Virtually Normal and Thoughts So Far

This post is not explicit, but deals with topics that may make some uncomfortable.

Last night I bought gay conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan's book on the politics of homosexuality, Virtually Normal. Although I am not very far into it, I can tell that I am going to like it, and that some of you may be interested in it, too. Some of the points he brings up have been discussed on this and other MoHo blogs, such as the Bible's stance on homosexuality and the paradox of how the Church (Sullivan refers to his church, the Roman Catholic Church, but it applies to the LDS Church as well) says/has said that being a homosexual is not in itself a moral wrong, but carrying it out--an extension of the former--is.

It's a very interesting read so far. In the book's introduction Sullivan speaks of homosexuality in general, and reading it brought up my own uncertainties about my orientation. Says he:

"Although there is an understandable desire to divide the world starkly into heterosexual desire and its opposite, most of us, I'd guess, have confronted the possibility at some time in our lives of the possibility of our own homosexuality. [Is that all this is about? I wonder. Am I not gay after all, but rather going through a normal and probably common part of adolescence by merely confronting a possibility?] There is something of both attractions in all of us, to begin with. [Or is this why I still wonder if I might be bisexual or even straight?] For the majority, it is resolved quite early; our society forces such a resolution. Except for a few who seem to retain throughout their lives a capacity for attraction to both sexes, for most of us the issue is largely resolved before the teenage years set in. On this, both experience and empirical study agree." (Emphasis mine.)

The last bit really capped it off. In my case, since I am still trying to figure my sexuality out, the issue of knowing whether I am gay, straight, or bisexual was clearly not "resolved before the teenage years set in"...or was it? I am not a Kinsey 6 guy who can honestly state he has never felt romantic--perhaps even sexual--attractions to a female. I have never claimed to be 100% gay, and have made mention of the fact several times. Furthermore, when I first began puberty, I didn't think of guys in a romantic sense at all, nor was I nervous around them--no sweaty palms or increased heart rate that I can recall. Still, this was more or less true with both genders--I was generally comfortable around boys and girls.

I remember the first time it even crossed my mind that I might be gay: I was in junior high (between about 13 and 15 years old--certainly not "before the teenage years [had] set in"), and had just left choir (oh, the irony!), making my way to the cafeteria. I arrived at the end of the lunch line in time to hear two guys--whom I had never hitherto met or known--whispering, "Frank Scarlet is gay" (except, of course, that they said my then actual name). They didn't know I was there, and when they realized I had heard them, they turned around and continued in line. I didn't think anything of it--I dismissed it in the same moment I heard it, much as I would have had they suggested I had wings or a third arm, and the 'accusation' didn't bother me at all.

Later, a couple months before turning sixteen years old, I was at Scout Camp talking to a guy whom I had been drawn to since moving into the ward several years earlier. We were talking around the campfire when all of the sudden, something clicked in my head and I realized, "I'm flirting with a guy." And I more or less was, in my own pitifully lame way. It's clear in hindsight that I had been attracted to him from the very start.

As I began to wonder if I were gay, I considered the sexual thoughts I'd had. Certainly they were heterosexual in nature--I really didn't know about gay sex, nor did I have any real concept as to what a physical union between two men might be like--but I remembered that in these thoughts--I hesitate to use the word "fantasies", but that's basically what we're talking about here--the male involved was usually not myself. In fact, I realized (or rationalized?), I tended to focus more on the male, who was usually one of the muscular young men that I was friends with or knew from school--boys, I later concluded, that I was attracted to (though I didn't realize it at the time).

That was my thought process. As for my previous crushes (or pseudo-crushes) on girls, I determined that though gay, I was not blind, and I had merely construed the girls I thought cute as objects of my affection. I told myself that I had not really had feelings for them, or if I had, it was the tiny bisexual part of myself, which was nothing compared to the gay part of myself.

