DARE TO ASK: Toughest aspect of being gay?
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
What is the hardest thing to deal with as a gay individual?
C.D., Johnson City, Tenn.
Probably the sudden death of a loved one. However, many people have a
misconception that being gay is all we are. I'm sure straight people don't dwell
on their heterosexuality ("Do these pants make me look straight?;" "I wonder if
people at work know I'm straight?;" "Wow, she's hot! I wonder if she's
straight?"). I believe people who think we lead exotic, secret gay lives don't
think they know any of us. We're standing right in front of you. We go to work,
mow the lawn, take the kids to soccer, throw in a load of laundry and sleep in
on Saturdays. We are exactly like you.
FreedaBee, 42, lesbian, Orange County, Calif.
The hardest thing to deal with is how little people know. I still come across
people who think I chose my orientation, and it infuriates me.
Jordan, 15, gay, Jacksonville
Not being able to walk down the street hand in hand with my girlfriend, the
love of my life, without getting the glares, hearing the whispers and getting
the occasional comments. I would love to be able to give my girlfriend a gentle
kiss while we are in a store or parking lot, but people look at us like we have
lobsters crawling out of our ears.
Mary, 25, lesbian, Springfield, Vt.
Being gay? Not a problem, says Angelo Pezzote, a New York author and
psychotherapist who's worked with hundreds of gay men and women and runs
Being OK with being gay? Different story.
"The hardest thing overall for gay people that I treat, those with substance
abuse, safe sex, relationship or anxiety problems, is self-acceptance. The shame
that comes from the 'gay stigma' - that gay men are not real men, for example -
causes a sense of shame."
Those who don't address the issue set themselves up for lower self-esteem,
amid all of life's other struggles, sometimes triggering symptoms such as
depression or alcohol abuse, he said.
"The issue of 'immorality' gets drilled into us in the overall culture," said
Pezzote, who is gay. "And the issue becomes 'Am I lovable the way I am?' "
For those gays beyond such issues, he said, the daily challenge often boils
down to whether to mute their orientation and behaviors in public to avoid
sneers, or losing a job, or even violent reactions - especially when a large
chunk of Americans still believe being gay is unacceptable.
Pezzote said some even feel pressure to show others they adhere to societal
"norms." He used as an example Lance Bass of 'N Sync, who came out last year yet
told People magazine he was a "straight-acting gay" - a "typical guy" who loved
to "watch football and drink beer."
"Whenever we tone down part of who we are to be more acceptable, to conform,
we are stamping out a part of us," Pezzote said. "We just need to be who we are:
people who are gay."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information. For Dare to Ask podcasts, go to
Jacksonville.com keyword: milano.