Gay: A man who is sexually and emotionally attracted to other men.
Lesbian: A woman who is sexually and emotionally attracted to other women.
Bisexual: A person who is sexually and emotionally attracted to both women and men.
Sexual Orientation: The American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as such: Sexual orientation is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual, or affectional attraction that a person feels toward another person. Sexual orientation falls along a continuum. In other words, someone does not have to be exclusively homosexual or heterosexual, but can feel varying degrees of attraction for both genders. Sexual orientation develops across a person’s lifetime—different people realize at different points in their lives that they are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
They go on to say that sexual behavior is not the same as sexual orientation. Certainly gay individuals can engage in heterosexual sex, in fact many do before they come out.
Also, the work of Alfred Kinsey in the 1950s determined that most individuals are not exclusively homosexual or heterosexual, but most fall somewhere in between the two.
Finding Out Who You Are
Vivienne Cass developed a six-step process that is regarded as a good model of developmental stages for the self-acceptance of gay, lesbian and bisexual persons. Certainly not everyone will go through all of these steps and you may not go through them in this order. But this six-step process can help you make sense of what you are going through.
* Step One: Identity Confusion
“Who am I?” is the major question in this step. You start to notice your attraction to same-sex and really question what it means. Am I a gay man? Am I a lesbian woman? Am I bisexual?
* Step Two: Identity Comparison
In this phase you might try to find an explanation for why you are having the feelings you are having. “Maybe I am a gay/lesbian. Or maybe I’m bisexual.” You might feel totally alone, like you are the only one who has gone through this. You could be asking yourself, “Is this a phase?” “Am I only attracted to this one friend or will this be a life-long thing?”
* Step Three: Identity Tolerance
In this stage you might begin to accept that you probably are gay, lesbian or bisexual. Or you might come to terms with some parts of being a gay/lesbian, but not fully embrace it. You might come to accept the fact that you have fallen in love with your friend, but that it will never happen with another person. You might seek out others online or in your life to socialize with. You might get into counseling or a support group.
* Step Four: Identity Acceptance
In this stage you begin to accept, rather than just tolerate your sexual identity. You begin to form friendships with other gays, lesbians and bisexual persons. You begin to realize that being gay, lesbian or bisexual is okay and that your life can and will be happy and fulfilling. You may begin to come out to a few people or close friends.
* Step Five: Identity Pride
You may start to feel a sense of belonging in the community and start to come out to more and more people. Sometimes you might get angry and militant in this phase, angry at the rights that gays and lesbians don’t have. May get involved in gay and lesbian activism.
* Step Six: Identity Synthesis
In this stage being gay, lesbian or bisexual is integrated into who you are. It’s so much a part of you that you rarely think about it, unless there is a reason, like witnessing homophobia. You might have a more holistic view of yourself and feel equally comfortable in straight and gay, lesbian, bisexual environments. Your gay/lesbian identity is integrated with all aspects of yourself.
Question: Is being gay or lesbian a choice?
Most gay and lesbian people will tell you being gay is not a choice. Most scientific organizations also believe that homosexuality is not a choice, that biology plays some role. The National Mental Health Association says, “Most researchers believe sexual orientation is complex, and that biology plays an important role. This means that many people are born with their sexual orientation, or that it’s established at an early age.”
No one really knows why some people are gay or lesbian and others are straight or bisexual. But what we do know is that homosexuality has existed all throughout history.