is good to face fears to push beyond your comfort zone.  It really depends on what is making you uncomfortable.  Some people have had bad experiences or abuse in the past, or they are close to someone who has tried the same thing with negative results.  This can cause a person to be very reluctant and fearful about trying out their partner’s sexual fantasy.  If this is the case, I would encourage you to talk to your partner and help them to understand why you are so fearful.  Hopefully they will understand and be patient with you.  If they show support and understanding, it may help you to feel more confident exploring new sexual territory despite your fears.  If that doesn’t work, hopefully they will respect your fears and be able to keep their fantasy just a fantasy.

If your partner doesn’t understand or feels you are being too selfish, stop and think about your relationship with this person.  Are you always giving in to make this person happy?  Do they make sacrifices for you?  If you feel you are always holding back in your relationship, your partner may feel they have to choose you over themselves too often.  You may want to figure out where you can compromise more in the relationship.  However, if you find you are always giving in and your partner doesn’t seem to make any sacrifices for you, you may want to consider why this is happening.  Relationships are hard, but they shouldn’t be completely one sided.  In this case, I would definitely encourage you stand up for yourself and set better boundaries in your relationship.  Both people count and should have a say about what happens in their relationship.

I’m all for trying new things and making your partner happy.  However, everyone has their limits.  It is good to know what your limits are and be able to set boundaries in your relationship, as well as in your sex life, even if that means you risk losing the person.  If you want to push beyond your comfort zone, go for it.  You can always try something once and if it doesn’t work out, be strong enough to communicate that to your partner and move on.  That is usually how we find out what are actual limits are.  You may be surprised you can enjoy and be comfortable with more than you think you can.

*Just an added warning*  When it comes to sexual fantasies of threesomes and adding multiple partners, think long and hard about following through on this one.  If you are in a committed, long term relationship this can cause future problems.  Even when both people are open to it, unexpected jealousy and feelings of betrayal can happen.  You may think your relationship is strong enough to endure adding sexual partners, but I’ve met with many people who have tried to live out this sexual fantasy only to have it ruin their relationship.  Watching your partner have sex with someone else, even if you are involved can really affect you emotionally.  I find that many people are still insecure with themselves as well as their relationship.  Adding another person into the sexual mix can heighten those insecurities.  Jealousy is a strong emotion and it is hard to keep it under wraps.

I believe sometimes it is better to keep a sexual fantasy just that, a fantasy.  Real life isn’t a porno movie, just like real life isn’t a romantic comedy.  Sometimes fantasies can hurt relationships, more than they help, because they can cause expectations to be too high.  Be aware of your expectations in your relationship and try to be more realistic when it comes to living some of your sexual, as well as emotional, fantasies out.  Again, sometimes fantasies, which are kept strictly fantasies, are more able to enhance your sex life and your relationship then going after the real thing.

Coming Out Stories #3

Story #3 is from a former Marine Corps at Texas A&M.  This is his story:

“Semper Fidelis”

I didn’t grow up with much, but values were instilled in me at a young age have been the guiding light for every decision that I have made.  I firmly believe that it is those principles that compelled me to eventually join the Marine Corps.  When I was seventeen, I decided to meet with a recruiter and quite honestly he couldn’t have been more disgusted with me.  I know this, only because he told me.  I was not athletic.  At 5 feet 2 inches I weighed a mere 85 pounds, and was able to complete one complete pull-up.  One.

Despite lacking in athleticism, my recruiter, committed to his efforts to helping me become a good Marine.  He motivated me, called me his “prodigy’, and before long I was in love with the Corps.  I learned about Texas A&M and their Corps of Cadets.  I joined the Corps, was part of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band, and was even Commanding Officer of my outfit during my senior year.  To say that I was in love with Texas A&M would be an understatement.  In fact, I never wanted to leave.

