Ask Bear is an advice column written by S. Bear Bergman. Bear is a busybody know-it-all with many opinions who is only too happy for a sanctioned opportunity to tell you what he thinks you ought to be doing (as well as a writer, storyteller, publisher and activist who enjoys telling educational institutions, health care groups, and portions of government what he thinks they ought to be doing). To submit a question to Ask Bear, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions will remain 100% confidential, and may be edited for length.
There’s a person I like, who likes me back, who I would like to get into something with. The problem is that they’re not my usual kind of person at all, by which I mean I have pretty much only ever liked girls and he’s a guy. So that’s new.
I have basically zero idea how to handle any of this. I don’t really feel gay (how does gay feel)? I still notice girls. I have no idea how the sex would possibly work and I haven’t had any gay experiences so what if I’m terrible at it? But I feel a lot of things for him and one of them is very definitely in my pants.
Here’s my question I guess: Would it be awful of me to date him/sleep with him/hang out with him but just kind of not talk about it until I’m sure this is really a thing? I just kind of don’t want to do the whole dramatic coming out if it turns out to be… an idea and not really a relationship.
What if this just turns out to be a fluke? I’m 22 and I’ve never been into a guy ever, though I have dated a couple girls seriously and also had some hookups. Is it weird at my age to suddenly get into this guy?
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Dear Brave Correspondent,
As is my general predisposition, let’s maybe strike some of the easier issues off the list first before we delve into the more complex. First, it’s perfectly normal to find that the people to whom you’re attracted might shift – and especially, might broaden – over time. One of the things that can happen to us when we’re teenagers and in our early twenties is that we can develop some ability to get past the “preferences” that our giant behemoth media culture imposes upon us about whom we are supposed to be attracted to. This is a good thing, for two reasons: one, conscious resistance to media imperatives is part of the recipe for a much more thoughtful and interesting life and two, a lot of the people beyond a mainstream ideal of “hotness” are really high-quality humans. So first, please accept my congratulations for making at least one step in that direction.
Here’s another easy one: you can figure the sex out. There are many, many ways to enjoy the tingly bits of another human with whom you share some intimacy, attraction, or fondness. As someone who has experienced many variations of genitals and erogenous zones in my long and lucky life (factory direct, aftermarket, modified original and art car) I can tell you that they are all basically the same business: they are bundles of nerve endings. Almost all of them like slickness and friction and to be touched and held as though they are delicious and nutritious too. Sometimes it is amusing to dock them together, sometimes to lick or suck them, but there are many variations. I personally had one of the supreme erotic experiences of my life one summer evening saying dirty things to someone and pressing them against the wall of a shed while they busied their own hand in their own pants. There are things to do, is what I’m saying. None of us start out knowing exactly how to make someone else's body sing and pray intuitively, but if we watch and listen to the actual person with whom we are currently engaged – forgetting our preconceived notions, forgetting what we think it must look like, forgetting what we saw in that movie that time – we can learn fast and well. Fret not.
As to sexual orientation, the news I have for you is that sexual orientation isn’t one thing, but three: behavior, desire, and identity. For some people, those things are more or less in alignment most or all of the time. For others, that’s not always the case. Whether you conceive of yourself as straight, gay, bi, queer, pansexual, asexual, or something new and festive that 41-year-olds haven’t heard of yet even if they do have Tumblrs, there’s basically the same set of factors at work: who you’re getting with, who you’d like to be getting with, and who you’re prepared to let people know about. At the moment, you’re straight identified and your behavior has been hetero, but you’re current desire seems to be somewhat more bi/queer.
How this will resolve is of course an open question. But it brings us to the last bit of your letter – is it okay to be in the closet about this new hot thing until you feel “ready” to let people know? Honestly, Brave Correspondent, I am not sure that it is. I understand that it might seem easier to you, but there’s a human cost here that can’t be ignored. How will this boy feel about being a secret? Are you prepared to be bros in public and sweethearts in private? How will it feel to him when you drop his hand or turn away from him when someone you know happens by? How long would this proposed experiment last, anyhow – a week? A month? When would you feel certain enough that he was a real thing to be prepared to tell people about him?
I understand that gathering everyone together for an announcement with press release to follow seems stressful. It is; I have come out a lot of times as a variety of things (relatively common for queer transfolks, it seems). What I’ve discovered is that I can give my friends casual updates and that they have historically rolled with the various news just fine. This has especially been true when attached to an actual person (“This is my girlfriend!” “Meet my boyfriend!” “Meet my other simultaneous boyfriend!” “Hey, now I’m a boyfriend too!”) with relative good cheer. It’s really only been my parents and grandparents who have required more considered, formal announcements of a Change In Status, so they can update their wills and so forth.
At the end of the day, though, here’s the thing: some people inspire us to find room for them. We can always find the energy and time for something we really want, even if it means going without sleep or skipping meals. A person who gets us firing on all cylinders – who engages our hearts and our brains and our loins and that other place that lives just where our throats give to our breastbones, that place that aches in loss but fizzes in joy – for a person like that, many things become possible. If you have found someone who takes hold of you in all those places, Brave Correspondent, shine the entire light of your love and regard on him and let him shine his on you. Figure out how to find space for him and when you do, make it an honored space. Decorate it and exalt it as he deserves. If you’re very lucky, the name of that space may someday be “home.”
Love and courage,