1998, revised August 2005
Below are some of the common
questions I have encountered from heterosexual people who were trying to get
some basic facts about homosexuality.
If you have recently discovered your son, daughter, brother, sister or friend to be homosexual, I hope the following answers are helpful to you in some way.
Following the convention of the English language, the "he" or "him" refers equally to "she" and "her".
* * * * *
1. What exactly is homosexuality? Homosexuality is the tendency wherein the persons you find sexually attractive happen to be persons of the same sex as yourself.
Bear in mind however, that a homosexual person does not find all others of the same sex attractive. Only a few. After all, a heterosexual person does not find all opposite sex persons attractive either. But a homosexual person finds that all the people he is ever attracted to, happen to be of the same sex, just as a heterosexual person finds that all the people he is ever attracted to, happen to be of the opposite sex.
Sexual attraction goes hand in hand with a desire for a relationship and love. Homosexual persons yearn for love and a relationship with persons they are attracted to. Other than the fact that the persons they are attracted to happen to be of the same sex, the qualities in their relationships are no different than in heterosexual relationships, e.g. emotional commitment, mutual support and a desire for permanence. This can be seen from the strong desire in many countries to have laws changed to recognise same-sex marriages.
2. Why do some people think they are homosexual? This question is a misguided question. When we use the word "think", we imply that it is not true, and that someone is misleading himself. Homosexual persons do not "think" they are homosexual. They know they are homosexual.
They know this because they can recognise their own feelings. They do not feel sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex. Every time they have a crush, it's with a person of the same sex. They do not experience similar feelings for persons of the opposite sex.
Related to this question is another, "Why do some people choose to be homosexual?"
This question is even more misguided. No homosexual person ever chooses to be homosexual. He simply discovers from his own feelings that he is. He has never made that "choice" in life, and as we will discuss below, he cannot "unchoose" it.
It is now widely accepted by scientific, psychiatric and medical professionals that homosexual orientation is innate, and fundamental to a some persons' nature. It is increasingly accepted that homosexual orientation is latent in the child, and possibly even in the foetus. It is not something that people change into during their teenage or adult years as a result of certain "bad influences". Certainly it is never something that people deliberately or consciously choose to become.
It is also widely accepted by thinking people that homosexuality is normal variation among humans. Just as some people are by nature left-handed, others are musically talented or extrovert, so some people are homosexual.
3. What causes a person to be homosexual? The main answer right now is that we don't know the precise reasons, though it is a field of study that is receiving more and more unbiased attention. Studies conducted so far point increasingly to a substantial biological basis for homosexuality, but environmental influences in early childhood may be a factor too (not the sole cause).
(a) Genetic causes?
4. At what age do most homosexual persons become homosexual? Again, a misguided question. No one "becomes" homosexual. Most homosexual persons report that they discover they are homosexual sometime during their teenage years. A smaller number report that they have known they were different from their peers since around 9 or 10, though at that age, they couldn't fully comprehend or put a name to that difference.
On the other hand, there are homosexual persons who repress their homosexuality for years. Mostly it is due to social pressure to conform, and to the lack of information in the society in which they live. They may get married and have children. But then at some point in their lives, they realise that they have never really felt anything for the opposite sex, while their feelings for the same sex never goes away. At that point in their lives, they finally recognise their own homosexuality.
To outsiders it would look like he suddenly "turned" homosexual. In fact, he has always been homosexual, only that he has denied it all this while.
5. How can a homosexual person change? He can't.
Many homosexuals, wanting to escape social pressure, have tried. There has been no properly documented case of anyone succeeding.
Yes, there are documented cases of people who have psyched themselves into denial (almost always, these examples have come from the fundamentalist Christian groups), but there is no documented case of a person changing his feelings of attraction. Mental health professionals today consider these attempts (often called 'reparative therapy') by cult-like groups to change orientation to be abuse and warn of damage to the mental health of participants.
Sexual orientation is too fundamental in our nature to be changed. You cannot change homosexuals into heterosexuals. Nor vice versa.
In Yawning Bread there are a number of articles about fundamentalist groups' attempts at changing orientation. Use the search function to locate them.
6. What can psychiatrists do? They can't change anyone's sexual orientation.
But a few homosexual persons can benefit from counselling and professional help. These are the ones who, feeling the burden of societal pressure, get very depressed, and maybe even reach the point of suicide. Professionals can help them see their situation in a more positive light, and improve their self-esteem.
However, the vast majority of homosexual persons do not need professional help. They are well-adjusted, self-confident people. Psychologically, they cope quite well despite prejudice and discrimination from society.
