Archive for July 2011
MTV recently aired an episode of the documentary series “True Life” called “I’m Trying to be Straight.” The episode follows two people, Kevin and Melanie, as they attempt to ignore their homosexual orientations and live as heterosexual people. The premise of the episode, as indicated by the title, is that Melanie and Kevin attempt to live a “straight lifestyle” with different degrees of success. Melanie dates a few men but ultimately realizes that she wants to follow her natural inclination despite her mother’s resistance; Kevin turns to religion and religious friends to help him disregard his attractions to men.
The episode is rife with themes that we often encounter from callers at the hotline. Both Kevin and Melanie deal with strong oppositions from their families (Melanie’s mom stabbed her!) when they were living the “gay lifestyle.” Both are scared to tell others of their sexual orientations for fear of rejection. Each struggles with the balance of being true to him/herself versus what he/she perceives is acceptable to others.
What is striking is that neither Melanie nor Kevin denies where her/his attractions lie. Something we often tell callers is that a bisexual or homosexual orientation is just as natural as being heterosexual, and the stories of these two further confirms that orientation is not something anyone chooses.
Heartbreakingly, Kevin describe the “gay lifestyle” as filled with drugs and cheating and bad relationships. Kevin sees no lasting happiness for himself if he lives as a gay man because of his experiences. It is a common misconception for many of our callers that gay men and women cannot have long-term relationships or families or other life facets they identify as only being available to those who are straight. It is often revelatory to the callers that gay people can find lasting love and happiness with someone of the same sex.
The biggest trend in calls that we’ve seen in the last couple of years is the increasing number of calls from those who identify as transsexual or transgendered. Later entries will deal with some of the issues these callers are facing, but first some terms should be established.
“Transsexual” and “transgender” are often used interchangeably as terms to describe a person who does not identify with the gender of the body he/she was born with. The terms change with the times, so it can be confusing for callers who are looking for a term to match their personal situation.
Currently, “transgender” is more of an umbrella term to describe all of those whose gender identities are at odds with traditional gender roles (feminine/masculine), including but not limited to those who cross-dress or identify as genderqueer. “Transsexual” describes specifically those who identify as members of the gender opposite to that assigned at birth. A person who identifies as transsexual often lives as and is accepted as the gender he/she feels is right for him/her.
There is also confusion around gender versus sexual orientation. A feminine man is not necessarily homosexual. Nor, of course, is he necessarily transsexual, but the ideas of homosexuality being associated with men who behave in traditionally feminine ways or women who behave in traditionally masculine ways confuse the issue. It is often revelatory to callers that just because they might feel feminine or masculine, that has nothing to do with their sexual attractions.