Monday, January 14, 2008

How does a closeted 25 year old gay virgin build a social life

A couple of weeks ago, I received the following email from a relatively new reader:

Dear GB,

I've recently been introduced to your blog, and I'd like to say the articles are very helpful. Your escapades in what appears to be a wonderful London are certainly most interesting! Congratulations on the GLBT Verve Award. It is well deserved!

I've read many of the Dear GB articles, and many of the difficulties they face are close to my heart. Your advice is very helpful, and non-judgemental, which I appreciate. And that has inspired me to ask for your advice :).

I'm turning 25 soon, and I have realised, that I have not fully come to terms with my gay sexuality. (I'm gay.)

I'll start with my background and some history. I'm an Indian who grew up in the Middle East. I realised I was gay when I was 12ish. I could not accept the cultural environment of the Middle East ("Gays are to be executed", among other bullshit), neither that of my quite Indian family ("Gays are a pariah of society").

I guess I had to look elsewhere to find acceptance of who I am. In retrospect, satellite TV and the Internet has built much of my belief system today. But I've let the fear of being found out completely dominate me as an individual.

The home environment became extremely turbulent and by 17, I moved to India for Uni, which as a repressed gay person, with an unsupportive family, was one of the hardest and darkest phases of my life. I started working at 20, and enjoyed some short lived happiness being independent and away from family. Eventually, the truth dawned that I would never be accepted in India, as well as the cultural friction I faced there in day to day life (I don't speak the language, and I don't look too Indian), drove me to change my circumstances again. I proceeded to take out a Masters degree in the UK, and one thing led toanother, landing me a job here.

Seeing other gay people here in the UK has made me realise how I have given into my fear of being found out, and let it completely dominate me, keeping me away from people, away from making good friends. I've frantically focused on being financially independent and it has been six years since I have seen my parents.

I've never been in a relationship, and to a very successful extent, I am ashamed to say, satisfied all my sexual needs with Internet porn. I've taught myself that since I am gay (from the age of 13) that I have to be alone. I think I've wired myself to the point that today, I am satisfied with where I am. It's sad, I guess, but somehow I am actually OK with it.

Reading your list of what makes you happy, was an epiphany. I do not want to look back in another five years, and see that all I have achieved is to be a financially independent loner, who has never cuddled! I may not regret it today, but I might tomorrow. All I've got today is a good job and a bunch of financial investments, the focus of my attempts at building an independent life! No memories or nostalgia or anything.

I want to change all of this, or at least be sure of what I want. I do not want to come out, for the risk of losing my few friends, and because work is filled with much older people, who are not exactly gay friendly, only *possibly* gay tolerant. (Because of the laws maybe?)

I am not really ready to cruise or have multiple partners like you, but would like a steady partner for the long haul, someone I can talk to, travel with, and cuddle with :) (Don't we all, eh? :P)

And this is where I need your advice. I simply do not know how to go about it. I hope you can see where I can coming from, it's been a hard but satisfying journey to get to where I am. However, having never kissed, or pulled anyone ever, and at my age most people go to clubs which again I have no clue how to do, I can't dance, no gaydar etc. The closest "gay" experience I've had is men checking me out in the gym shower! It's that bad :P

Perhaps what I need is a gay friend to show me how it's done! I should have joined the University LGBT society, but it's a bit late for that now. What would you suggest I do? Any pointers or advice would be appreciated.

I'm also taking a strong critical view of my life. From your experiences, what are the things you were glad you did in your life? Road trips? Being drunk silly? Sitting under a clear starry moonlit sky? :) I'd appreciate it, at the very least to realise what I am missing, and what I need to do.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you will help.

Wishing you a Happy New Year!

Some aspects of this reader's email actually reminded me of what I used to be like. I didn't join the gay soc at university either. I too was a virgin until I came out, also without ever having kissed anyone. However, back in the 1980's there was no such thing as internet porn, but in fact I didn't need it because I've got quite an active imagination :-).

Anyway, what I think this reader needs to do is to start meeting people face to face who know that he's gay. I don't think that he's ever actually had a conversation with someone who knows his secret. The good thing is that he lives in London, because it's a very good city for coming out. And for this situation, I can't think of anywhere better to do this than London Friend, which is a charitable organisation that's been going for more than 30 years. For a while, when I was coming to terms with my sexuality, I went there too.

London Friend LogoLondon Friend has two types of service that could help this reader. What he's aiming for is Turning Point, the men's group for guys who are coming to terms with their sexuality. If he goes there, he'll start making friends with other guys just like him who are also worried about being gay. However, if being with a group of gay guys who all know that he's gay is initially too much for him, London Friend will be able to give him one-to-one counselling to prepare him to join the group. I still have friends that date back to the time that I went to London Friend, because very strong bonds are formed in such stressful situations like that, where people are emotionally very vulnerable.