7. How do I persuade him to mix more with the opposite sex? Why do you want to persuade him to mix more with the opposite sex? Are you hoping that he will turn heterosexual? As I said above, sexual orientation can't be changed.
By trying to "persuade" homosexual persons to do this or do that, you are showing disrespect to a person's right to choose his friends freely. How would you like to have others pressure you to do things that don't interest you? You'd see that as an unwarranted imposition.
The reason society often has this stereotype is because most homosexual men and women are indistinguishable from heterosexual persons. Only the tiny minority who happen to be effeminate or tomboyish, are visible. So society has taken the visible tip of the iceberg and wrongly extended the stereotype to all.
By the way, some effeminate men are heterosexual. Some tomboyish women are heterosexual.
In any case, what is wrong with having feminine or masculine mannerisms? In themselves, there is nothing wrong, is there? What may be the problem is the disapproval of other (unenlightened) people around. But the problem should be fixed at source, which is to enlighten those people rather than infringe on the self-autonomy of gays and lesbians with feminine/masculine mannerisms and outlook.
People who wish to go for sex change are transsexuals, not homosexuals. Transsexuals identify with a gender that is opposite to their bodies. For example, someone could be anatomically male, but feel very much a woman inside. Quite often transsexuals prefer to cross-dress, in keeping with the image they have of themselves.
Homosexual males consider themselves male, the same way as heterosexual males. They do not feel female at all. Homosexual females (i.e. lesbians), likewise consider themselves female. There is no conflict between their anatomical self and their sense of gender.
10. Why does my son, daughter, brother, sister or friend want to tell me that that he is homosexual? Why isn't he ashamed of it? Generally, homosexual persons wish to ensure that those who are important to them have a clear and truthful idea of who they are. It may take them a long time and a lot of worrying to reach this point. But ultimately, they find that their sense of self-respect is such that they do not wish to live a lie any further.
For a homosexual person to tell others about his sexual orientation is a huge risk. He risks rejection and emotional chaos. If he has chosen to tell you, it is a sign that you are important to him. It is a long-standing truism that we are honest with those we love. You should feel honoured by his choice and you should feel a sense of responsibility to stand by him.
The truth does not make him or her any less your son, daughter, brother, sister or friend. He is still the same person as before, except that now he has given you a special gift, the gift of privileged honesty.
When he has reached this point, far from feeling guilt or shame, which is what society tends to put into homosexual persons, he has overcome it, and restored his self-respect. He has seen his own value as a person; he no longer subjugates himself to the ignorance and prejudice around him. That act of telling you is an act of liberation.
There are a few first-hand coming-out stories in Yawning Bread. Use the search function to locate them.
11. He/she is gay. What is the best thing I can do? Make an effort to understand what it means to be homosexual. Do a bit of clear thinking and examine any pre-conceived notions you may have. Do not be judgmental. You yourself would not want others to be judgmental around you. Continue to see him as a person, a person you've long known.
Find some way to indicate that you are broadminded. Find some way to reassure him that the question of rejection does not arise. If it is true that it may take a while for you to get used to the idea, say so, be honest yourself. But if you believe that your love and capacity for friendship is deep enough to take the news in stride, then say that too, and work at it.
12. He/she is gay. What is the worst thing I can do? The worst thing you can do is to issue ultimatums. You should never demand that he change, or repent. You should never make your love and friendship conditional upon others living their lives in accordance with your demands.
To demand that he change is asking for the impossible. He can never comply. He will simply feel cut off from you. You risk driving him to despair and suicide.
The second worst thing you can do is to say "I cannot accept it". This response is not constructive. It builds brick walls against understanding and communication. He is not asking you for permission or acceptance. He is telling you the truth about himself. Imagine that you're a 43-year-old woman. When an occasion calls for it, you tell your friend, truthfully, "I am a 43-year-old woman." But the response you get is "I cannot accept it. You must change!" Wouldn't you consider that a moronic and unhelpful answer?
13. What is meant by "homosexual lifestyle choice"? Nothing. It is a meaningless term.
Firstly, there is no choice involved in being homosexual. Secondly, homosexual persons are as varied as heterosexual persons. There is no uniformity in the lives they lead. Some are career-driven and super-achievers; others know how to savour life. Some care for the environment; others are always buying the latest model of techno-wizardry and junking the old. Some are promiscuous; others are extremely faithful to their partners. Just like heterosexual persons.
This term, "homosexual lifestyle choice", is an invention of people who are anti-gay. They use this term to paint a false picture of supposed hedonism, and then go blasting at it.
Do not use this term. It is derogatory. Actually, it is bad enough that it is meaningless.