As college went on, I became more and more aware of my sexuality.  I talked to a few close friends along the way, but still considered myself “in the closet” as I came to terms with the fact that I may be gay.  This fact played a small part of my decision making when I decided after my junior year that I still wanted to join the Marines.  I had an idea of what “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was, but my aspirations and hard work meant more to me at the time than the struggle of understanding my sexuality.  At twenty years old, like many young adults gay and straight, I just wasn’t sure about who I was.  Years later, I think I am still figuring it out, but the difference now is, I know that I am gay.

After three years of the Corps at A&M, I was in excellent shape and never once faltered.  Even during the 10 mile hikes, with 80 pound packs on my back, I stayed as close to the front as possible.  I was enjoying college, enjoying the Marine Corps and I had no complaints.

However, shortly after, things began to take a turn for the worse.  It started when I went out with some friends to a local bar.    I was around a lot of people, a few who knew I was gay, and some who didn’t.  The fact that I was gay was brought up in conversation and was at first shrugged off.  Some other Marines began heckling and started making inappropriate comments towards me.  It became aggressive.  The days that followed involved me worrying that the Marines at the bar would tell my command chain about my sexual orientation.  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” forced me into isolation and into a point in my life where I thought I couldn’t trust anyone.

After a few weeks I reluctantly talked to a Corporal from my unit, and E-4 who I felt comfortable around.  I told him what had happened and consequently told him that I was gay.  He told my Sergeant the story and surprisingly, they calmed me, reassured me and told me it was not a big deal.  To them, the only thing that mattered was that I get to the unit in Waco for the weekend drill.  I did as instructed only to find out that my story had spread and reached my 1st Sergeant and Commanding Officer.  The two Marines I had confided in were asked to write written statements and they complied.  This began a ten month investigation.

When I walked in to my 1st Sergeant’s  office that day the first thing he asked me was, “Are you gay?”  I stood there in what was immediately a hostile environment.  I hesitated, but answered honestly.  He proceeded to tell me that there was no way he could protect my privacy, as he could not stop the “grapevine” and that he would not be responsible for what people within the unit said or did.  When I met with Commanding Officer later the same day he went over everything I had said and told me why I should be getting discharged but said nothing to confirm it.  I was simply told to “hang tight” and wait on what the Battalion Commander would say.

I hoped that the two Marines that I had confided in would be the people that would help protect my privacy.  At that point I did not feel safe and I did not know who else to contact.  I wasn’t out to my family and my pride kept me from telling my friends in college about it.  I was alone, I was depressed.  I waited and waited to see what would happen to my position in the Marines and did not hear anything for months.  Ultimately I contacted a friend from the unit and asked him to find out my status.  He got back to me about a week later and informed me that I was discharged from the Marine Corps in April of 2010.

It took everything I had in me to call home.  My family still didn’t know about my sexuality, and they didn’t know that I had been discharged.  When I finally called, it was a conversation that I hadn’t expected.  Growing up in a devout Catholic household, I didn’t know how my family would take the news.  Once I told them everything that had happened, I started crying and tears were coming from both ends of the phone.  There was no anger or betrayal.  The biggest concern that my family had was that I had to endure the struggle alone.

Since coming out I’ve been very vocal about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, having appeared on MSNBC, CNN and in newspapers and blogs nationally.  I have received a lot of feedback, especially from  people at A&M.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t all been positive.  Several said that I should keep my mouth shut and that I should have kept my mouth shut in the first place.  There were many times when I wondered if I had done the right thing.

Many will say that I have lived through a series of unfortunate events.  I won’t deny that statement, but I choose to look at it differently.  I am in my position because I decided not to compromise my integrity; because I chose to stand up instead of turn a blind eye; because I chose to say something instead of shutting up like many urged me to do.  I didn’t think I had it in me to do those things, but I can say I am a better man because of it.  I’m still growing, still learning, like everyone else, but for once I know this:  I will never again be silent, I will never back down and I will not waste any more time hiding who I am.

I am a gay man, and I couldn’t be prouder.

I Want You to Hurt Like I Hurt

Pain is the gift that keeps on giving.  No matter how you try, you just can’t get rid of it by throwing it at someone else.  Yet, many people seem to keep trying anyway.