Just for the record, I notice that London Friend now have a service called E-Talk, where they provide advice by email. I can see that some people might prefer this instead of emailing me, because if you email me for advice your email gets posted here in my Dear GB category. But with E-Talk it's completely confidential. None the less, one of the advantages of the Dear GB format is that you don't only get my thoughts, you also get the thoughts of some of my readers who leave comments :-).

In terms of his workplace, it seems very likely to me that once the reader who sent me this email gains a bit of confidence, then eventually he won't mind if his colleagues know that he's gay. It could well be that, at the moment, they make jokes about gay people in front of him. However, in my experience, in London these days people only do that if they think there aren't any gay people around because most people don’t want to cause offence. My boyfriend number 1 worked at a company like that in the 1990's, and when he finally came out, his bosses and colleagues were then embarrassed about things that they'd said in the past.

The reader also asks me what the things are that I'm glad that I did in my life so far. That's a very good question, but I want to think a bit about that so it'll make a great post for another time :-).

Do anyone else have any other thoughts which might help this reader?


N1David said...

Another vote here for London Friend, and in fact Turning Point which I used in my mid-20s when I was coming out. I too didn't attend my Uni Gaysoc, and was actually quite mean about them, since the ones I knew were all very camp queens - I respect them now for being out, but at the time they reflected exactly what I didn't want to be.

When I moved to London I got a great advisor on Gay Switchboard who basically said "well, we need to get you to meet some gay people" and directed me to Friend and to a Friday group called Befrienders which I think is now defunct.

Friend was great, giving me an opportunity to meet all sorts of gay guys, some of whom I'm still friends with. In fact, incredible as it may seem, I met my life partner at Friend, and 16 years later we are still together and had our civil partnership ceremony last year.

So I strongly recommend Friend. It's very non-judgemental, and will give someone the opportunity to meet a whole range of gay men, which helped me decide "what type of gay man do I want to be?"

K said...
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Anonymous said...

A couple of thoughts in response to this email.

It almost feels too familiar to be true. I'm also Indian, also realised (possibly subconsciously) that I was gay quite early on in my teens, but managed to stay in the closet for the longest time ever (my first real gay experience wasn't until I was 24!)

I've always done "the right thing" while growing up. I studied the right subjects, got the good grades, even got the great job as an investment banker in London that is so prized by Indian mothers trying to wed their daughters off. But it doesn't take away from the fact that I'm as gay as the next new Kylie video (and pretty proud of it too!)

Now 27, I'm only just coming out of the closet. It was a long journey, but I have to admit, in hindsight, I wouldn't have rushed it, because I wouldn't have been ready for it earlier. I had massive body image issues while growing up, and being non-white in a narcissistic gay environment was never going to help. I still have issues with the way I look, but have learnt to begin to accept my body and myself in ways that I couldn't imagine doing two years ago.I studied in universities around the world, with several LGBT forums, but never quite took the plunge - there was something too scary about "coming out", and in hindsight, I wouldn't have been emotionally mature enough to deal with it.

In many ways, what your writer has said is part of the coming out process. It is easy to "train" yourself early on to think that as a gay person of Indian origin, you're meant to be alone, but eventually you get to a stage in your life that you realise that you want to be able to love someone openly and without a care in the world, to come home and share a glass of wine while sitting on your couch, just as the next person does. Making the transition from solitary gay man with only internet porn for help to "willing to go out and date other men guy" can be a slow, but incredibly liberating process.

I think one of my own happiest moments in life was going out to a gay bar while travelling for work to a foreign country, meeting some awesome guys and just hanging out (the random play and constant flirting didn't hurt either). On the way to the restroom, I was stopped by a (presumably straight) woman who told me that she thought I was really hot and asked if there was any chance I was straight. The liberation of being able to turn around and say, "no, honey, I'm as gay as they come" was probably one of the most profound and life altering moments of my life. I thought about it afterwards, and the two things that made that night special was that for the first time I realised that despite my own issues with my body, other people could find me sexy enough to be desperate, and that I could be openly gay in certain environments, talk about finding other men cute or camp up my gestures as much as I wanted without being afraid. It was kind of sad, but the first time I turned around and told ANYBODY that I was gay was to a complete stranger hitting on me (but then being hit on is such a compliment, perhaps its not so sad after all)

All I can say to your writer is that the fact that he's willing to engage the idea of being intimate with anyone other than a PC is already a great sign. It may not be the easiest journey, and sometimes it will be painful when people you think are friends suddenly can't find time to hang out now that you're openly gay, but the more people like us come out and say, "we're gay and guess what, it doesn't matter, because we're still the same people we were before" it makes it that much easier for the thousands of men and women still trying to make their own way out of closets across the world.

Peace, and much love,
Flexible Window

(and if you're wondering about the nickname, that's a story that's too naughty to share here..)

Will said...

Congratulations on the Verve award--very richly deserved!

Sunshine said...