14. Is it true that homosexual men are obsessed with sex? No more, no less, than heterosexual men.
Perhaps the media gives this impression. When heterosexual men are caught in compromising situations with the opposite sex, it is hardly newsworthy (unless the person is famous). But since homosexual exposés are considered more salacious and more newsworthy, based on the "moralism" of some societies, they tend to be highlighted. This bias in reporting may give the impression that homosexual men are more obsessed with sex, or that their behaviour is more shocking.
15. What is the risk of him getting AIDS? On an individual basis, no more, no less than heterosexual persons. AIDS is not a disease for homosexual persons. AIDS is a disease spread mainly through sex, any kind of sex that is unprotected. Another common route of transmission is through intravenous drug use, but this is not at all related to sex.
In Singapore, the majority of HIV infections occur via heterosexual sex. Lesbians are considered one of the groups with the lowest risk factors.
Every one, whatever his sexual orientation, male or female, should be aware of the risk, and the appropriate protective measures, like using a condom. Just because a person engages in homosexual relationships does not mean he is necessarily at greater risk.
16. Is it a crime to be homosexual? In Singapore, the homosexual act between males is a criminal offence. Even if it takes place between two consenting adults in the privacy of the home, the law considers it an offence. Government ministers however have said that the law will not be applied to consenting adults in private, and data from court cases indicate this policy is in effect.
The law probably does not apply to females, though as far as I know, no case has yet come up to test it. This means lesbian sex is most probably legal.
Most Asian countries do not have laws against homosexual sex. They only ones that do are ex-British colonies which inherited the laws from Victorian England.
What we have is a terribly stupid law. It is in breach of the UN Human Rights Committee's ruling that discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation is a violation of human rights. Although the Singapore government no longer enforces the law actively, the continued existence of the law reinforces prejudice and discrimination in this country, causing emotional damage (and possibly suicide) to your friends and your loved ones.
17. How do I tell whether a person is homosexual or not? Most of the time, you can't. Homosexual persons are normal persons. They look normal, they act quite indistinguishably from heterosexual persons. This is so for a simple reason: they are normal. Just as a left-handed person is, for all practical purposes, quite a normal person.
The question should be why do you want to be able to tell whether a person is homosexual or not? I hope it is not to poke your nose into others' private affairs. I hope it is not to justify any discriminatory action (like sacking him from his job).
18. How many homosexuals are there in a population? There is no simple answer to this, but most researchers today are of the consensus, based primarily on surveys done in the West, that among adult males it is somewhere in the region of 6-7%. There is an additional 6% or so who are bisexual (i.e. people who are attracted sometimes to the same sex, sometimes to the opposite sex).
Among adult females, the percentages are lower. Somewhere in the region of 3-4% homosexual, and perhaps a similar number bisexual.
There is no indication so far that these percentages vary by much from one country to another.
The question of percentages is complicated because of the many ways one can use to define homosexuality and bisexuality. What if a person feels homosexual but doesn't engage in homosexual acts? What if a person feels heterosexual, but engages in homosexual acts? What if a person is in a stable homosexual relationship, but occasionally has sex with the opposite sex?
Still, using the above percentages, as a rule of thumb then, it means that out of every fifteen male persons you know, about one would be homosexual and one bisexual. 15 is not a large set. How many male colleagues do you have in your office? In your class?
Chances are that you won't be able to figure out which of them are homosexual or bisexual. This only goes to show how normal they are.
19. How did homosexuality come into Asian societies? Asian societies have always had homosexual persons in their midst. Historical records indicate so. For example, classical Chinese literature contain numerous references to same-sex love, expressed in non-derogatory terms. Chinese imperial records through the ages have witnessed emperors and high officials with homosexual love affairs, as have Moghul records from India.
There are some people who hold the mistaken idea that homosexuality was one of those "degenerate practices" imported from the West. They are wrong. It's not degenerate, and it's not Western.
20. What is homophobia? Homophobia is defined as a "fear of homosexuality or homosexual persons". Quite often, though, it is used in the sense of "hatred of homosexuality or homosexual persons".
Like other phobias, e.g. hydrophobia (fear of water) or agoraphobia (fear of venturing into public spaces), homophobia is essentially irrational. It is not founded on clear logic or reason.
Unfortunately, some people act out their homophobia, in the form of gay-bashing, in the form of emotional rejection and even violent treatment of family members who are homosexual. When in positions of authority, they enact laws or preach sermons that do injustice to millions of homosexual persons around the world.
There are some articles in Yawning Bread that discuss the origins of homophobia. Use the search function to locate them.
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