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My friend says he is gay, what should I do?

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Q:

Help! My best friend just confessed that he thinks he may be gay. Now I'm afraid to be alone with him because I think he may start hitting on me. I won't take showers with him after gym or soccer practice. I just feel funny around him now. I don't know how to handle this, what should I do?

A:

The first thing you need to do is take a step back from your feelings of shock and confusion and try to see things rationally. This is easier than it sounds, but it is not impossible. Being homosexual in modern Western culture carries with it a great deal of social taboo and ostracization. It is not an easy thing for anyone to have to face the type of ignorance that homosexuality is subject to in our culture, be it the person who feels they are gay, or those who care for him or her. It is normal to feel that you are going to be subject to the stigma simply by being associated with somebody who is gay and it is natural for you to feel the urge to pull away. It takes a person of strong character and confidence to stare down that stigma for the bigotry that it is an stand on the side of right. In this case there is no doubt that the right thing to do is stand by your friend.

By coming to terms with the reality of the situation you may find yourself better able to handle it. For starters, you need to realize that your friend is still the same person he was before you knew how he was feeling. He is the same, what has changed is the amount of personal knowledge between you. You now know something of very intimate and potentially life altering proportions about your friend. Granted, it is not easy learning that a friend is not what or who you thought he was, but is sexual orientation the only thing that keeps you "best friends"? I am willing to bet it isn't. At this time you need to take a deep inventory of what your friendship really is and what it is really based upon. Use the things you still have in common to keep a sense of normality in your friendship while you both adjust to what has changed. Never lose sight of the fact that his being gay is not about you, which brings me to another point.

It is an all too common assumption of straight men who meet gay men that those gay men "want" them. The fact is that your friend most likely sees you the same way he always has, as a friend. Just because he is exploring his sexuality does not mean he wants to explore it with you. It is possible for him to be homosexual and NOT be attracted to you, just as it is possible for a straight girl NOT to be attracted to you. Unless his confession included a clear indication that he was coming out to you out of a desire to be with you romantically, let go of your fears that he is interested in anything more than your friendship. The real reason he has confided such a personal thing in a "best friend" is that he needs the stability of that friendship right now. He needs to have someone to count on when his own feelings are so mixed up. It is a great testimony to the depth of your friendship that he has chosen you to lean on, it speaks volumes about his respect for you and of your past performance as a friend. You should feel flattered, not fearful.

Coming out is not an easy thing for anybody to do, it is even harder when you are a teenager. Teenagers are already dealing with "normal" identity issues and something as socially looked down upon as being gay can put an already confused teen in to a state of turmoil. It is not uncommon for homosexual teens of both genders to ignore their natural urges and cling to the heterosexual "norm" with an unhealthy vengeance. Many gay teens try to overcompensate by being VERY straight in their behaviours, and gay teens in denial can act more homophobic than gay-weary straight teens. Gay teens have a higher rate of suicide than their straight peers, they report less enjoyment of school and school related activities and more distant relationships with family. For teens who "stay in the closet" the negatives are much more pronounced. Be it easy for you to accept or not, your friends coming out is the healthiest thing he could do, both for your friendship and for his own peace of mind. I urge you to have the same consideration for your friendship as he clearly does by offering him all the support he needs and wants.

You can not ever understand what it is like to be another person. What you can do is stay real to the situation at hand, no matter what it may be. Your friend's sexual orientation has little more impact on your life than; his drinking preferences, drug use, current steady date or academic performance. What will have a huge impact on your life is the loss of a dear friend. Your "best friend" trusted you and your friendship enough to confide this in you. Gay people tend to first come out to those they trust and to those who they need in their lives. You say you are "best friends", now it is time for you to attach some real meaning to that title. Let go of your irrational fears by discussing them with him openly. Tell him that you want to help him but that you too will need help. Make sure he knows how you feel but also make sure he knows that your feelings will not stop you from being a friend to him. Stand by your friend, back off when he wants you to, let him tell you what he needs from your friendship and then give it to him to the best of your ability. When all is said and done, he is still the friend you cared for before the confession. How will you feel about yourself if you abandon him when he needs you most? After all, "a friend is a friend until the end", even if that end is really a new beginning for your friendship.

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