Looking back, I'm not sure how valid this was. Was I simply making sense of reality, or was I bending and twisting reality to accomodate what I wanted? When I read the above quote in Virtually Normal, I thought that if I really am gay, then perhaps homosexual attractions would have manifested themselves long before I was 14, 15 or 16 years old. On the other hand, in hindsight I think there were several boys to whom I was attracted even though I did not realize it.

Is that even possible?
Or do you agree with Sullivan?

Some of you, I'm sure, will take issue with Sullivan's claim (which he claims "both experience and empirical study" back). In our community in particular, it is not uncommon to remain closeted--even to oneself--for several decades. But is there, perhaps, an awareness somewhere between complete obliviousness and full consciousness? And must someone attain at least this level of awareness--of having "the issue...largely resolved before the teenage years set in"--in order to truly be gay?

Or am I, as usual, grossly over-thinking this?..

Thanks in advance for anything you would like to offer. I look forward to reading any and all comments--please don't worry about being scorned or sounding bad. All ideas are welcome, and I hope that, like this blogging community at large, this blog is a place where you can feel safe sharing your thoughts. :)


MoHoHawaii said...

I wouldn't worry if you're gay or not at this point. The label isn't very important right now, and these things have a way of sorting themselves out over time. Feel free not to define yourself for now if that feels right.

I don't think Andrew Sullivan's timeline represents everyone's experience. At sixteen I was unable to articulate my desire for other boys. It just wasn't in my world, so I dated some girls and even had mild crushes on a couple of them. Looking back I can see that I was gay, gay, gay all the while.

Flirt with girls and with boys and see how you feel. Hold hands with anyone who interests you. My guess is that by the time you're in college you'll have a pretty good idea of what your heart desires.

Quinn said...

I say I'd have to agree with you on most of it. However it is only looking back that I attribute certain thoughts or feelings a meaning, which very well could have been way off from what they were in their current state.

I could tell I liked guys, but to what extent I have no clue. I assign it value and validation now, but like I said, hine sight is always 20/20

darkdrearywilderness said...

Sounds like an interesting book...let us know what else it has to say! I like blogging about books, and plan to do more of it on my blog :)

So from what I understand, Sullivan is saying most of us (subconsciously, I would say) make up our minds before our teen years...or, the issue is biologically settled at least. Because of how society is set up, it takes the conscious part of our mind some time to catch up to biology. Little boys are taught to like little girls, and until we learn to think and reason for ourselves (teen years or beyond), our brains can't even fathom that there might be a different option.

For This Cause said...

Sounds like an interesting book...

Frank Lee Scarlet said...

Thanks for commenting!

@MoHoHawaii: Thanks for your advice--I agree that it could be a mistake to peg myself to a particular label so early. Certainly it would be a shame to do so before really knowing myself.

@Quinn: "...It is only looking back that I attribute certain thoughts or feelings a meaning, which very well could have been way off from what they were in their current state." This is quite what I feel, too--uncertainty about how the bias of present knowledge/circumstances affects my analysis and even recollection of the past.

@darkdreary: I also plan to do more blogging about books--I'll continue posting about this one and others! And I really liked what you said--"Because of how society is set up, it takes the conscious part of our mind some time to catch up to biology. Little boys are taught to like little girls, and until we learn to think and reason for ourselves (teen years or beyond), our brains can't even fathom that there might be a different option." This really hits the nail on the head for me. As kids most of us were probably taught that family = husband + wife, and at least while growing up, we knew nothing else! (At least I didn't.)

@For This Cause: It is interesting so far...I'll keep blogging about Sullivan's ideas and any of my own that his stir up!

Bravone said...

When you get a chance, please give me a call. I recently had something significant help me understand this issue better for myself.

David Baker-@DB389 said...

The difficulty with his timeline is that now, more than ever the youth are realizing their sexuality much earlier then in previous generations and in much larger numbers. I have talked with him about this a little bit and perhaps next time I see him (he is great friends with my Landlord and I walked in on him lighting up some MaryJane after Priesthood session) I could ask him any questions you have for him.