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Responsible teen sexuality - and what they don't teach you in sex education at school


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Coming out

In an ideal world, coming out would be a thing of the past. There'd be no coming out issue to get through. As we developed our sexual identities through adolescence our peers and mentors would be absolutely open to whether we were gay or bi or straight - or however we might choose or refuse to label. Meanwhile, for many or most, coming out is the biggest challenges so far faced.

When you feel you are ready to do it, you don't need to tell everyone immediately. Begin with the people closest to you - it might be just one person - whom you trust. It can help to tell friends first rather than family, particularly if your parents aren't noticeably liberal or entirely up to speed with the developments of recent decades. Many parents are entirely supportive. They may have known you were gay all along and are instantly ready to break out that champagne they've been saving for a special occasion. They are readier to accept your sexuality than you dare imagine.

But there are those for whom this is not the case. If you're not sure, or if you've heard them make homophobic comments in the past, it is wise to remember that coming out can lead to rejection and abuse. It may be best not to tell them: the risk might be simply too great, especially if you're living at home or are financially dependent on your parents. If, however, you feel you must - and this is not meant to sound alarmist - have an escape route planned and ready. Of course, the hope is that you won't have to use it - the hope is that coming out will greatly enhance your relationship - but have it there in case.

When you tell a friend, particularly if he is young and frantically negotiating his own (gay or straight) adolescence, anticipate having to leave some time for the new information to settle. He (or she) might not understand at first. He (especially) might feel threatened. After all, he has been subject to much the same conditioning and lack of information as you. You're ready to out yourself because you've given it a lot of thought and are ready to accept yourself as you are. He needs time to think as well. For a while there may grow a distance between you, but if he's a good friend he'll come back. Indeed, your friendship then can be more open and closer. It will help you to accept yourself even more because you find your friend accepting you.

If you're at school it is more or less inevitable people will gossip. It can be fun or it can be tough. It isn't always easy being singled out from the crowd - and from what that crowd perceives as normal. Still, beyond the first hour or so, much of how they perceive you will depend on the attitude you show them about yourself. If you seem calm, and continue to reassure yourself that your acceptance of yourself as gay is making you stronger, not weaker, you'll earn the respect of the majority. It won't be something they'll be able to use to pick on you because it won't hurt you. There will probably be those who will continue to pass homophobic comments, but you can rise above that. Keep clear and be sensible. Don't give the bigoted minority an excuse for queer-bashing. And remember - it's trite but true - all they're doing is trying to make you feel as insecure as they. Theirs is the victim mentality from which you are freeing yourself.

Finally, when coming out to loved ones as gay, choose the right time to do it. It shouldn't be when you're having a row - 'I'm gay!' used against them as a weapon - or when drunk. It shouldn't be in a time of abandon or stress. You need to be in control of the moment, and they need to be calm enough to hear what you're telling them. Then, if they express doubts or fears or ask questions - 'But you'll be lonely.' 'What about AIDS ?' 'Are you sure?' - you know you're winning already: they're entering into the dialogue and are ready to accept your sexuality.

It isn't necessarily easy. There is no perfect, guaranteed trouble-free way to come out, but if you do it, when you're ready to do it, you'll be happier for sharing the secret. It's a big step to take, but one thing's sure: it beats staying in the closet!

Question MarkQuick Tips!
Won't talk?

If your boyfriend or girlfriend falls silent, something's up.

Explain that you want to be 'let in' - then it can be good to give them space, tell them to call and let them come back to you




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