Imagine Growing Up Straight in a Gay World

photo, ©2006, Christopher James Hughes

by Michael F. Mascolo, Ph.D.

If you are straight, imagine a different world.  An upside down, topsy-turvy world. In this world, 90% of the people in the world are gay, lesbian or transgender; the remaining ten percent are heterosexual.

So, you’re are kid raised by two gay men or by two lesbian women.  Everything around you is designed for gay people and transgender people.  Like the dead people in The Sixth Sense, the gay people don’t even know they’re gay.   They don’t have to!  Since everyone is gay, we aren’t even aware that we’re gay.  It’s just the way things are.  Yeah, people have heard of straight folk, but all we know is that they’re kind of weird.  How can the sexes mix?  That’s lunacy!

All of the movies that you see involve gay or lesbian couples.  All of the advertisements that you see are pitched to gays or lesbians.  All of the love songs on the radio are about gay love and lesbian longings.  Straight folk are the butt of jokes.  They are different, weird, abnormal or even hateful

Growing up, your older brother brings his boyfriend home.   Your older sister holds hands with her date.   You are expected to do the same.  As as you get older, even before your teen years, you begin to notice members of the opposite sex.  You somehow “like” members of the opposite sex, but you don’t understand why or what it means.

You enter adolescence.  If you’re a guy, everyone expects you to be attracted to guys; if you’re a girl, everyone expects you to like girls.   Your school is putting on a dance.  Everyone is excited and spends their time trying to find a date to the dance. You don’t really understand what all the fuss is about.  You know that you are supposed to go and ask a same-sexed person to the dance, but the idea doesn’t appeal to you.  You actually wish, in some odd unexplained way, that you could take an opposite sexed person to the dance.  But this is an entirely crazy idea!  You think you are the only one who could feel this way.  You feel isolated, weird, bad.  You  have a secret, and you can’t tell anyone.

Someone asks you to the dance.  You go to the dance.  All the guys are dancing with guys; the girls are dancing with girls.  Your date asks you to dance.  The fast dances aren’t so bad – but then there is a slow dance.  Your same-sexed date puts his or her arms around you and snuggles up closely toward you.  You know you are supposed to feel something, but all you feel is that you want to run.  Your date puts his or her head on your shoulder.  Something isn’t quite right.  You maybe even a bit of disgust.

On the way home, your dad asks you how the date went.  “So, did you kiss Charlie goodnight?  He’s such a sweet boy.  No?  Why don’t you ask out Tom or Vinny?”

You think you are all alone.  One day, you are surfing the net.  You see an image of an boy and girl holding hands. Next to the pic, it says, “Click here to Meet Your Opposite Sex Mate”.   You click.  You are surprised to learn there are other people who feel the way you do.  And there’s a name for it – it’s called being a “heterosexual”.

“Could I be a heterosexual”?

The idea is frightening and confusing.  But you also feel a sense of being understood for the first time in your life!  You feel a slight sense of relief through the confusion.

The site has links to support groups in your area.  You decide to go.  When you get there, you see some people you actually know.  Manny and Mark like girls?  But you feel afraid and you bail out.

You resolve to try again the next week.  You go.  Some men and women are talking; others are flirting.  Still others are holding hands.  You feel excited and anxious at the same time.  A weight is being been lifted from your shoulder.  But then anxiety: “Could I be…a heterosexual?”

People are telling their stories. One boy tells a story about how a group of teens put his head in a toilet when they thought he might be a het.  Another spoke of depression and feelings of suicide.  People were nodding their heads.

“I don’t want to be with a guy!   I like girls.  I like their soft and curvy shapes, not the straight and hard bodies of men!”

Suddenly everything is beginning to feel clearer.  Suddenly I begin to feel at home.

“Yes, I am a heterosexual.  What relief!”

“Uh oh.  I am a heterosexual!  What horror!”

Oh my god!  What am I going to do now?  If I tell my friends, will they still like me?  If I tell my parents, will they thow me out?  Never speak to me?    If I “come out as a het”, will people hate me?  Will they flush my head down the toilet?  Oh my God.  How is my life going to go?  What if I go on a date?  Where will I go?  How do I find out who is heterosexual and who is not?  God.  I wish I were gay.  Better yet, I wish I had never been born.”

You attend more groups.  You are getting through high school.  You start dating — privately – without telling anyone except one or two friends from your support group.  Eventually, you find a partner.  You tend to go either to your partner’s house or to a video arcade where you know that some heterosexuals tend to hang out. Soon, you are old enough to go to a het bar. You meet people there.

You’re on a date.  You see some of your normal friends.  (“No”, you say to yourself.  They’re not “normal” – they’er just gay!”)  They say, “Hey, who is your friend?”  What do you do?  Do you introduce her as your date or as your buddy?  Your normal, uh, gay friends (a man and a woman) say, “Hey, we’re going out?  Why don’t we double date?    Alice can be Wendy’s date, and Ralph and I (Pete) can date.  Wanna go?   Oh come on!”

What do you do?  It’s not so easy being heterosexual in a gay world.

*This article was informed and inspired by the section entitled “Fantasy” in Brian McNight’s (1993) Gay Issues in the Workplace (pp. 18-24), St. Martin’s Press.