Sunday, November 16, 2014

Email from a gay guy who's tried to be straight

A few weeks ago, a reader sent me the following email:

Dear GB,

I have read your blog for a while now, and I've learned a lot from your experiences and advice. But now I am in a position where I don't find any parallel in your stories.

I am 26, and I came out to my parents at 18. At that time it was very difficult for me, and I ended up promising them I wouldn't have a gay relationship until I leave the country, so that no one could find out. Therefore, I began a straight relationship that lasted 7 years and ended badly. In that time, I graduated from college and became a university teacher. One of my duties as a professor is to advise students on their theses, so I was assigned one.

My student is 22, and at the time we began to work I tried not to get attached to him, to maintain things at the professional level. But this guy is everything I dream of in a man, so step by step, we became closer friends. I never looked at him improperly, mainly because I was in a relationship and wanted to stay honest and because he doesn't strike me as gay, just the opposite.

I ended my relationship and suddenly I realized that I have strong feelings for him and that he is indeed gay although he has not come out to me. He has begun a gay relationship for the first time and is very happy discovering his sexuality. Looking back, I can see now that he was interested in me or at least curious, but now I feel he's not, even when we still hang out and go for drinks when it's just the two of us.

I haven't had sex with a man yet, but I would like my first time to be special. Right now I cannot imagine anyone more suited for that than him, because he is very hot, he is gentle and tender, a very good friend, reliable and discreet. I feel it's not a good time to come out to him, or to tell him about my feelings. I am really tempted to propose to him that we should become "friends with benefits", but I am afraid that would mess up our friendship and our professional relationship too. The other choice I see is to wait, cause he has told me that he is bored very fast with relationships, but we don't have much time left, we are both planning to leave the country in a year from now, possibly in different directions. And I have waited too long for things to happen to me, and for that I missed a lot of opportunities.

Besides, I don't know other gay men, at least as friends. I don't know how to hook up and stay in the closet at the same time, mainly because my friends are straight. I mentioned to him that I would like to meet his friends, but he avoided that conversation. So I'm hopeless and I would appreciate your thoughts about this. Please write back.

I felt that this reader had been very brave to agree with his parents to try and suppress his sexuality, and I was amazed that he'd been able to do it for so long. So I did indeed write back to him, and in the email I included the following paragraphs:

I hope you won't mind be being direct. Please read this slowly and carefully, and try and absorb what I'm saying. I think you've probably been bottling up all your gay feelings for so long that you can't think rationally about anything related to being gay. More than that, when gay guys like you try and suppress their sexuality, they can end up developing crushes on their male friends and colleagues (or students) who are in their life. That certainly happened to me before I started to come out. So I think you may well have a crush on this student of yours. Even though your student seems to be gay, I think the moment when you might have become *intimate* friends has probably passed now. In any case, student <--> teacher relationships are tricky because there's the issue that it's unprofessional for a teacher to start a relationship with one of his students.

The fact that you tried having a straight relationship for seven years is amazing. However, at this stage I think you should try to find a way to start exploring your gay sexuality (but not with your student). Even though you might be leaving your country within a year, I don't think you should wait. I've got no idea where you live or what possibilities there are in your country, but if your student found a way then I'm sure you can as well.

About two weeks later, he sent me the following reply:

Thanks for your fast reply. I was stuffed at work and couldn't read it earlier, but I'm glad you took a moment of your time to spent on me. I wasn't looking to be on your blog, I just needed your advice. Regarding your proposed title on your blog, I don't think that trying to be straight was the main issue of my email, but if that might be interesting for your readers then I have no arguments.

Being in a straight relationship was very enjoyable and safe for me, while it lasted. I learned a lot about giving and receiving pleasure, and it helped me to maintain a *normal* lifestyle, without people and parents constantly reviewing every action of my day. But I prolonged it with no need, and after 5 to 6 years we were no longer in love. I don't regret my decisions though, rather I should have stopped it the moment I started to feel trapped.

