Get Real! She Came Out, And Now I’m Questioning Myself

Heather Corinna

While some people will say they "just knew" if they were gay, straight or bi early on, others have a longer period of questioning. Sexual orientation is something it makes sense to take time to determine just by observing ourselves and our lives.

Amy asks:

My friend
came out to me the other day. I’ve never doubted my sexuality, but in
the instant that she told me this, I got this weird feeling. I actually
thought to myself in that instant that I could possibly feel more than
just friendly towards her. I fantasized or a moment that, if she did
come on to me, I wouldn’t be too unhappy about it and might actually be
with her in that way.

I’ve become frustrated with men recently. The guy I’d been crushing
on after mending a broken heart told me he was gay (which would be the
third time in a row this has happened). Could this just be a reaction
to that? I doubt that I’m a lesbian, as I think I’d know something like
that by now. Could I be bi? Could I be straight but still experiment
without being "bi"? Am I taking this teeny thought WAY too seriously?

Heather replies:

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Our sexual orientation is about who we do feel attracted to, sexually and emotionally.

It’s not about who we’re not frustrated with, who we are not attracted to, who might make do or what someone else’s orientation is.

The organization Avert
does a really nice job of laying out what sexual orientation is and how
to define it really nicely. On that page, they also posit this basic
reminder:

The main points to bear in mind when defining heterosexuality or homosexuality are:

  • The three main factors are sexual attraction, sexual behaviour and
    identity. For most people the factors go together in congruent way. So
    people tend to behave sexually in line with their sexual feelings. i.e.
    People tend to be sexually active with people they are attracted to.
  • However, sexual identity and behavior may be quite fluid over a
    period of time and they may not always coincide with each other as
    people’s feelings change. For example, a person may have at some point
    in their life a partner of the opposite sex and then later on someone
    of the same sex.
  • Applying labels to people is not necessarily a good or accurate way
    of describing them. There may be phases in a person’s life when their
    sexual feelings and behavior are very clearly homosexual or
    heterosexual. However, at other times, labeling them as heterosexual
    or homosexual does not fit exactly with their sexual behavior or
    feelings.

For most of us, whether we are gay, lesbian, bisexual or
heterosexual, the light that turns on that gives us clues about what
our orientation may be is feelings we have — not that we feel we could
have, but that we do have — for other people. That’ll usually start
with a crush or two. Later on, we may have feelings for others who have
mutual feelings for us and date or get involved in relationships.
(Mind: when we’re anything but heterosexual, we may have or pursue
fewer same-sex relationships, even if we want them, because we’re less
socialized to do so and/or more afraid of judgment or being outed
before we’re ready.) Over time, we’ll tend to see patterns of who we
feel drawn to — sexually, emotionally — and then see how we feel in
relationships with those people. We can then interpret those patterns
and our overall feelings to determine what our orientation is or seems
most likely to be. While some people will say they "just knew" if they
were gay, straight or bi early on, others have a longer period of
questioning, so orientation is something it makes sense to take time to
determine just by observing ourselves and our lives. There are people
in their 40’s who are still questioning.

By all means, if orientations other than heterosexuality have never
seemed real to you, or you never really knew anyone close to you who
was gay, lesbian or bisexual, being introduced to that as something
real may well result in you asking yourself some questions, considering
some things you might not have otherwise. If a given career path never
seemed real or valid to me before, and then it’s laid out before me by
someone who feels solid about it, I might see myself in a slightly
different way with other options potentially open to me I didn’t see as
options before. Too, perhaps this moment with your friend may have been
a light bulb for you… or not.

I’d suggest tossing out your feelings of frustration with men right
now when it comes to this issue. How you feel about men doesn’t tell
you anything at all about how you feel about women.

As well, the guys you have had interest in being gay is really not
the central issue with your frustration: the fact that they didn’t
share your interest and were unavailable to you was. It doesn’t much
matter why they were unavailable. Welcome to dating, gal: often we’ll
have a lot of strikeouts before we hit upon a love match, for any
number of reasons. If you had crushes on three women who all turned out
to be uninterested in you or unavailable to you, would that say
anything about how you felt about men? Nope. Would that mean you were
heterosexual? Nope, because how someone else feels about us or if they
reciprocate our feelings doesn’t tell us anything about our own
identity. Our orientation is about who we are attracted to, not about who is or isn’t attracted to us.