I recently read a story.  This guy falls in love and moves in with his girlfriend.  Soon after he finds his girlfriend having sex with her ex-boyfriend.  He goes crazy, beats the crap out of the guy, screams at his girlfriend, grabs some stuff and leaves the apartment.  He becomes bitter and angry.  He now doesn’t trust women or relationships.  For awhile he only uses women for sex, but doesn’t get involved deeper than that.  He doesn’t acknowledge how hurt he is, he only acknowledges that he is pissed off at the world.

In time he meets another girl.  However, this time is different.  This time he feels more than just a sexual attraction.  He starts to fall in love with her.  This is when he should finally be able to let go of his past anger, learn to trust again and live happily ever after right??  Well, as we all know, life just isn’t that easy.

He doesn’t acknowledge how afraid he is of being hurt again.  He doesn’t admit he still has unresolved pain and anger from his ex.  However, it comes out in his actions.  He starts breaking up with his new girlfriend for no reason.  Then in moments of panic, he begs her to come back.  When things start to go well, he finds a reason to start an argument.  They continue the cycle of breaking up and getting back together.  He knows he is in love with her, but doesn’t know how to withstand the vulnerability that true love brings to a relationship.  He believes if he is a jaded and bitter jerk then he could never get hurt again.  He continues to push her away even though she begs him to take her back.

She finally moves on because she can’t handle his hostility any more.  She starts dating someone new.  He realizes that he pushed her away with his negative emotions from his last relationship.  He wants her back, but doesn’t feel he can ruin what she has now to ask her to come back to him.  He starts to analyze why he pushed her away when he truly did love her.  He starts to heal the wound that has been haunting him and realizes he wasn’t avoiding the pain by being a jerk after all.  He was still in pain even though he was trying to push his pain onto someone else.  He now knows he ruined a really good thing because he couldn’t get past the betrayal from his ex.

He runs in to her a few months later and admits to himself that he has continued to think about her every day.  He doesn’t tell her this, but he does tell her he still loves her and misses her.  He asks her if she is happy.  She says that she is content in her new relationship.  He realizes she is still in love with him.  She starts to kiss him and he knows he could have sex with her if he wanted to.  He stops himself when he realizes he would be causing her to cheat on her boyfriend and he doesn’t want to bring her further into his negative emotion cycle.  He doesn’t really want to hurt her current boyfriend the way he was hurt by his ex.

He knows that her current boyfriend, even though he isn’t making her overly happy, is providing commitment and emotional stability that he wasn’t able to provide.  He tells her that although he had no problem breaking up his own relationship, he couldn’t break up hers for his own selfish reasons.  He admitted that he was terrified of hurting her again.  Even though he wanted to be with her, he couldn’t reassure her that he wouldn’t push her away again.  She told him she understood, even though she was sad, and left.

He wasn’t able to ask her to leave her current boyfriend, although this is what he hopes for.  He had to let the one girl he truly loved go, and he isn’t sure if she will come back.  In the mean time, he finally broke down and cried about all the pain he had been going through and holding back.  He finally wasn’t ashamed to show how he was really feeling.  He was learning that he had hurt a lot of people because he got hurt, and this wasn’t the way he wanted to continue to deal with his pain.  He hopes that one day he will be more trusting and vulnerable in a relationship.  He hopes the girl he pushed away will come back someday.  Until then he will continue to be single, take care of himself, and improve those areas he struggles the most with.

It is torture to live with pain.  As counselor, I have learned that if someone dumps a pile of crap (pain, anger, hurt) in front of you, you have three choices in how to deal with it.  First, you can pretend the pain isn’t there.  You can ignore it or try to forget it ever happened.  In time, most people will need drugs, alcohol, sex, food or other distractions to help them stay in this type of denial.  Pain has a way of sticking around even if you try to continue ignoring it.

Second, you can pick it up and try to throw it at someone else.  Many people try to give their pain to others and feel justified in doing it.  Pain can make someone very irrational.  The only catch is, it never really goes away.  It stays with you, only now you’ve spread it out farther than yourself and others are suffering as well.