I agree with you that I might have been bottling my feelings, and I am sure it's the reason I have this kind of intense crush on my student. I'll refer to him as C, as you do in your blog :). He passed from being an unrealizable fantasy, to a possible fantasy, and from there to a possibility.

Since I wrote you, our circumstances have changed. Last week he invited me to go out with his friends, and he came out to me. He introduced me to his friends as a friend, and then he marked out that I was his thesis adviser. I also met his boyfriend (not as I imagined he would be). Entering his world and seeing him behave in a gay environment was very rewarding for me. It didn't harm or feel awkward to see him cuddling with his boyfriend, it was rather tender. I realized I'm not in love with him; I like him very much, and I suppose I have developed a fixation with him.

My main concern is about my first sexual experience with a man. I have these high expectations of what it is supposed to be. Of course, he being the nearest to me, I have fantasized about him several times. As I told you, he meets all my expectations, and not just for being near, but because he's sexy, handsome, has no mannerisms and sentimentally he's very mature. You're right though that our time to be intimate friends has passed, and that dooms my hopes.

Keep in mind we are almost the same age (indeed his boyfriend is also 26). For that reason, we are more like colleagues/friends than teacher-student. I'm not worried about the ethical issues here, I'm certain we both could handle the situation and university policies are somehow permissible in that regard. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to mess up his relationship. I have always thought that honesty is basic to any relationship, so it puts me in a moral conflict.

At the same time, other issues are emerging for me now. These new friends are really nice people, I felt very comfortable. I was disposed only to make their acquaintance, and then it turns out that they were trying to set me up with one of the boys in the group. I wasn't expecting that, and therefore, even when I noticed some flirting from this boy, I responded with the natural constraints that I've developed in the straight environment. I'm not saying I was rude. On the contrary, I tried to be nice, but I wasn't forward nor flirted back. This boy is interesting, right. But the scenario of having my first encounter with him is not as appealing as my fantasies with C. This is a hurdle I have to overcome, but I don't find the way.

Please don't judge me too harshly. It is the first time I find myself in such dilemma, and my moral compass is spinning wildly as I try to reach an agreement between what is right and what I want.

Sorry for this rather large email. It has taken me an entire morning and hard thinking to organize all the ideas. It has been a helpful process also.
Best regards,

I have the impression that quite a few readers who write to me find the process therapeutic. I think this is simply because organising all one's thoughts and feelings to put into an email turns out to be the exactly the kind of task that people need to help them solve their problems on their own.

One thing that is holding this reader back is his desire that when he engages in activities with another man for the first time, that it should be a special occasion. My own view on that is that it's nice if it turns out to be special, but that one shouldn’t attach too much importance to it for lots of reasons:
  • Focussing on making the first time special takes focus away from a far more important task, namely find a compatible long-term boyfriend with whom one can have special times (including activities!) every day.
  • For it to be special, the other person probably needs to have a similar view that it's going to be a special occasion, and that's hard to find.
  • My impression is that most people who want their first time to be special end up feeling a bit disappointed when the deed is done.
It's interesting that C and C's friends were apparently trying to set up the reader with this other guy. Gay guys who're not fully out often think that people can't tell that they're really gay. However, the reverse is often true. In trying to cover up their true sexuality, gay guys who're not out can try too hard and then their behaviour stands out as unusual. That was certainly true of my ex-boyfriend T. Additionally there are some characteristics that are more frequently found in gay guys than in straight guys, which coupled with trying too hard to appear straight are a complete give-away. Again with ex-boyfriend T, he was exceptionally neat with a strong interest in fashion too. He always looked immaculate when he left home. Because he thought he was invisible as a gay man, he was appalled when one of his friends told him that he appeared very metrosexual!