Gay friends are a must, I think. I would never have survived my coming out if it wasn't for all my gay friends around me. The easiest way to make them these days, in my view, is via the internet. I started chatting on IRC and made contact. Then I met a few of time in real life. They then introduced me to their other gay friends and- voila! Instant gay family. I took me about 12 months to have a solid network around me but it was so worth it.

Anonymous said...

So I am not the only one in that situation. I know it sounds terribly inconsiderate, but 'misery loves company!' (that is not my creation, read it somewhere, and it stuck). Am an Indian as well, born and brought up in Delhi. Moved to London some 4 months back. An investment banker, and just like Anonymous above, always did what I was expected to do. Studied hard, got into the best schools, received good education, landed up with a supposedly great job. And these were things I never really wanted to do, but the expectations and hopes of Indian parents are so high, that you just don't feel like smashing them to the ground.
I always wanted to lead a very ordinary life. There is a certain charisma in being ordinary, in being simple, in being down to earth. Anyways, I think I am digressing from the issue.
Like the guy who sent you this email, I have never been to a gay pub or a gay bar or a gay club ever. Have no gay (or straight, for that matter) friends in London and feel terribly lonely in this big city.
I am not out, because I guess you would know it better than me, it is difficult to be gay in the hopelessly straight investment banking environment. You need to be extremely extremely confident for you to out yourself at the early stages of your career.
I have tried getting in touch with people on gaydar etc, but it hasnt worked. It is difficult to find the right guy, and trust me, it is even more difficult for dark-skinned guys. I wish there was some forum for Indian gay guys/gay guys from the Indian Subcontinent to meet. Because believe it or not, we come from a completely different background altogether.
Sorry if my thoughts came out as a bit incoherent, just typed out as they came to my mind. :)

Anonymous said...

To the guy who left comment #6 above - this is Flexible Window. Can't believe you're living in such a fantastic place like London with no friends to enjoy it with. All I wanna say is that while it can be a tough place to figure out at first, you just gotta hang in there - you'll figure it out, and when you do, you'll be able to realise that its an awesome place.

Drop me an email at if you wanna just chat; us desi gay boys gotta watch out for each other!

Take care,
Flexible Window

GB said...

Fascinating comments guys :-). Ky's suggestion of gay social/sports clubs is certainly good. But for very first steps, especially for the guy who wrote anonymous comment #6, I can't recommend London Friend too much. I didn't say so explicitly so I'll say it now, they're definitely not racist, they certainly do welcome all ethnic groups.

GB xxx

Soul Seared Dreamer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I think most of us can relate to this. At one point nearly everyone I know went through a phase where they did not know people and did not wuite know ehere to start. YOu have some great suggestions.

Anonymous said...

Funny I came across this BBC article today Being gay and out is great but remember that young gays can be OTT superficial. It's best to stay away from guy who only have good looking friends around them, they will end up with the only poerson they are capable of falling in love with ie themselves. It's also easy to blame race but you can't deny we're all slightly superficial so brush up on your looks, wardrobe and confidence a bit and you will be well on your way

Anonymous said...

Wow! Fascinating letter and comments!

Thirty years ago, when I was 25 and the world was a very different place, I adopted an "it's my life and I'll keep it private, thank-you-very-much" attitude. Well, it worked for about ten years, until little-by-little, the truth became apparent to everyone around me. Going to the opera and spending weekends at Cherry Grove practically screams "gay."

So, all of my colleagues know (and most of them know my partner) and it is simply not discussed.

I've had a number of Indian boyfriends... one of whom insisted that he was bisexual, got married, and last year announced, "I'm gay!" and is getting divorced. Another is out to his parents, but not to the rest of the world, though to look at him and his manerisms, he has "gay" written all over him.

Indian society is very conservative and the emphasis is family-centered. India is probably one of the last bastions of the extended family - aunties, uncle-ji's, cousins, brothers, etc. all living together, or in close proximity.

So, your letter-writer has distanced himself from his family, has no close friends with whom he can be himself, no social outlets, and is still a virgin relying on internet porn for sexual satisfaction.

SNAP OUT OF IT! Get a life that's not related to investments, get a boyfriend, or maybe change careers. Or else, accept the fact that you will be a bitter and lonely man by the time you hit 35.

And, just so you know, there are plenty of gora guys (whites) who ADORE Indian guys and find them quite attractive (OK, so they call us "Curry Queens)...

Anonymous said...

Hi, I thought you might find helpful the comments I received on my email to ‘Dear GB’. It was posted on 5 July 2007.

Anonymous said...

I am a 32 gay asian male and have never been in a relationship nor had sex, I've kinda learn as you to be ok with it as you. Yea, life sucks and happiness is a fantasy to me.

Anonymous said...

Am an Indian in mid forties here in the San Francisco area and a gay virgin. I have not come out to anyone. Life is passing by but seems peaceful. The thought of seeking a relationship or coming out appears far fetched at my age. I wish the best for the young gay Indians on this thread who are trying to find their way to happiness.

Anonymous said...

In a similar situation myself! Been in London over a year now and just didnt know where to start, will definately give London Friend a go.