Third, you can put some boots on and start wading through it.  Facing the pain and moving forward is the only way to truly get through it.  I believe you don’t really “get over” things.  However, I do believe you can get through things.  It isn’t easy to face your pain, but it is worth it.  You can handle it, because you are stronger than you think.  You also don’t have to dwell on your past to deal with it either.  It’s just being able to acknowledge it and feel the pain that you haven’t let yourself feel before.  The pain does lessen in time if you let yourself actually feel it.  You can choose to deal with it alone, or ask someone you trust to help you through it.

Also, realize courage isn’t the absence of fear.  Courage is knowing what you fear and being willing to face it anyway.  If you fear pain, then I hope you will have the courage to face it in your future.

Facing Rejection

It’s not easy to put yourself out there.  Some people live to meet new people and have no fear going up and starting a conversation with a perfect stranger.  Other people struggle with their fear of rejection.  They are interested in new people around them, but it can be scary to start something with someone new.  Especially if you’ve recently gone through a bad break up or you’ve been single for awhile.

If you have fear, the only way to get over it is to face it.  Outgoing people will tell you they are less worried about how they feel and more concerned with making others feel good.  If your goal is go out and meet new people, try to take your focus off your fear and focus on making just one person you meet smile.  Realize that not everyone you meet is going to be interested in talking to you.  That doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or with something you said.  Some people just won’t be in a good mood or be interested in any type of conversation.  Don’t let those people set you back.

Look for people who seem more open or friendly.  Dare yourself to give them a compliment.  Try to learn something from what they are wearing or how they are interacting with others.  Use your observation skills to give you something to start a conversation with.  If you’ve ever noticed, shoes will tell you a lot about a person.  Shoes can give you clues into hobbies someone has or what type of job they do.  Their shoes can tell you if they are more laid back or more stylish with fashion.  Their clothes will also give you other clues as well.  Finally, look at their face and their body language.  Do they gesture or show a lot of expression?  Or do they seem more closed off because their arms or crossed and their face seems blank?

Also, realize that you are giving off vibes as well.  What does your appearance say about you?  Non-verbal cues give off a lot of information to others to let them know if you are more open or closed to being approached.  Are you smiling and interacting with others?  Or are you sitting alone hunched over your drink at the bar?  You don’t have to be super fit and all GQ to get attention.  Your appearance does matter, but how you are projecting yourself to others matters even more.  You want to seem approachable instead of giving off a vibe that says, “Please leave me alone”.

It is okay to be nervous, but try to be aware if you are sending off desperation signals.  Sometimes you can try TOO hard and make the initial approach very awkward.  Remember to think positive and tell yourself positive things to keep your anxiety at bay.  Every person has great qualities, but not all people are aware or acknowledge their positive traits.  Try to focus on those qualities and realize you have a lot to offer other people.  When people get nervous they can focus too much on the negative and think of everything that can go wrong.  Instead, try to stop yourself from going down that path and try to be more positive about yourself and others around you.  Confidence will carry you a long way.

Even if you don’t feel all that confident, you can fake it a little until you get more comfortable initiating conversations.  Practicing will make it easier.  I often tell some of my shyer students to start conversations in less intimidating places.  For example, smile and ask how the gas station attendant’s day is going.  Talk to the cashier at Wal-Mart or the grocery store.  Go to places where you don’t know anyone and take a few risks without too much pressure.  The more you risk facing rejection, the easier it will become.  You will become used to the fact that not everyone responds positively, but that a lot of people will.

The key to remember is that you aren’t trying to make yourself feel better, you are trying to make someone else feel better that day.  Not every person you interact with has soul mate potential or even one night stand potential, but you never know when you may interact with the right person who ends up becoming someone significant in your life.  Just don’t give up and remember that nothing in life worth having is ever easy.