In his second email, the reader appeared to accept that the time when activities might have been possible with C has passed. Additionally he now seems to accept that he has indeed has a crush on C because he's been suppressing his sexuality. C has a boyfriend and I wholeheartedly agree that the reader shouldn’t attempt anything now because that might ruin C's relationship. The reader also appears to accept that this other boy is 'interesting' so my advice would be to see whether that door can still be opened. If not it doesn't matter because there are plenty of other gay guys in the world :-). But I'd recommend that the attitude to have regarding first time activities is that they're a little hurdle to be jumped. Afterwards, one's mind is much clearer, and then one can focus on working out how to lead the rest of one's life :-).

Do any other readers have any thought on this situation?

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Poor boyfriend K

It's early in the morning and I'm fast asleep, having been out the previous evening to see a film with my friend Close Encounters. After the film we'd met up briefly with Boyfriend K in a gay bar in Soho in central London. Boyfriend K was with some friends of his and they looked keen to party the whole night. However, I'd been out very late with Boyfriend K on the previous night and I'm feeling slightly tired, so I decided to leave them to it and go home for some rest.

But at 4:20am I suddenly I wake up to the sound of my mobile phone ringing. I can tell from the ringtone that it's boyfriend K, so I get out of bed to answer it. Luckily I manage to reach it before the voicemail kicks in:

"Hello :-)," I say in a drowsy voice, "I was asleep! How are you :-)?"

"GB, GB :-(", says boyfriend K in both a drunk and tearful voice.

"What's happened?" I ask urgently, "Are you OK?"

"No," answers boyfriend K very tearfully, "I'm not OK …"

"What on earth …"

"I've been attacked," replies boyfriend K, crying.

My first thought is that boyfriend K has been the victim of some kind of homophobic or racist attack. But it's very hard talking to him. He's clearly drunk and quite incoherent.

"There's lots of blood, GB, I don't know what's going on …"

"Where are you?" I ask anxiously, "I'm going to come and find you."

"No, hang on", says boyfriend K, "a woman who's been helping me wants to talk to you."

"Hello is that GB?" asks a calm and efficient female voice, "I'm with the London ambulance service. Your boyfriend has been assaulted, but don't worry, I think he'll be OK."

"So what's happening?" I ask her, feeling very relieved that he's in good hands and being cared for.

"Well, the police are here, taking some statements. But when they're done we're going to take him to the Accident and Emergency department at a nearby hospital to get him checked out, just to be on the safe side."

I get her to tell me which hospital they're going to take him to, but when she passes me back to carry on talking to boyfriend K, he's still very incoherent. I tell him that I'll go to the hospital and meet him there.

"No don't come, GB, don't worry, I don't want to be any trouble …"

But of course, when one's boyfriend is in a situation like this, such requests fall on deaf ears!

I quickly pull on the clothes that I was wearing the previous night, and once in the street, I manage to find a taxi quite quickly. With the early morning streets relatively empty, I end up getting to the hospital first. I wait in the area where the ambulances arrive. About fifteen minutes later, an ambulance arrives, and once the doors open I see one of the friends that I had left boyfriend K with a few hours earlier.

"Are you GB?" asks a paramedic, as she helps boyfriend K out of the vehicle.

"Yes indeed," I answer, "I guess you were the person that I spoke to earlier. Thank you so much for looking after him :-)."

When Boyfriend K emerges, he's in a sorry state. His nose and left eye are very swollen, his face is splattered with his blood, he's got various cuts and bruises, and on top of that the polo shirt that he's wearing is ripped and covered with blood too. He doesn't say much but he looks very pleased to see me.

I'm surprised to see that there's also a police officer with them. Together we all head into the hospital where we're told to sit down while they find someone to look at boyfriend K.

"There were two of them hitting boyfriend K," the friend tells me, "a man and a woman. I saw it all."

I can't help thinking that boyfriend K was lucky that he'd been with this particular friend. This guy drinks very little alcohol, so he'd have been quite sober when the incident took place and was no doubt able to help.

The policeman overhears that I'm trying to find out what happened, and joins the conversation.