You’re not likely to walk into good relationships if a big reason
you’re pursuing them is because you’re frustrated with someone else or
some other group of people. Good relationships are about the people
actually involved in them, not about the people who aren’t. So, if you
want to look into dating women because you earnestly feel attracted to
women, by all means, knock yourself out. However, I’m not hearing that
you have actually yet had those feelings: I hear you saying that you
had a moment where you thought you possibly could feel that way, rather than actually feeling that way.

If you feel like your more central motivation is that you’d want to
do so just to see if that worked out better when it came to having your
feelings returned, or because you see women who are available to you
and have been finding men are not, I’d say that’s a pretty lousy
(however understandable) motivation, especially from the vantage point
of whoever you’d be dating. It also isn’t likely to work out: lesbian
or bisexual women aren’t automatically interested in all women, just
like heterosexual women aren’t interested in all men. And no one is
going to feel good being anyone’s backup plan when what they really
want isn’t working out. Who, in your heart of hearts, if you got to
have exactly who and what you wanted, do you really envision yourself
being with?

Might you be lesbian? Well, if all your feelings have been for guys
and none for women, that’s not likely. Lesbian women are solely or
primarily attracted to women, not to men. Might you be bisexual? I
don’t know, but if you have found, or find in time, that you have
sexual and romantic feelings for people of all genders, then that’s
certainly a possibility.

What I’d suggest is that you just give things some time, and observe
your own patterns when it comes to crushes and dating from here on out.
Don’t expect to discover what your orientation is overnight just
because another possibility has been opened up in your mind, or someone
potentially available has suddenly shown up on the horizon.

Can you be straight and still experiment with being bi? Well, not
really, in the same way that I can’t be white and experiment with being
black. I am who and what I am: sexual orientation can be fluid, but it
isn’t something we can just choose to put on and take off like
different pairs of shoes. But there are plenty of people who are in
periods of questioning, and particularly with younger people, who are
just starting their sexual and romantic lives, questioning and
experimentation are normal. At this moment, you’re questioning. And
yes: some people who are heterosexual experiment with dating or having
sex with someone same-sex, some people who are homosexual experiment
with dating or having sex with someone opposite-sex. Some folks also
get surprised: now and then, someone who was sure they were straight
all of their lives falls in love with someone same-sex and vice-versa.
Love is full of surprises and unpredictability, after all.

If you are going to experiment, be sure you’re doing so in a way
which takes the feelings of others into account. It can be easy, when
you’re younger and gay, lesbian or bisexual to start to feel like
everyone’s personal petrie dish since so many younger people ARE
questioning, and since younger people do tend to be more sexually
flexible (likely in part because there is such a strong need to feel
included, liked and validated) for a while than older people are. And
since so many people presume that anything other than heterosexuality
is just about sex, the way questioning folks often want to "experiment"
with others often tends to be only or primarily sexual, which can
really hurt.

So, before branching out, I’d first take some more time to observe
and sit with your own feelings. The way that you’ve crushed on guys: is
that also happening with girls? Are your feelings just as strong? Have
you met a girl, in particular — and not just because you know she
might be available — who turns your knees to jelly and makes your
heart do a backflip? If and when that happens, and you want to pursue
any kind of relationship (and she does as well), be forthright and
clear that you are questioning your orientation, and that you’re just
not sure how you feel yet. That, for the record, may mean that person
doesn’t really want to get involved with you, which is absolutely
valid, even if it’s disappointing for you: we all have a right to
protect our hearts and only choose to invest them where we feel safe
doing so. Sexual orientation isn’t just about sex: it’s about our
hearts and minds, as well.

If that hasn’t happened yet — if you have not really, truly had
those feelings — then give yourself some more time before considering
dating (and notice I say dating, not sexual experimenting): for your
sake, for the sake of whoever that other person might be.

I hear that you’re feeling lonely and rejected, and of course that
absolutely sucks. Adolescence is often a really lonely time, and all
the more so when your love life isn’t going as you’d like it to, moving
along as fast as you’d like or you just feel like a loser at love so
far. It can also be easy, when we’re feeling like that, to figure that
being with anyone who will have us is better than being alone, but that
doesn’t usually work out as better for anyone. Being lonely in a
relationship feels a lot worse than being lonely when you’re actually
alone. I know it’s tough, but do try and be patient, and be sure that
you’re seeing possible relationships as something more than being
validated or a balm for being lonely. In time, someone who you have
feelings for — whether their gender may be — is going to have
mutually shared feelings for you and return them. It’ll happen, it just
can tend to take a while sometimes.

Here are some extra links to help you think through all this:

News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”

 

Tell us your story. Have religious restrictions affected your ability to access health care? Email stories@rewire.news

News Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

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The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

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