“Whether you think you can or you can’t- you are right”  Henry Ford

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”  Eleanor Roosevelt

“This time, like all times is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Fall seven times, stand up eight”  Japanese Proverb

Losing Yourself in a Relationship

It can be easy to lose yourself in a relationship.  In the beginning you can be so excited by the possibility of love that you can lose what makes you really you.  Not that you change completely, but sometimes people find afterwards that they gave “too much” of themselves just to be in a relationship.

Trust me, this isn’t an easy balance.  You don’t want to be too selfish and demanding in a relationship.  However, you don’t want to shove all your wants and desires away to get someone to like you.  Again, this can be hard because most people have a tendency to give in and overlook things when they are first dating.  This could give your potential boyfriend or girlfriend the wrong idea about you and your personality.  I’ve heard a lot of people say their partner changed after a few months in the relationship.  What tends to happen is that it’s easy to give in a couple of times, especially in the beginning.  For example, it may not be too much of a hardship to watch a couple of football games when you start dating someone.  However, it is whole other thing when your partner wants to watch 6 or more hours of football every Sunday with a few hours on Saturday and Monday night thrown in too.  Your boyfriend or girlfriend could be confused by the fact that you all of a sudden hate football or don’t want to watch 5 games in a weekend with them.  It isn’t that you “changed”, it is just that you are becoming more yourself in the relationship.

This can happen in all sorts of ways in a relationship.  Most people don’t always speak up about what they like or don’t like right away because they don’t want to risk being rejected.  Some people even falsely believe that they will be able to make a permanent change in one of their habits or interests.  This can be true on occasion.  Some people do broaden their horizons and find they like or are interested in something they’ve never really tried before.  However, most of the time, you know in the back of your mind you don’t like something but continue to tolerate it for a certain period of time in the beginning of a relationship.

That is why it is called the honeymoon period.  Everyone is more accommodating in the beginning.  Just be aware that you don’t sacrifice too much of yourself in the beginning that it becomes really  hard to assert yourself later.  You want to be as honest as you can be about yourself.  It is better to take the risk of being rejected, then to be loved for someone you’re not.  It took me a while to learn this myself.  I finally got to the point where I felt I would rather be rejected within the first couple weeks so I could move on faster, than wait a few months and find it was really a lot harder to face the rejection once I really liked someone.

If a person really can’t accept something about you, isn’t it better to figure that out sooner than later?  You don’t have to pretend you are into something just please someone else or get them to like you.  Everyone has different habits and interests.  It isn’t always easy to find someone who gets you.  It is also okay that not everyone does get you.  It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you.  Not all people are meant to be compatible.  It is okay to make small changes or to stretch yourself in a relationship.  You just don’t have to stretch so far that you end up breaking.  Know your limits and try to be upfront about it even within the first few dates.

If you have a fear of rejection or being alone, you can work on it.  Fear is the main reason people try to change or give things up to make a relationship work.  Try to work on facing those fears.  Then you will feel stronger and more confident.  Then hopefully you find a really great relationship instead of settling for whatever comes your way.  It isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible.  If you feel fear is holding you back, I suggest you talk to someone who can help you through it.  Try to figure out and understand why you do what you do when it comes to relationships so you can make positive changes if necessary.  We are all works in progress.  Don’t be too hard on yourself if this post describes you.  I’m sure it describes a good percentage of the population.  There is hope for change and you can find a way to be more balanced in your current or future relationships.

First, figure out who you are and respect yourself.  Second, learn how to communicate that to someone else.  Third, learn to recognize what you can and can’t handle in a relationship with someone else.  Last, be confident in your choice even if that means possibly being single for a little while.

Was I Raped?

You think you would know if you’d been raped right?  Not necessarily.  I’ve had women come in for counseling because they felt a friend or acquaintance took advantage of them, either while they were drinking or while they were feeling vulnerable.  They either felt they couldn’t say no or felt pressured by the person they thought they could trust.