"We think what happened," says the policeman, "is that boyfriend K saw the man pissing in the street and told him to stop. The woman, who we think was this man's girlfriend, told boyfriend K to mind his own business. She says that boyfriend K pushed her, and because of that the man came to defend her which is how the fight started. Once boyfriend K was on the ground and there was blood then he ran off, but thanks to the help of the security staff from a nearby bar we were able to arrest the woman."

"OK, I guess that makes sense," I say, starting to understand what might have happened. I'm mildly surprised that boyfriend K got physical by pushing the woman, but unless the incident was captured on CCTV, it'll be hard to prove who got physical first.

"When I first heard about this," I continue, "I was wondering whether it was a homophobic attack, but I guess not."

"No," answers the policeman, "It wasn't homophobic. In fact it was completely avoidable! The lesson for your friend is that he should mind his own business a bit more."

"At the moment the attack is being treated as GBH," continues the policeman, "which for now is good because that means this case gets some priority. But unless your friend loses an eye or has a brain haemorrhage or something, it'll almost certainly be downgraded to ABH. That's why I'm here, to find out from a doctor how serious the injuries are."

"So will anyone be charged with this assault?" I ask.

"There's a reasonable chance that there'll be a charge. Although the woman was arrested, it's unlikely that she'll be charged with anything. It's the guy that we'd like to catch."

"That'll be hard won't it?" I say, wondering how the system works in connection with this sort of crime.

"Well, the place where the incident occurred is being treated as a crime scene. The guy was taking a piss so we'll be able to get his DNA. If we can match that to someone's DNA in our records, then we'll be able to find him and arrest him. Of course we'll also be asking the woman who he is, but she probably won't want to tell us."

"So what's the chance of catching the guy?"

"The truth is that a lot of the people that do this sort of thing are known to us which means that we have their DNA on record. So there's a reasonable chance of catching him!"

Boyfriend K has been sitting quietly while we've discussed all this. I can tell that he's still quite drunk, and he looks very tired too. The friend who's been with boyfriend K also looks tired so I tell him that he can go home if he wants.

"I can stay for now," he answers, keen to support boyfriend K as much as possible. But with me now on the scene and much more alert than him, he soon realises that he may as well go home and get some rest.

"We've got your statement," confirms the policeman, "so you don't have to stay."

A bit later, a nurse comes and takes boyfriend K along with me and the policeman into the treatment area. We get our own cubicle, so boyfriend K sits on the treatment couch, while me and the policeman find chairs to sit on. But once he's on the couch, boyfriend K can't resist lying down, and soon it looks like he's fallen asleep.

"It'll be hard to wake him now :-|," I tell the policeman. "When he gets drunk like this and falls asleep, I generally find it absolutely impossible to wake him."

"I'm feeling tired too," says the policeman, "because I've been on duty for almost 12 hours now!"

"Wow, that a long shift isn't' it?"

"I suppose so, but it's OK," he replies. "I work for 7 days, with 11 or 12 hour shifts each day, but then I'm off for 7 days. So come tomorrow evening, I'll be relaxing with a vodka or something, looking forward to my week off :-)."

"Is this kind of incident very common?" I ask.

"Yes, very common! Most people don't realise how common it is, because although they might see something occasionally, they don't see it all the time like we do. Most of the work we get at night is dealing with drunk people and fights like this."

"I tell you," continues the policeman, "with what I know now, I could resign from the police and become a criminal, and then make enough money so that I could retire after a year or two. But of course I won't, because I've got much better morals than that."

"Is it that easy?" I ask.

"With burglars, it tends to be the stupid ones that get caught. For example, they might have a cigarette while still in the property that they're burgling, and if we find the butt end then we can get their DNA. The same thing applies if they take drink or something from the fridge. The penalties for burglary aren't that bad either. If you only get caught once in 5 years, you probably only go to jail for 6 months. You can regard it as a manageable occupational hazard."

"The penalties for dealing drugs are quite severe," continues the policeman, "but then you can make serious money from doing that, much more than you or me take home in a year. A drug dealer might have 50 clients, each spending £150 a week for three hits of cocaine. But it's much cheaper when bought in bulk. A suitcase full might cost you £30,000 but you can sell for £100,000 in a few months. Perhaps we should try the Three Strikes And You're Out law that they've got in New York, so that people go to prison for life after three offences. That would make people think twice."

