When Your Best Friend Tells You He's Gay

The Education of a Straight Person

Gay people are engaged in an ongoing struggle to have their rights recognized and respected. As a straight person talking primarily to other straights. I hope to support all who are oppressed because of their sexual orientation. The focus on gay men as opposed to lesbians is only a reflection of my personal knowledge.

A year ago, no one I knew was openly gay. My contact with homosexuality until then was probably quite standard. When I was seven, my mother talked to me about people called "fairies." She warned me to watch out for them, explaining that their existence was a pity for them and a nuisance for the rest of us. From then on, the issue was absent from conversation at home, except when something about Anita Bryant came on the news. We all regarded Anita as somewhat off the wall, but not out of any deeply felt views on homosexuality. At school, the words "gay" and "fag" were used only as insults to students so awkward or unpopular that the term "wimp" would not do. Homosexuality was spotlighted only once: when the women's studies class invited a lesbian to speak and half the parents called up to complain.

These influences helped to shape my view of homosexuality. Like the rest of society, I viewed them as unnatural and disgusting. I saw homosexuality as corruption of "real" sexuality, an unfortunate element to be restricted or supressed where possible. And despite the standard jokes, deep down homosexuality made me very uncomfortable.

* * *

One morning last spring, a poster on my door said "Do you know that someone you care about is gay?" As I walked to breakfast, I ran my mind over people I cared about. Concluding positively that not one was gay. I dismissed the sign as propaganda for the coming Gay/Lesbian Awareness Day (GLAD).


That night, one of my closest friends sat me down to talk. This itself was strange, because we usually talked quite naturally on any subject. The situation became more peculiar as I watched him. I had never seen him so nervous. He couldn't stick to one topic of conversation. Finally, after a very long and pained introduction, he told me he was gay. He had known this throughout our friendship.

I did my best to seem collected, but inside I was a mass of shock and confusion. I tried to appear cool and then took the first opportunity to leave I needed time to think about this alone. As I sat on a bench and tried to relax, I began to think coherently: "This is an enormous thing; how could I not have known it?" "Why didn't he tell me before?" "How much does this affect his thoughts and actions?" "How does this mean he sees me?" "I find homosexuality repulsive; how can a close friend be homosexual?" "I know what gays are like: how can he be one?"

My friend's face suddenly came into focus. I could still see him right in front of race. I could see him quiver as he braced for me to react. There was my own friend, waiting for me to reject him. Reject... This made me think of our friendship. I remembered times we had spent together; tastes we had shared, needs we had filled for each other. And he had been gay all the while... But hadn't these times been just as good? It didn't take long to realize they had. And couldn't they be equally good in the future? Why not? The only difference now was that I knew something that had always been true.

My thoughts turned to his point of view. I grimaced, remembering times that homosexuality had come up in conversation. What an actor he had been! He had laughed at the same jokes and professed the same attitudes as I had. In groups of guys he had rated the girls along with everyone else.

I realized how alone he often must feel. Unable to be his true self, indeed conditioned to hate that true self, he has to deal constantly in pretenses. Suddenly, I wanted to talk to him.

When I went to see him that night, I knew the issue would affect me from then on. I had taken a strong first step by working through most of my feelings about his homosexuality. Yet I still felt threatened myself. Something nagged deep inside that if I thought or talked about it too much, this gayness might spread to me too, or scarier, expose something already there. But if I wanted to keep my friend, however nervous I was. I had to face such possibilities.

I am lucky that I did. Learning about this issue changed and enriched me in ways that I could not have imagined. My friend, delighted not only that we were as close as before, but that I was interested in understanding homosexuality better, introduced me to his gay friends. With this new awareness, I discovered that several high school friends were also gay and had known it all through high school. This flood of new knowledge destroyed most of my misconceptions about homosexuality. Fears and prejudices, however, took longer; dispelling them requires a courage and effort beyond simply acquiring knowledge. This whole process of education has led me to the following conclusions about homosexuality.

Hostility to homosexuality stems largely from insecurity and ignorance. Like all prejudice, ours against gays is not based on rational reasoning. I believe it stems largely from insecurity, from a deep fear that we may be or become gay ourselves. For some, great affection for a friend of the same sex may cause this worry. For others, it may be less conscious. But, social attitudes toward homosexuality magnify this worry into a horror. Some respond to it with derision or hostility to gays, hoping this will reaffirm their heterosexuality. But most simply try to crowd any thought of homosexuality out of their heads. That creates another source of hostility to gays: ignorance. Shutting homosexuality out of our world fosters the same fear and mistrust of the alien that has always led people to hate each other. Our prejudice against gay people will linger as long as they are unfamiliar. Only free interaction with them will show us that they are people just like ourselves.

Homosexuality is not contagious. Associating with gay people will not make you gay; it can only bring out homosexual tendencies if they already exist. For me, learning about homosexuality strengthened rather than confused my sexual identity. Because I underwent such an intense examination of this subject and my feelings about it. I had little doubt once I had finished. Had I been gay, such hard thinking would only have helped me understand myself. So contact with homosexuality will not change our sexual identity, only clarify it.

Homosexuality is a valid form of love. What struck me most in learning about homosexual relationship is the amazing similarity to straight ones in the feelings and emotions they involve. Without the names and pronouns, a description of a gay affair is literally indistinguishable from that of a straight one. Advice I might give to a gay man about a romance is equally applicable to a straight woman. Seeing how natural and beautiful a gay relationship can be has convinced me that it is not in any way a perversion, corruption or misuse of sexuality. It is simply an alternative. There is a capacity to love in all people, and a standard limiting sexual contact to opposite sexes is at best artificial, at worst very cruel to those who are not part of the norm that created it. Especially in the pressured and sometimes lonely atmosphere of college, any kind of real affection is valuable. We should care more that it exists than between whom.