Acquaintance Rape happens a lot more often then being assaulted by a stranger.  Over 77% of women report being sexually assaulted by someone they know.  Of those 77% only 2% will actually report the assault.  Why do you think so many women refuse to come forward?  Sometimes it is out of fear.  Sometimes it’s because the woman blames herself for getting into the situation.  Sometimes the woman feels she didn’t say no forcefully enough.   A lot of the time, women will minimize their feelings and try to tell themselves to just forget what happened.

The following situation is an example of why sexual assault isn’t always so black and white.  A lot of men and women are friends with each other.  One night a woman runs into one of her male friends.  She is upset, and he offers to listen and give her some advice.  She starts crying and opening up about what happened with another guy.  She tells him she feels rejected and unlovable.   Her male friend offers comfort and support.  He may start to hug her and rub her back.  It starts to get late and he asks her to stay a little longer so she won’t feel lonely.  They hang out and talk some more.  He starts to cuddle with her and before she realizes it they are kissing.  She says she should leave, but he convinces her that the other guy is stupid for rejecting her.  He tells he thinks she is beautiful, and he would never do that to her.  He continues to touch her and she gives in.  Soon most of their clothing is removed.  She starts to push him away again, but he resists and continues to hold and touch her.  He tells her not to worry, he’ll treat her right.  She feels guilty for letting things go this far.  She also feels she owes him for listening to her.  They have sex.

The best outcome of this scenario is the next day she feels bad about giving in and having sex.  She feels she consented in the end because she didn’t say no.  She may confront her friend and tell him she regrets her decision and doesn’t want to have sex with him again.  She may or may not ever choose to open up to him again when she feels upset or vulnerable.  She may also have lost some respect or trust for him, but doesn’t feel traumatized by the event.

The next best scenario is the next day she feels bad about giving in and having sex.  She regrets it, but doesn’t feel strong enough to say anything to him.  She may act like it never happened.  She most likely will avoid talking to him when she feels so upset and vulnerable.  She has lost trust and respect for her friend.  A distance grows between them.  She may feel a little upset about the event, but tells herself she has lived and learned.  Next time she will open up to a girlfriend or talk to her guy friends during the daytime when she feels a little safer.

The worst scenario is the next day she feels sick to her stomach when she thinks about what happened.  She feels violated.  She regrets not saying no more forcefully, but feels he should have known she wasn’t there for sex.  She wishes he would have listened when she tried to stop him earlier and pushed him away.  She not only has lost trust and respect for this male friend, she now feels like he is a predator who only listened to her so he could get sex.  She feels traumatized by the event and can’t stop thinking about it.  She is very emotional and doesn’t know what she should do now.  She is very afraid of seeing him again.  Will anyone believe her?  She may start to blame herself and tell herself all the things she should have done.  She most likely won’t report it.  She will go on to blame herself even though somewhere inside she knows she was sexually assaulted by her friend.

Research funded by the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that  1 out of 5 college women will be sexually assaulted.  September happens to be the month when most sexual assaults are reported.  School has just begun and many college students are experiencing their freedom for the first time.  Students go out with their friends and blow off stress from the week.  Some may drink and end up in situations similar to the one above.  The next day they may feel they were assaulted, but don’t report it because they blame themselves for drinking too much.

Unfortunately, sexual assault can happen in all different types of situations.  However, they all leave the person assaulted feeling very vulnerable, scared and alone.  A lot of guilt is also embedded into these situations.  I used the above example to show that rape isn’t always black and white.  Different people are going to feel differently after experiencing similar situations.  However, your feelings are not wrong, whether you feel just slightly uncomfortable or horribly traumatized.  Everyone is different, and your feelings are more true than the details of how it happened.  No one can tell you that you shouldn’t feel something.

If you do feel traumatized, it does help to talk about it.  Processing your feelings can help you move through them.  This will make them less powerful in your mind and help you learn to not blame yourself.  You won’t “get over it”, but it may help you not think about it all the time or have nightmares about it.   I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but I do know that women have worked through this and felt they were able to take their power back.  If you are continuing to struggle, please see a counselor or someone non-judgmental who won’t tell you how to feel, but help you process your feelings no matter what they are.