We chat a bit more, but soon some of the hospital staff come along to attend to boyfriend K. Although they have a lot of trouble waking him up, they have a few tricks that eventually work, so gradually over the next couple of hours they assess him. Half way through, the policeman agrees with his sergeant over his walkie-talkie that if they charge anyone it'll be with ABH rather than GBH, so with his job done he bids us farewell.

Eventually, the conclusion is that although Boyfriend K will have a swollen nose and black eye for perhaps a week or two, he doesn't need a head scan and doesn't have a broken nose either. We get given a leaflet about head injuries, and are told we can go. On the way out, I thank all the staff that helped us. Just outside the hospital I manage to find another taxi, and soon we're back home. The time is around 9:15am.

"I'm feeling tired, but perhaps I'll have some breakfast before coming back to bed for a nap", I say to boyfriend K as he climbs into bed to get some rest.

"No," he says, looking at me lovingly, "please come to bed now."

I know that because of the state that he's in, activities aren't on the menu. Nonetheless, I'm more than happy to oblige, so I take all my clothes off too and jump into bed to keep him company for a naked cuddle :-).

Looking back, I'm very impressed at the way London's support systems handled everything. The ambulance service, the police and the hospital staff all did their jobs well. Although it'll take boyfriend K a while to recover, without all these efficient support services it would have been so much worse. I just hope that it'll be a long time before we need to find out how well these services work again!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

A gay Chinese guy who came out to his family

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a Chinese guy who had seen my post last March about a gay Chinese student with a homophobic family. He wanted to share his story with me, because he thought that his experiences would be relevant to that gay Chinese student. After I'd read the email, I thought that a lot of gay Asian guys might be interested in his story, so I asked him whether I could post his email here on my blog. After some thought he agreed, so here is his story:

I'm ethnically Chinese, though I've lived in England for most of my life. On the whole, my parents are 'progressive' - at least by Singaporean-Chinese standards (shock horror - they're letting me study a literature degree at university and, rather surprisingly, are fully on board!) - but they nevertheless espouse socially conservative values; my dad more so than my mum.

For instance, my dad was rather taken aback by the fact that my sister dated and then later married an Englishman. He had always hoped, if not expected, that we would all find Chinese spouses; at the very least, spouses of Oriental heritage. So, for the first year or so that my sister was dating her future husband, my dad did his best to avoid talking to him, and, for the most part, acted like he wasn't there...even at intimate family dinners. My dad never gave voice to his disapproval; he let his actions do all the talking. His way of venting his displeasure, as you can gather, is very passive aggressive.

Late last year (/early this year), I was forced to come out, when my dad, quite of the blue, said: “You have lots of friends who are girls, but no girlfriend; have you just not found the right girl, or are you gay?'. This caught me off guard, and, at first, I was speechless. One of my brothers had texted earlier that day to say that my dad had asked him the same question about me, but I had never anticipated that he’d confront me about my sexuality face-to-face. As I said, his style of confrontation is passive aggressive and indirect; he’s never usually so blunt.

At this point, I decided that there was no use lying: I’d known I was gay from a relatively young age, but, at the time, I had done everything I could to suppress any gay thoughts; late in secondary school, I finally came to accept my sexuality and I went through the tough process of coming out to my close friends, siblings, and even one or two close relatives; and, most importantly, from the first day of uni, I'd been out to everyone – even people I didn't like and people I barely knew.

