Young Woman Questions Sexual Orientation/Worries About Family’s Reaction

Dear Liz,

My whole life up until now I have dated males.  This past summer, my best friend of seven years and I started getting closer.  We are now dating and have been for seven months, though it’s been kept a secret.   I am not attracted to girls, yet I see the girl I am dating as the most beautiful soul I have ever met.  It almost doesn’t matter that she’s a girl because I see her as perfection.  Does this make me homosexual?  Do you think that even though I never saw this for my life, I can be with her for the rest of my life, despite all the changes and controversy it will bring?  The other question I have is how to deal with telling my parents—I was raised Catholic and my parents are very religious.  This is my best friend from home and we have sleepovers and she is basically part of my family, and I don’t want to show my parents disrespect under their roof.  If it were a boyfriend, he wouldn’t be allowed in my bedroom, but they don’t know about my situation.  Is honesty the best policy, even though I know it will destroy them?

Dear J,

Falling in love is often both simple (I feel) and complicated (I act), and you are raising questions about both aspects.  You are in love (!) and that is a wonderful space to be in—lots of folks go a lifetime and fail to experience such joy.  You have a heart that is wide open, open enough for you to follow its lead, despite being led into a relationship fraught with challenges.  I’m proud of you.

Your questions got me thinking about identity—true authentic identity—as well as what it really means to honor one’s parents, and most importantly, what it means to honor one’s Self.

For starters, you asked me if your love for your friend means you are homosexual.  Part of me wants to say “who cares…don’t get stuck on a label…love and sexuality are fluid concepts…be in this moment and the moment will guide your heart…” but I don’t think that response would have served me well when I was young, and maybe not even now.  So let me try again.

You may be homosexual, and you may not be.  Time alone cannot reveal that to you—only your spirit (your soul) can reveal that to you.  We simply are who we are, and need to be true to who that is.  In fact, if our purpose on earth is to be love and practice love, we can’t even begin to fulfill that work until we are willing to fully see our Self, and then bring that Self forth.  If we don’t do that, we live in partial truth, and the energy it takes to deny and/or remain blind to a piece of our Self takes away from the energy of authentic living.

There is no easy way around this:  God may give us spirit, mothers may give birth to our flesh, but only we can give birth to our Self.

Back to your specific question about your identity.  Sexual attraction alone doesn’t necessarily define our orientation.  I am a woman, and the idea of sex with a woman is certainly erotic, though I identify as heterosexual.  This is because emotionally and sexually I have consistently been drawn to men—I feel most balanced, most connected to me, when I am engaging in love and intimacy with a man.  It is not rational—it is intuitive.

Sexual orientation is a neutral thing.  Think about it–my identifying as heterosexual tells you nothing about me, other than what the likely sex of my partner is.  What matters, what really matters in matters of love, is how willing we are to show up for genuine intimacy, to keep our word, to admit our flaws and address them.  What matters is our willingness to see our commitment all the way to the finish line, with joy.  What matters is our ability to not let our needs always dictate the outcome, and to instead hear the needs of our partner and struggle to dignify them.  Fidelity matters.  Patience matters.  Forgiveness is essential.

This possibility that you are homosexual —given the culture at large and the religious family you were raised in—is likely to not feel okay at some level.  How could it not?  From the day we are born we steeped in culture that delivers the message that homosexuality is anything from unnatural to immoral to deviant.  However unfair and even perverse those messages are, we all got them and likely internalized them to one degree or another.

And so I encourage you not to take on the ideas others have about you or your choice in partner.  And at least for now, let go of the need to label yourself, especially with such limiting labels as “heterosexual” or “homosexual.”  The expectations those labels bring will distract you from being present to your current relationship.  If you were my daughter, I would encourage you to pursue this relationship with the same level of care and integrity as any other.  Period.  Relationships are good for us—relationships provide the perfect laboratory for maturing, learning to love, and for learning about our own Self.  This relationship might teach you a lot about many things that haven’t even crossed your radar screen yet, the least of which might be your particular sexual orientation.

I know you need your parents’ love and approval—such is a primal need, and when we are young and still maturing, our worth can feel connected to their reaction to us.  The disapproval of our parents can be experienced as nothing short of their not loving us.  To ache over failing to be what they need us or want us to be is natural—and to question ourselves is natural too, for after all, they are our parents, they are good and loving, and we hesitate to disrupt that.  But this part is not your struggle—it will be theirs.  You can honor your parents without dishonoring yourself, and in fact, loving your parents demands you honor yourself.

We can’t possibly honor our parents while simultaneously dishonoring our own Self—that’s similar to using  violence to get to peace—the end result, however peaceful it may appear, is an illusion.

And don’t barter.  We all need our parents’ love and approval, but if we ever barter away our authentic nature in exchange for parental love, we are left with a pain whose only consolation is the illusion of love.  Real love would never ask you to deny your sexual orientation—it’s as simple as that.

You are an adult and you have every right to keep your relationship private.  Why share something that you yourself are still exploring, and on a number of levels, struggling with.  You are not being dishonest because your relationship with your best friend has evolved—you are respecting yourself as well as her by exploring and enjoying this new found love.  If you want to dignify your parents’ Catholic values, which I find commendable and a genuine expression of respect for your parents, then when your friend visits and spends the night, refrain from sexual intimacy.  In that way, you are being an adult woman of integrity who can draw boundaries, without undermining your own adult right to privacy, and your right to have boundaries around your own relationship.

Last but not least:  my friend, you have been blessed to discover a soul that you find precious and perfect—how could this be anything but a gift?  And if she’s the one, but your parent’s faith in the dogma of their church is greater than their ability to accept and dignify you—all of you–then practice the very Christianity you might wish they would practice:  don’t take it personally, be compassionate towards them, and forgive their inability to accept.  In that way, you honor your soul as well as theirs.

Love, Liz

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