Rather coincidentally, I had planned to tell my parents at some point during the Christmas holidays, but I had never quite found the right moment. I guess, in a rather twisted way, my dad saved me the trouble. I had played out my ‘coming out’ sequence many times in my head, and I had imagined that my parents’ reaction would be far from supportive. On that account I was right: during our brief conversation, my dad never met my gaze, but instead continued to look at his phone; for the first few seconds, he didn't speak, but when he did he simply told me that being gay was a choice I had made – in the past, homosexuality was less prevalent, and in China, it was a rare phenomenon. He suggested, rather tactlessly, that I could always choose to marry a woman instead. His worry, he claimed, was that I would grow old without children to look after me – explicitly ignoring the fact that gay couples can adopt children, or even have biological children of their own. It was patently clear that he was predominantly occupied with his own concerns, not mine.

What I hadn't anticipated was how brief the conversation was and how disinterested my dad appeared to be in what I had to say: there was no shouting, no threats of disownment. In some ways, his actual response was more disconcerting. I had always imagined that my coming out would spark some almighty debate about the religious (my mother’s Christian), ethical and social implications that a gay lifestyle would entail, and I felt I was adequately prepared to meet his objections head on: if my dad said it was unnatural, I could point to data that suggested the contrary; what’s more, I could point to the logical flaws and inconsistencies in any argument he would employ. Yet, my dad’s reticence and unwillingness to engage in what I had to say left me dumbfounded; at least if he ranted at me, I could rant back. I felt there was nothing I could do.

Over the course of the next day or so, the subject was never revived. We didn't see much of each other because family obligations kept him out of the house. In the meantime, he told my mum; she never confronted me about the subject, perhaps because she had to catch a flight the next day, and didn't want to leave things on a sour note. But, I nevertheless raised the subject with her. The circumstances were far from ideal – we were hurrying to catch a taxi to a restaurant, after several pre-prandial cocktails – and, though it was short, what she said meant a lot to me: she said that she was disappointed, but that it was her that had to change her values, not me; most importantly, she said that she loved, gay or not. The next day she left for Singapore, and so we never thrashed things out properly.

After my mum left, my dad sat me down again, and told me that I had 'really upset' my mum. I was already upset from our last conversation – I had cried and vented to a couple of friends on the phone – and his attempt to turn things on me added insult to injury. I said that if anyone seemed to be hurting, it was him. He then decided to lay into me, saying that being gay was just a phase; if anything, he suggested I might be saying that I was gay as a means of spiting him and mum.

Like our last conversation, this one was short and to-the-point; but rather than being upset, I was just angry. Before he had been tactless, now he was just being spiteful. I avoided him for the next day, till he caught his flight home to Singapore. No goodbyes, not a word.

Now, all this might paint an intensely depressing picture – and I won’t deny that I was a bit of a wreck for the following week – but I decided to take matters into my own hands; if my dad wouldn't listen to what I had to say, I would try and force him to. Instead of calling, I sent a letter. I felt this would allow both him and my mother to digest what I had to say in their own time; the next time I would see them was in Easter, during my university holidays.

The letter was long, like this post, but in it I laid out all that I had to say: I tried to answer all the objections my dad raised in our two conversations; I tried to describe the obstacles I've had to face – self-acceptance, and my fears about the future as a gay man (finding a partner, starting a family etc); and I tried to point out why my dad’s response was unfair and insensitive, unlike my mother’s.

After re-reading that letter, I think I’ve isolated four important points I made:
  • First, acceptance is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight or even in a couple of weeks; it takes time and, though it’s difficult, you should be prepared to wait for that process to happen organically. What is more, it’s a two-way process: they have to reach out to you – it’s their duty as parents – but equally you must do your best to reach out to them.
  • Second, to a certain extent, people are products of their own backgrounds and cultures. My parents grew up in Singapore (my mum) and Malaysia (my dad), societies which still cling on to quite reactionary values. I will never condone my dad’s reaction to my coming out – I think he behaved immaturely and was very hurtful – but, the least I could do was try to understand why he holds (or held – he has changed!) those values. Many people in Asia are fed propaganda that tells them that homosexuality is wrong; some may even have been told that it’s very much a ‘thing of the West’ (that’s what’s being disseminated in Uganda!). To us that may seem like complete rubbish, but, if you’ve been raised on those sorts of values, you can see why Asian parents might hold those values.
  • Third, and I’m sure this point is made in every coming out story, being gay shouldn't change how a parent perceives his/her child. It’s no use denying that being gay makes a difference on someone’s life (in practical terms, like the partner you have, how you start a family etc.), but what it shouldn't affect is the parent-child relationship. Unconditional love is certainly a difficult ideal to achieve, but it’s something we should all aim for. For my dad, family is the most important thing; he says family is integral to Chinese social values. He always says that no matter what happens, family is still family. So, in this letter, I discussed unconditional love, and said that, because I’m gay, he should re-examine his values and attitudes towards homosexuality in this light.
  • Lastly, empathy is really important. If you can get your parents to empathise with you, that’s half the battle done. Rational arguments can only go so far. With my parents, I tried to draw parallels between their situation and mine. My mum was from a wealthy Singaporean family; my dad from a relatively poor Malaysian family, headed by a single mother. If my maternal grandfather had had his way, my mum would be a society woman, married to some rich and well-connected heir. But, my grandfather allowed them to get married; he realised that his expectations were not as important as his daughter’s happiness. So, I asked my dad how he would have felt if my grandfather had forbidden their marriage, or at the least not approved. He never chose to be born in the family he was born in; I never chose to be gay.
Now, the day after I sent this letter, I received a lovely reply from my mum, saying that she’d read the letter, stayed up all night and cried; she loved me no matter what. I later heard from my auntie (who I’m really close to, who knows I’m gay, and who I also sent the letter to) that she cried because she realised what I had to go through on my own, without being able to talk to either her or my dad.

My dad never replied to my email directly, and since I've seen him he hasn't mentioned the subject again, but I know for a fact that he’s a lot more accepting. Sure, it took him a few months, but when I next saw him over the Easter, it was like everything was back to normal. Now, several more months down the line, things are great, if not even better. My mum said that my dad would never be the one to admit that he was wrong – he’s too proud, and it’s not in his nature to have deep conversations about feelings – but, to use a cliché, his actions speak louder than words: for instance, he ensured that I had a great 21st, allowing me to host an extravagant party. It may sound materialistic or superficial, but it’s much more than that because I know he must have changed on some level to be some accommodating, especially when I can be quite demanding!

To tackle the other reader's situation more directly, I’m not suggesting that he come out to his parents soon; only he can be the judge of when and how. If his parents are as stubborn and set-in-their-ways as he suggests, perhaps he should wait till after he finishes university; it would be a disaster to have to forfeit university because your parents pulled the funding.

Whilst his parents are wrong for holding the views they do, and whilst they are being unfair in the way they try to deal with the topic of homosexuality, they should not be held up to impossible standards. His parents are products of their own cultures and upbringings, and, whilst they can change, it takes time. What’s more, acceptance is a two-way process. Get to know your parents, whether that’s simply by helping out round the house, or just trying to talk about something they’re interested in. Once you make an effort to get to know them in a more personal way, they will more willing to get to know you; and hopefully, as and when you come out, they’ll try harder to be accepting.

It’s difficult when you know your parents don’t accept a part of who you are (even if you haven’t come out!). For much of my teenage years, I resented my parents because I knew their attitudes towards homosexuality; but as I matured I realised that, for all their flaws, my parents do love me and do so much for me, whether it’s simple chores like ironing, or being there to help me when I’m in trouble. When you appreciate that, it may make you more willing to give your parents time to change. Also, trying not to resent them will lift a burden off your shoulders. Resenting someone is such a draining process!

Also, if possible, try and sit your sister down: be blunt – ask her if being gay is a problem. If she says yes, ask her why. Try to reason with her, but also make an emotional appeal. Say that you’re still the same person, that you still love her, and you hope that she still loves you. Tell her that you are trying to be more understanding with your parents, but that it’s hard. If you can get her on board, and you become closer to her, it’ll make coming out to your parents when you’re ready a lot easier. The way your sister has behaved towards you is wrong, but try and be the more mature one, and reach out to her.